Performance Workshop Review

Independent Music Academy Performance Workshop

Performance Workshop: Stage presence and beating nerves

Emma and I (Lauren Crick) had the pleasure of running a Performance Workshop in November. The workshop was divided into four different aspects of performance. Nerves, stage presence, microphone technique then followed by a performance masterclass. 

Performance Nerves

Participants learn about stage fright and how nerves can affect performance. We discussed ways to deal with anxiety and how to embrace adrenalin.

Stage Presence

We also discussed what audiences look for in a great performance. The importance of stage presence to the overall production was explained. Participants also discovered ways to build their individual stage persona. They learnt how to feel comfortable on stage. They also learnt how to move freely and master great stage presence. 
Independent Music Academy Performance Workshop

Performance Workshop: microphone technique


Microphone Technique

Microphone technique was the next area of focus. All participants had the opportunity to set up and start using a microphone. For some, this was their first time using a microphone. For others, it was a great way to explore proper microphone technique. It also provided the opportunity to better their sound and performance experience.

Performance Masterclass

The afternoon finally concluded with a Performance Masterclass. All participants were given the opportunity to jump up on stage to perform. They received constructive feedback from both myself and Emma. All participants did a wonderful job of taking advice on board. Therefore they were comfortable enough to workshop many areas of their performance. All participants were incredibly supportive. It was a great environment to improve performance techniques learnt throughout the day.
The Performance Workshop received extremely positive. Participants have asked for regular performance workshops, masterclasses and additional workshops!
If you’d like to express interest in future workshops email
Written by Lauren Crick

Guitar Lessons Brisbane

Guitar Lessons Brisbane

No matter if you are old or young, picking up a guitar is a wonderful idea that will give you countless hours of enjoyment.

There are many different aspects of learning a guitar, and in this blog post, we’ll be going through some of the most basic things that you’ll need to consider before diving into some lessons. Consider this entire post an introductory lesson to guitar playing, as it will be similar to the things you learn at any guitar lesson. Without further ado, let’s dive right into the key points that will help you learn guitar.

What are you learning guitar for?

It seems like a simple question but there are many different meanings to these words. First, ask yourself what you plan to learn the guitar for. Are you trying to impress some friends? Do you want to start a band? Or do you want to just have a hobby that you can learn a little and enjoy? It feels strange to ask these questions, but it’s important because it can define your path to learning the guitar.

Make sure you’re truthful to yourself about why you want to learn the guitar! The last thing you want to do is spend several days learning detailed music theory when all you want to do is read tabs (tabs are an easy form of guitar music notation that indicate sting position not musical pitches/notes). Not everybody needs to be fluent in notes, scales and music theory to have fun playing the guitar.

What type of guitar do you want to play?

There are many different types of guitars, but the two main categories are acoustic and electric. Acoustic guitars can all sound different depending on the shape, the strings used (typically nylon or steel_ and even the types of materials used. Electric guitars, on the other hand, do have their various sound profiles, but the majority of the effects and wild sounds you get from an electric guitar will come from the effects you use and also the amp.

What this means is that an electric guitar needs far more investment to get the right sounds that you want, and it takes a lot of experimentation. On the other hand, an acoustic guitar can just be bought and played without having to purchase a separate amp or effect pedals. However, the variety of sounds you can get is much lower, so be sure to listen to acoustic and electric guitars to find out which you prefer.

The best guitar to learn with

There’s a lot of contradicting advice when it comes to what guitar you should learn with. However, most people find that their enjoyment has a lot to do with the success rate of their learning, which is why most people would suggest picking one that you enjoy and sticking with it. If you want to play acoustic guitar because you enjoy the sound of it, then purchase an acoustic. If you prefer rock and metal music, then an electric guitar will suit you better.

Something to keep in mind is that acoustic guitars can be a little harder to play because the strings are further away from the fret board. This results in more force being required to push the strings down for it to make the correct sound. For beginners, this can be incredibly frustrating, but it does build up your finger strength much faster and it’s not a huge issue.

