25 tips for practising music
Norway Today is dedicated to bringing news and information regarding Norway. Although traditional Norwegian music revolves around Edvard Grieg, Folk Music, Joik and the like, that doesn’t really thrill most of the younger generations. Practising on an instrument, however, remains the key to success.
Starting with the a-ha mega-hit ”Take on me”, Norway’s contemporary music has contributed with Death Metal, Kaizer’s Orchestra and Kygo to name a few.
To become a musician it is, however, most often the case that you start with the basic. How to practise on an instrument?
Our Guest Writer, Musician and Photographer, Gavin Withner of musicoomph.com, kindly has agreed to share his blog with his thoughts on this.
Optimize Your Music Practice
Hands up if you’re practising an instrument as a hobby, or even as a profession, and you just can’t quite seem to get it right. You’re either rocking out in your free time or working on a project that you have in mind, nothing seems to sound right, or how you want it to at least.
It’s like writers’ block, but instead with music.
Well, it’s time to break free. Today, we’re going to explore 25 tips and techniques, so you can make the most of your music practices. Whether you incorporate them all or just pick a couple of your favourites, it’s time to take your music practice to the next level.
1. Creating Your Space
Music is best practised in a place where you can be with your thoughts. Whether you like creating a space where it’s quiet, and you won’t be disturbed or somewhere with a bit more of a lively energy, try and figure out what works best for you and stay consistent.
2. Kitting Out Your Space
If you’re dedicating a place for your music practice, make sure it’s kitted out with everything you could possibly want or need so you don’t have to run around completing mini-tasks when you could be focusing on your practice.
Think about water, snacks, pen & paper, spare wires, guitar headphones, overhead mics, alternative cymbals, pedals, replacement pickups; everything you could possibly need to fully focus on the creative aspect of your music.
3. Have a Warm-Up Phase
Imagine trying to do heavy workouts when you haven’t warmed up your muscles. Let your mind wander, meditate, just play your instrument mindlessly or work on your breathing. Whatever works for you, try getting your mind and body ready before each practice for optimal results.
4. Shoot for the Moon
Like all things in life, it’s good to have an end goal. Of course, I know what you’re thinking. Music is about being creative and letting your mind and soul take control, right from your very core. I know.
However, setting a goal like “I’m going to play something relaxed,” or “I’m going to work on my new song” is a good enough goal to give you purpose and direction, something that’s so important in making beautiful things happen.
Cause and effect, people!
5. Practice Smart, Not Hard
Okay, tell a lie, hard work is important if you want to be the best, or at least happy with your own style of play. However, like leaving your homework to do until the night before, try and work a little bit every day, rather than jumping into an 8-hour session.
Of course, that kind of approach will work for some people but always remember; quality over quantity.
6. Implement Visualizations
While music comes from the heart and the soul, it’s your brain that controls your hands and functions to make the music, so you need to make that mind-soul connection.
You can do this by visualizing yourself playing your instrument, even when you’re not playing. This can help you to stay focused, motivated and make even inspire you for a piece.
7. Overcoming Issues
Think about the sort of issues you come face to face with, in your everyday life. When you’re playing or practising a piece of music, and it’s not going right or sounding like you want it to sound like, what do you do?
Do you give up and stop practising the song or do you keep trying until you get it right? Now apply this logic to the rest of your life.
8. Don’t Force It
Although pushing yourself and maintaining disciplined is an important part of playing music and getting creative, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to force it and make it happen. If you’re in a night where you really don’t feel like playing, you don’t have to force yourself to.
Instead, perhaps try to do something related to music or something that could improve your practice, without practising directly, like reading a book on your favourite band or finding new music to listen to.
9. Slow and Steady Wins the Race
It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to go straight into a song and trying to nail it the first time. A good piece of advice? Slow it down. You have time.
Whether you’re practising an entire song or just parts of it, slow everything right now to a snail’s pace and then start to build it up as you get more and more confident with your abilities.
10. Use Technology
When trying to inspire yourself to get into your practice, it can be easy to make excuses like ‘oh, my metronome needs a new battery’ and then putting it off to watch TV.
Instead, remember there are a ton of apps and tools on your phone or computer you can use to optimize your practice and keep you on task. Also, modern high-tech accessories like amp attenuators make the job of playing your favourite instrument to your liking a breeze.
11. Note Down Your Work
It might seem like you’re not onto a winner when it comes to the work you’ve been performing today, but that doesn’t mean that the experience you’ve had is any less valuable. When you’re working on a piece, try writing the notes down, even if you don’t see it going anywhere now.
You never know, in a week you might look back and feel newly inspired by what you’ve written today.
12. Create an Audio Note
Hand in hand with the consideration above, why not try physically recording the music you’re making so you can listen to it back at a later date and hear how it sounds.
Just like you are when you’re looking for music to listen to, some days you may like it and can work with it, others you might not; this is all part of the creative process.
13. Set Milestones with Rewards
Playing music and motivating yourself to invest your time into it is hard work and takes a lot of discipline, especially if you’ve had a bad day. Instead, why not try rewarding yourself with a treat after you’ve finished.
