Learning Songs vs. Learning Concepts

We all want to get better on our instrument, and this means different things to different people. Everyone is in a unique place as far as progress, but one thing is true no matter how good you are:

To master something, it takes a deep understanding of the concept, and constant practice.

We will return to that later…
Ok, Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk concepts vs. songs. When you first learn guitar (or any instrument) the first thing most people do is learn a few songs, (or actually just the beginning of a bunch of songs!) and if you have any luck with it, you stay with it and learn more, maybe even go to music school, join a band, etc… etc… If you spend any significant time with it, you quickly find out that a few songs are easy to learn, but real skill takes time to acquire.
When I say ‘songs‘ I’m talking about little memorised bits, whether it’s the beginning of a song or a little blues lick you can play over many songs. Some players build their whole vocabulary on licks, without ever really learning ‘concepts‘. Understanding a concept is the ability to take a lick or idea, move it around to other keys, play it in different octaves, analyze it harmonically, melodically, and rhythmically – fully understanding the lick/song and not just copying it verbatim. Concepts will get you much farther along than just licks – but they often take some deep background knowledge to fully understand. To internalize the concept, you must use it and practice it in many situations, until it becomes totally natural and no longer sounds like someone else’s idea. There really are no shortcuts for this.

National Music Academy focuses on the art of learning “ Concepts” and we use songs as a vehicle, which we tailor to student’s passions and goals.

This is how to PRACTICE and get results FAST.

We all know that if you want to learn to play an instrument, you have to practice. But it’s important to know how to practice effectively. Your practice time will be twice as useful if you do it right – and that is the subject of this article.

National Music Academy understand the concepts of practice which is so much more than a time limit.

The practice advice below is divided into three sections: Beginners (first and second year players); Middle School Age; and High School/Adult Players. Both students and parents should read it.

First, here are some basic principles that apply to all levels:

1. You are your own best teacher. Only you can make yourself into a better and better player. You absolutely must understand this!
• Practicing should be fun. It’s fun to be good at something, and it’s fun to be constantly improving your skills.
• Practice with your brain turned on and you will learn twice as fast.
• Part of good practicing is developing your ability to concentrate. If you always try to focus to the best of your ability, you will actually get better at focusing!
• When you identify a problem spot in a piece, turn that spot into an exercise. Play it as slowly as necessary to eliminate the mistake, then gradually increase the tempo. A metronome can be useful for this.
• Practice being correct. When you are working on a difficult piece or section, don’t try for a fast tempo until you are ready. If you try to play it too fast, you will make the same mistakes over and over, and you will get better at making those mistakes. You don’t want that!
• Try to practice every day, or nearly every day. Find a time of day that works for you, and stick to it.
• Find a place to practice where you can concentrate – no TV, or anything else bothering or distracting you.
• Be patient with yourself. Learning to play an instrument is a long-term project.

If you are taking lessons, you should make your practicing cover these three things: 1) Review of your last lesson, applying what you learned; 2) Preparation for your next lesson (i.e., your assignment), and 3) Anything else that you feel is important to you – or fun for you.

 

How to Practice – Beginners

 

Here are some simple guidelines for a 30-minute practice session:

First, warm up with something easy (5-10 minutes)

Next, get down to business while you are fresh – learn something new – REALLY learn it. Take as much time as necessary.

When you are satisfied that you have achieved your goal for the day, don’t stop just yet. Play fun stuff, easy stuff, old stuff, or do some sight reading, for 10 or 15 more minutes.

Here’s a game I use with myself: When I’m learning something new, or fixing a problem, I tell myself that I have to get it right four times in a row before I can consider it learned.

Invent exercises.

Always think about your tone when you practice. Even when you are just playing scales, try to play with a good tone.

When you are reading music, look ahead. Don’t just look at the notes you are playing – try to see one or two measures at a time.

Spend part of your practice time just making up your own music (improvising).

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