There’s also the argument that acoustic guitars are more convenient and cheaper to operate. This is true, but electric guitars aren’t exactly expensive either. In fact, because the sound the guitar makes is fed through a cable and modified with effects, you can actually use a computer or even a mobile phone as an amplifier with the right cables and software. This can save you a lot of money, but it can be rather annoying to set up if you aren’t computer or guitar-savvy. However, you should also keep in mind that acoustic guitars cannot be lowered in volume unless you play lightly. Electric guitars don’t make much sound without an amp, which means they are a little more discreet and convenient for practice.

Motivation while playing

When you learn guitar, it’s important to remember that motivation plays a big role in your success rate. As mentioned before, different people have different reasons for trying to learn to play the guitar, and if your reason is something long-term then it can be hard to muster up the courage and motivation to continue. For instance, if you plan to learn slowly and pick up all the chords, notes and scales, then all you will be playing are simple notes and scales. It will be a long time until you can actually play a song or perform something that sounds pleasing to the ear and not just a scale or some chords.

That’s why it’s recommended to learn some songs or at least a couple of riffs no matter what your study routine is. Playing the same few chords over and over can build up your finger strength, but it’s not very fun and it’s more enjoyable to actually play a song you know and learn it with the knowledge that you have been taught. This is usually what motivates people into playing the guitar over a longer period of time.

The importance of a coach

Although it’s entirely possible to teach yourself how to play the guitar, it’s great to have a coach that can assist you in your guitar lessons. It helps to have someone correct your mistakes, watch how you handle a guitar and also give advice on the complications that arise when playing the guitar. Your fingers will hurt, you will develop calluses and you may even be so frustrated that you’ll put down the guitar and never play again.

A coach will not only teach you, but will help you overcome obstacles and difficulty you encounter as you learn. Having someone to guide and teach you is invaluable, which is why you should never underestimate the importance of a coach when you’re taking guitar lessons. Although there are plenty of online resources and mobile apps to help you learn, nothing will beat one-on-one time with a dedicated teacher that has experience.

Make sure you start off slow and steady when attempting to learn the guitar. The last thing you want is to rush head-first into learning the guitar, only to feel burned out at the overwhelming amount of information you need to remember in order to play. Find your own source of motivation, keep your morale high and you’ll find that the key to learning guitar is to ultimately have fun.

Christmas and 2017

Hi everyone we hope that 2016 was a big and productive year for you and that you’re ready for a break before gearing up for 2017.

We know we are!

Below is some important info about your lessons at IMA – as always, any questions or concerns please email or call.

Can we wish you and your family a safe and joyful Christmas and a fantastic New Year. Bring on 2017!


Christmas Closing Dates

IMA will be closed for Christmas between 23rd of Dec and the 2nd of January inclusive. If you’ve booked a term of lessons recently, the term will skip over the dates that we’re closed and continue in the new year.

Public Holidays

Here’s a list of dates that we’ll be closed on in 2017. All other public holidays, lessons will continue as usual:

  • New Years Day Holiday: Monday 2nd January
  • Australia Day: Thursday 26th of January
  • Easter Monday Monday 17th April
  • ANZAC Day: Tuesday 25th of April


Price Increase 2017

Beginning in January 2017 there will be a small increase in our lesson prices. We have been holding our prices steady since late 2012. Unfortunately, rising costs have forced us to respond.

To help us maintain the high standard of our tuition our new prices are as follows:

  • School Terms: $40 / lesson
  • 12 week blocks $40 / lesson
  • 9 week blocks $42 / lesson
  • 6 week blocks $44 / lesson
  • 3 week blocks $ 46 / lesson
  • Casual Lessons $48 / lesson

To ease the impact of our price rise we have a special offer for all our existing clients.

BOOK AND PAY FOR YOUR NEXT TERM BEFORE 22/12/2016 AND YOU WILL PAY 2015 PRICES (please ask admin for details)

Thanks so much for the privilege of helping you to make music this year. We look forward to making more great music with you in 2017.

