We’ve all done it. We’ve picked up our instrument, tried playing through an old song or a new phrase that we were struggling with, sighed and then put our instrument back down. Nothing worthwhile comes free. Even music, something so fundamental to our culture, our way of life and our entertainment, has it’s challenges in learning and embracing at times. Not one person ever said learning music was easy, and it’s not just a linear path to success, but I can guarantee it’s worth it.
From my years learning instruments and being surrounded in the local music industry, I can guarantee you that every single musician, no matter if they are the best of the world or just beginning to learn, has felt this slump in their progression. What determines the people taking their sounds and musical progression forwards from the people who are letting their instruments collect dust is their ability to keep their focus during this slump and to reignite thier excitement to practice. If you do so and can pull through that slump, you will reveal yourself to a whole wonderful industry and world of opportunity, whether it’s to take yourself to performing live or to just build up your musical confidence and enjoyment at home.
So I’ve compiled some tips and tricks to keep yourself enjoying music so that on the days or weeks that you’re just not feeling it, you’ll still have some music to look forward to.
Take the time to go over your skills and progress to set yourself some mid-term goals. Now I know a lot of people will read that and say that it doesn’t sound exciting at all but trust me, a lot of people learning music reach a point where they’re pratcicing stuff at a level they’ve already surpassed, just for the sake of practicing. Whether this is being stuck playing songs in the same key or always improvising within the same scale, it can really lead to a stagnation in your progress and a feeling of going nowhere despite the practice you’re putting in.
However, if you look over what you know and identify where you want to be in a month’s time, then you can start to set challenges and new practice routines to push yourself out of your comfort zone and into new amazing sounds. So instead of practicing that same natural minor scale improvisation agin, set a goal to learn the modes and build confidence in playing them. You can also talk to your tutor about any goals you have and they will be able to tailor your lesson programs to help you achieve those goals quicker and with more success.
Having those mid-term goals also gives you an amazing sense of achievement. To know that you are able to do something you couldn’t do before disbands any feelings of stagnation and lets your accomplishments fuel your motivation to keep improving and working towards the next goal.
Mix things up in your practice
Another thing that we often do to take the excitement out of practice is to structure it the same way every day with a priority on the things we least enjoy. This can easily eliminate our excitement to get into practice on a daily basis and is often hard to avoid as those things that we least enjoy can be major parts of learning an instrument.
There is a way around it. By breaking this routine and integrating the things we most enjoy and are confident in, you can build your excitement for practice and allow yourself to get into the rhythm of practicing before starting to tackle the harder tasks of the session. So next time you go into practice, instead of going straight to some theory or learning that hard part of a song, start off with jamming to your favourite backing track or playing through a song that gets you pumped up and in the mood for music.
Practice with friends
This is one of the absolute best ways to get yourself invested into your musical practice. It not only allows you to receive motivation from your friends but also expands your exposure to other ideas and builds your ability in playing and communication within a band. Forming jam sessions with your friends will open you up to an expanse of opportunity to progress your music and will give you countless goals to build upon.
For many aspiring musicians, such practice with friends can be a vital pathway to building the confidence to do live performances and to start your songwriting. Practicing together, experimenting with sounds and collaborating on original songs will allow members of a group to learn from the strengths of each other and leave each person ready for live performance, whether that’s as a band or going off to do your own music.
Try different sounds, volumes or styles
This is another small thing you can do that really breaks through the monotony and routine of your practice. Just by cranking up the volume of your amp or taking off the practice pedal of your piano, you can introduce whole new layers of sound and add some incredible energy into your playing. Practicing in softer dynamics and tones can similiarly introduce new sounds by allowing you to create more intimate and meaningful tones with your instrument.
However, if you are a guitarist and are thinking of cranking up that volume on your amp, make sure to not do anything that will disturb the neighbours at inappropriate times and make sure you don’t hurt your ears. If you're pushing your amp to the extreme, use ear protection or invest in a reducer that will give you that incredible sound of an amp turned up to its max but without the insane volume that traditionally accompanies it.
If you want to switch things up even more on a tonal or dynamic level, then you can try going acoustic or having a go with an electric instrument if you’re used to the other. Getting confident in performing both acoustically and with power can allow yourself to be exposed to so many more opportunities out in the music industry and can prepare you for any situation you may need or want to perform. Each style of instrumentation has it’s own technical considerations and skill sets for you to master and expand your own personal repertoire.
Maybe it’s even time to start on a new instrument!
If you’ve been playing an instrument for some time and during group practice you just keep looking over at the new and interesting sounds musicians of other instruments are making, it might be time to start exploring a new instrument! It can be an investment at first, having to start your technical skills as a beginner again, but adding multiple instruments into your repertoire can really improve your exposure to the musical world and open up a massive array of new experiences. Learning new instruments can even drastically improve your ability with your original instrument. If you’ve been having issues with your timing and rhythm, you could try learning some drumming techniques or pick the drums up completely and eventually become confident with not only simple times but, if you pursue it enough, you might also find yourself soloing confidently to a polymetered composition on your original instrument.
Diversifying yourself with multiple instruments doesn’t mean you need to forget your original instrument as well. Many musicians and almost all of our teachers have learnt multiple instruments themselves to improve their musical understanding and translate their theory to the sounds that are unique to each instrument, this can also help their compositional writing, music recordings and band communication.
So give it all a try!
Music is such a broad topic with so many different applications and skills to learn so there’s no way to predict what will be the best thing for you and your practice. The universal rule is to keep doing what you enjoy, keep moving forward in your work towards things that excite you and keep practicing. Music is a lifelong skill with limitless opportunities, so enjoy it and always keep it in your life.