If you do an hour every week, why not treat yourself to a nice takeaway or something you enjoy as a ‘thank you’ to yourself.
It doesn’t have to be something outside of the world of music, either. For example, if you nail a really challenging bass line which helps you achieve a big milestone, you can stop delaying gifting yourself that fretless bass that you’ve dreamt of since quite a while.
14. Set Some Dedicated Time Aside
While all practice is worthwhile, and every experience, both good and bad at the time, will have a positive benefit to your skill, you can do some things to influence your practices to be the best they can be.
This means dedicating some time aside to practice each week, meaning you’re able to focus during that time, leaving all kinds of distractions to the side.
Just ensure that you maintain some variety in your schedule so that your dedicated schedule doesn’t turn out to be boring soon enough. You can do that by trying out new sounds, working on your weaknesses, trying new equipment, etc.
If you’re a guitarist, for example, and you own a Stratocaster, you can try single-coil sized humbuckers for a heavier, richer sound. If you’re a bassist, you can try some aftermarket jazz bass pickups for a different sound. Similarly, if you play a keyboard with normal, non-weighted keys, you can try your hands on one with weighted keys.
15. Go with the Flow!
While setting aside time to practice will be hugely beneficial to your skills, sometimes you’ll feel an irresistible urge to perform, even if you’re doing something else. However, these creative outbursts shouldn’t go noticed.
If you’re not able to practice, why not try visualizing what you’re thinking about, or make some notes that could help you remember when you are able to practice.
16. Practice Daily
While you might not feel like you’ve got enough time in your life to practice, consider how many hours you spend a day on social media?
When the US averages around five hours daily, it becomes very clear that most of us have enough time to practice our instruments, if only for ten minutes a day.
17. Keep a Calendar
Hand in hand with the above point, even if you’re not practising every day, try to keep a diary of when you do so you can look back and see exactly how long you’ve been practising for every week.
If you add up each week how much time you’ve spent practising, and you feel as though it’s too short and you could fit more in, you then have a solid foundation in which to do so.
18. Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat
Never a truer collection of words spoken.
Like most things in life, the key to getting really good at playing music and being great about something you’re passionate about is repetition.
Yes, there are times you are going to be bored with it or things won’t go your way, but you’ve only reached that point statistically because you’ve been doing something you love for so long.
19. Don’t Try to Be the Best
It’s easy to get it into your head that you want to be the best guitar player with crazy fingerpicking skills, shredding skills or something along those lines. However, this will make you fall into the trap where you’re comparing yourself with other people and not feeling good enough yourself.
Instead, remember that making music is something you love and you’re doing it for that reason, not because you want to ‘beat’ somebody else.
You don’t have to produce the absolute best tone and have the best possible gear. Remember, skill reigns supreme over the cost of equipment any day. A legendary fingerstyle player would sound better than most people even if they’re given an electric guitar with an acoustic simulator pedal.
20. Finger Exercises
If you play a stringed instrument, it’s vital that you warm your fingers up before you start playing. Otherwise, you’re going to hurt the muscles in your hands and could ruin them over time. Instead, stretch out your fingers and start slowly, then building up into your practice.
21. Be Comfortable
If you’re playing in an environment where you’re not happy, such as you’re not comfortable or you feel on edge, you’re not going to be able to play properly, and you’ll just become frustrated and annoyed at what you’re doing.
Even if it’s a case of moving room or getting a comfortable chair or cushion, this can make a world of difference with your practice.
22. Get Feedback
Although you might not have the confidence yet to perform in front of a crowd of people, why not try performing to your friends and family. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been practising other people’s songs or your own, feedback is a great way to see what people respond to and what sounds good.
23. Remember to Be Patient
While most of you have heard this point repeatedly, patience is such a necessary part of learning an instrument, and it can do wonders for the rest of your life if you’re able to implement it into everything you do.
You’re not going to become a superstar overnight but over the course of months and even years. Just remember that you’ve got time and you’ll get there with willpower and discipline.
24. Look After Your Instrument
Your instrument is like an arm or a leg to a musician and is a vital part of your play. With this in mind, it’s easy to say that looking after and maintaining your instrument properly is such an important part of your routine.
If you’re in full flow and your instrument breaks or doesn’t work as intended, but it’s something you could have avoided with a bit of care, you’re going to find that you’re getting irritated with yourself.
25. Just Let Your Hair Down
It’s essential to remember that, at the end of the day, you’re doing something you love, regardless of what level of professionalism you’re at. When you’re in the zone, just let your hair down and have fun with the music you’re making.
After all, that’s what it’s all about!
Whether you’re new to practising or you’ve been doing it for years, learning to play and perform with an instrument isn’t just a case of picking it up and giving it go. Stay focused, stay mindful and most of all, remember that you’re doing what you love and brings a smile to your face.
About Gavin Whitner
A guitar player, songwriter, composer, and also the lead editor of MusicOomph, Gavin is one of the four musician friends behind this site. Outside of music, he’s an avid sports fan and hardly misses anything from football (soccer) to F1.