Music with your mind (Part II)

Music With Your Mind

In part one of this blog post I covered the mental aspects of music making and how it applies to practice. In this second part, I’ll be focussing on how having the right set of mental skills helps you in the actual performance of music.



If you’re feeling tense on stage, one of the simplest and best ways to combat it is to use slow breathing. Concentrate on breathing slowly while you play whatever you’ve got to play. It will make everything a lot calmer. Try this even before you go on stage and continue throughout the performance as much as you can.


Notice the tightness in your jaw, your shoulders or wherever else you have tension. Biting lips is another common sign of tension. If you’re aware of the tension, continue to breathe and relax, you’ll be through the performance before you know it. Distracting the mind is a great way to perform well. Relaxation is a great thing to distract the mind with as it serves a useful purpose in itself.

Permission to fail

This biggest problem in performance is worry. Worrying about what people are going to think. Worrying about whether you’ve practised enough and so on.

When you stop worrying about making mistakes in performance you’ll stop making mistakes. See part I of this blog post under ‘Trying Fails’. How do you stop worrying? Focus on something else like relaxation or breathing (see above). As soon as you accept that if you do make a mistake, nothing really bad is going to happen . No one is going to die for example. Keep in mind that 99% of the audience aren’t going to notice as long as you don’t stop. Allow yourself to make mistakes in performance and you’re much less likely to make them.

Don't Stop

Not Stopping

If you don’t stop, 99% of the audience aren’t going to know that you made a mistake. Other giveaways to the audience are pulling faces and swearing loudly. Don’t do any of those and the audience just won’t know, I promise.

No audience wants you to fail

Nobody comes to a gig to see you fail. So remember, the audience is there to support you, to have a good time and to see you play at your best. Also, remember that the most critical listener in the room will be you. The audience won’t perceive any of the faults that you see in your performance. As long as you remember to enjoy yourself they will too!

Enjoy Yourself

Everyone wants to see you have fun on stage. As long as you do that, the audience will enjoy the experience. It’s always great to see a group of musicians onstage enjoying playing the music that they love. Remember how much you’ve enjoyed seeing that onstage yourself and emulate it.

Listening 3rd person

We all play music because we like listening to it. The best way to enjoy a performance if you’re the performer is to listen to it like you’re in the audience. Listening like this also helps us ‘step away’ from the performance and listen more externally.

Remove Ego

If you get up on stage thinking that your social status or what people think of you is dependent on how you perform, then you’re not going to have a good time. You’re also probably not going to perform at your best. Find someone or something to perform for who’s not present or can’t judge you. For example, perform for the songwriter, the song itself. You’ll give a more generous, non-judgemental performance yourself when you’re not worrying about your ego. When you remove ego from the performance, everything will become much easier.

Get The Most From Your Practice

Mental Skills

Remember that these are all skills. They’re not inherent personality traits. They’re things that you’ll need to practice. Jam nights can be a great way to work on these skills in a supportive environment.

This wraps up the two-part blog ‘Music With Your Mind’. If you’ve got any questions, feel free to post them on our Facebook page, twitter feed or in the comments section of our blog.


Andrew Farnham is one of the two directors of  IMA Music Mentoring where he leads the Guitar Lessons team.

Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.

Music With Your Mind (part I)

Music With Your Mind

In then end, improvements in your mental skills improve your playing above all else.

We know that the mental aspects are amazingly important. We’ve seen MRIs of musicians practising. MRIs of musicians mentally practising. And they look exactly the same.

I’ve also noticed that the small changes in my client’s mental skills have the largest effect on their playing.

Personally, I’ve caught myself making physical mistakes when mentally practising. For me, that was a sure sign that there wasn’t actually a physical problem with what I was doing. It was really all mental (and a fairly amusing form of self-sabotage). Once I’d corrected the problem mentally, the physical problem went away.

You can apply these mental skills in both practice and performance. Not that they’re really that different in the long run.

Here’s how I think about the two. (I’ll cover performance in another blog post, this one has gotten out of hand length-wise).


Practice is permission to succeed

Practice is a ritual that gives you permission to perform at your best. While practice is important for improving your physical skills. From a mental point of view, it’s a way of saying to yourself, “I’ve done the work, now it’s ok for me to perform well”.

Pattern Matching

The brain is an amazing pattern matching machine. When we practice we need to take advantage of this awesome tool.

In the end, there’s only one thing that counts in music, and that’s how it sounds. Music has only one KPI.

The ultimate goal of practice is to equate sound with muscle movement. So when you hear (either in your head or on a recording) a particular sound, your body knows what muscle movements to carry out to create that sound. We want to work towards removing all intermediate steps and eventually arriving at sound = muscle movement.

This is the whole purpose of ear training and practice in general. It’s also why we learn scales and scale patterns, to help bridge that gap between sound and action.

So, instead of concentrating on the physical when you practice, you should listen to the sounds you’re making. Use them as something that indicates that there may be a physical thing wrong. On guitar, for example, you may start to notice that a buzzy sound equates with your finger not being close enough to the fret. That a ‘dead’ sounding string may be a finger accidentally leaning over onto an adjacent string.

Don't Stop

Don’t stop when you hear the mistake. Be aware of it, and fix it on the next repetition of the phrase that you’re practising. Slowly repeating small sections of what you’re learning is really effective.).

When you practice small sections over and over, you give your pattern matching brain a chance to compare repetitions. This allows it to determine which options have faults in them and which are the more error free versions.

I think of this like target practice (think archery). You shoot at the target, you might have aimed a little high and you miss. You adjust your aim and try again, perhaps being a little low. Next shot you hit the target. Then miss, a little high, then hit it again. As you shoot more you become more consistent as you can reference the misses and make adjustments.

If we make the mistakes and stop, we don’t give our brain any reference points to improve against. Worse still, if we make a mistake, get annoyed and stop, we’re highlighting that mistake for our brain. The brain then thinks that the mistake is important and it grabs hold of that. Instead, show the brain that the mistake is a statistical anomaly. It will figure out that that’s not what you’re trying to achieve.

Practising in this way allows us to always improve by solving problems as they become audible to us. As we learn to hear more acutely, we’ll solve more and more subtle problems.

Long-Term Goals

When I’m working on a new skill, I like to set myself up for a three-month goal. Although “goal” is probably not the best term in this case. I decide that I’m going to do the same thing for three months and not really worry about the outcome. I’ll just concentrate on making gradual improvements over that period of time.

I find that goal orientated learning in music is rarely effective. If you’re inclined towards perfectionism, the long term ‘not goal’ is the best way to help yourself improve.

If you take a goal oriented approach and try to get it perfect on one day. Or, try to get it perfect by a specific date. You will either not achieve your goal, or slow your progress so much that it becomes a very painful process.

The trick, in this case, is to ‘just do it’, listen to the detail and make minor improvements when you hear faults. You’ll eventually do this without thinking about it. (see our blog post on the ‘Four Stages of Competence’).

There is a great book ‘Zen in the art of Archery’ that you’ll find in the instrument cases or bookshelves of many great players. It outlines the story of a Westerner who already had some archery experience learning the art of Kyūdō (Japanese Archery). There are many parallels between practising that art and learning music. In the book, the Kyūdō master sets up the targets in front of the student archer so that they can’t miss. This stops the student from worrying about the goal of hitting the target. This then allows them to focus on all of the other aspects of archery that in the end, are much more important.

Trying Fails

Another great book that we often recommend to clients is ‘The Inner Game of Music’. There’s a section in the book where a student attempts to demonstrate to a teacher how she makes a mistake in her piece. Much to her chagrin, she plays the problem section perfectly several times. By giving herself permission to fail, she’s stopped worrying about it. As a result, she has performed the piece exceptionally well. This is another example of where the mental outweighs all other factors in playing music.


Another place where trying fails is trying to go faster. Even if you are playing a rapid passage, you should never be ‘thinking fast’. Think smooth, even, focus on the rhythm, but never the speed. Smooth and rhythmic playing is relaxed whereas fast is tense. It’s often counterintuitive that playing mechanically even notes sound smooth and organic. You never need to worry about speed, it comes with time.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll follow up this post with a second part next week. In the meantime, feel free to comment on our blog, Facebook page or Twitter feed, or ask questions via email (


Andrew Farnham is one of the two directors of  IMA Music Mentoring where he leads the Guitar Lessons team.

Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.


Photo credit: A Health Blog via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: mikerastiello via / CC BY-NC-ND

Jam Night at IMA

IMA Jam Night

We’ve recently relocated out Mitchelton studios to our new Ashgrove location. Since the move, we’ve been running the IMA Jam Night from this great new space.

IMA Jam Nights are a excellent way to get used to playing in front of a friendly and supportive crowd. You’ll also learn some great skills that you just can’t learn playing at home.

Get The Most From Your Practice

Why Should I Perform at Jam Night?

Playing at home is different to playing in front of people. There are some things that make playing surprisingly different at first.

For example, generally, you’ll be standing up to perform. If you’re not practicing standing at least some of the time, it’s a good habit to get into. Your posture will be different (and probably better).

You have to practice performing while staying calm. Everyone gets nervous playing in front of people, it’s completely normal. Learning techniques from your mentor to help you relax when performing will make you a better all-round musician. (Check out our upcoming IMA Performance Workshop)

Playing with a band requires some additional skills:

When you play at home by yourself, you don’t have to listen to anyone else except for yourself. Listening to others is an absolutely critical skill to improving your musicianship.

Learning to listen and respond to the group you’re playing with takes performing to a whole new level. It makes it even more fun and exciting.

When you’re playing with a group, you’ll have to manage your volume. It’s best to set it so that you can just hear enough of yourself to get by, and no more. That takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s very worthwhile.

Performers who are louder than everyone else just so that they can hear ‘more of me’ are rarely popular. They also can’t hear enough of the other performers to interact in any meaningful way.

Use Your Ears

Use Your Ears

You’ll learn to listen on three levels:

  1. Listening to yourself, making sure that you’re not being too loud. Confirming that what you’re playing makes sense.
  2. Listening to the band so that you can respond to what they’re doing.
  3. Listening like an audience member. Learning to listen like you’re not involved in the making of the music. Hearing the way that everything is interacting. Also ‘noticing’ things that you’d like yourself to change in that context. This is the most important of the three listening skills to work towards.

It’s also important to learn how to recover from mistakes. We all make them, the trick is not to be put off by mistakes. To remain relaxed and to not stop and if possible not to let anyone else know that you made a mistake.

The other thing about jam night is that you get meet people who are learning just like you. It’s great to be able to discuss the musical journey with people who are both further along, and less so than you are. It really gives you a great perspective on where you’re at and where you can go. It’s also nice to be able to give and receive some support and encouragement.

You get to play with and experienced professional band. The mentors at IMA are all seasoned performers. Getting to play with more experienced musicians always helps lift your own playing level.

Where is it held?

At our IMA Ashgrove studios. Parking is out the back accessed through Harry street.


What should I know?

Jam nights are fun! You get to perform with a really professional band in front of a group of supportive people.

You should be able to play along with the song you’ve chosen from start to finish without stopping.

How often do Jam Nights happen?

Once a month on the second Friday of the month.

How do I book?

IMA Jam Nights are great fun. We’re looking forward to seeing you there!

Setting Yourself Up To Practice

Keyboard Practice

Every extra step you need to get ready for practice is another barrier to getting started. And if it’s hard to get started, it’s much more likely that you just won’t practice at all.

Once you miss a practice session, resistance to practice increases. It then becomes a downward spiral from there as you put off practicing day after day.

Don’t panic! There are some simple steps you can take to make sure that this doesn’t happen to you.

Lower Resistance

Instruments on stand

Many of the ‘things you need’ can be found on a smartphone or tablet:(metronome / drum machine, tuner, recording device, headphone amp simulator). I’m a big fan of Garage Band on the iPad and iPhone as it contains pretty much everything you need for a good practice session wherever you are.

Keeping it in sight

Make a regular time


Get yourself setup to practice and do a minimum of five minutes per day and you’ll be blown away at how consistently you progress. It can be a great idea to record yourself also so that you can come back later and check on your progress.

In the meantime, happy practicing!


Andrew Farnham is one of the two directors of  IMA Music Mentoring where he leads the Guitar Lessons team.

Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.

Learning Music by Immersion

Why do we think that learning music is hard? Ask yourself these questions…

How did you learn your first language?

Child TalkingDid your parents hand you a language textbook for your mother tongue? No, you learned it by listening and imitating whoever was around you as you were growing up. You learned how to control the sounds made with your mouth by making strange and amusing noises. That was until you started to be able to imitate some noises that got a response from those around you.

If you’ve never learned music before, that’s how I suggest you start out. Getting bogged down in reading music and learning theory right from the beginning is too much. Trying to learn too many skills at once just slows you down. Learn some good physical technique and get control of your instrument (or voice). That way you’ll be off to a good start to your playing career.

If you’re not a beginner, but struggling to advance your playing, it’s probably your ears that are holding you back. Too much thinking and not enough listening are the common problems we encounter with intermediate and advanced clients.

To learn music, you'll need to use your ears

Use Your Ears

It’s about focussing in on the micro and not worrying too much about the macro. Simple ways to change your focus are:

learning music requires focus

All of these exercises help you focus on the listening part of playing. Playing is usually thought of as an active / doing activity. When you’re playing at your best a good proportion of playing will be listening.


Playing without listening is like driving blindfolded, it’s not going to end well.  Tweet This!


Andrew Farnham is one of the two directors of  IMA Music Mentoring where he leads the Guitar Lessons team.

Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.

Music Reading, Yes or No?

As music teachers, a question we’re often asked is, “Will I need to learn to read music?” “Is Music Reading important?” The answer, of course, is “It depends …”

It depends on what your goals are when learning music. Being able to read music is a great skill to have. It’s not one that’s necessary to have when you start learning an instrument. Neither is it necessary to be able to read well to be able to play well.

Here are some points to consider:

Western Classical? Music reading is not optional

Western Classical Music

If you’re wanting to learn classical music, to be able to play in an ensemble / orchestra / big band or to play classical piano or guitar. Then learning to read sooner rather than later is definitely necessary. If you want to play blues, then it’s an optional extra.

You Learnt To Speak First

When you learnt your first language, your parents didn’t give you a textbook to learn it. You learnt first by getting a handle on the muscles in your mouth and throat, and then by imitating. It’s a good analogy for how we learn music. To become a truly fluent ‘speaker’ on an instrument, you need to be good at listening and reproducing sounds. That’s regardless of whether you can read music or not.

You Can Add It On Later

Once you can play your instrument you can add music reading easily. When you get to the point in your musical journey of not having to think about basic technique all the time. You’ll have the free brain space to add a new skill. Music reading is just like reading a graph. Time goes from left to right. Pitch (or how high or low the sound is) reads from top (height) to bottom. It’s just not that hard to add on later.

Trying to do it while learning the mechanics of your instrument though can be a big ask. It often puts people off learning music altogether, which is sad. The more people playing music the better!


Many Cultures Don’t

Many cultures don’t have a written form of music. Music is passed on orally within the community from elder to child or from master to apprentice. Some of these cultures have extremely complex musical traditions with a high degree of subtlety and nuance in their performance.

Blues, for example, is not something that you can learn to play well from reading it from the page. Immersing yourself in the recordings of great blues artists will improve your playing immensely.

Written Music Is A Low Res Copy

What you read is not what you play. Written music does not provide enough information to inform a performance. Unless you’re familiar with the musical tradition of the music you’re trying to perform, you won’t be able to play that music.

When studying at the Conservatorium of music, I asked one of the extremely skilled pianists to sight read out of a Jazz transcription book for me (the Charlie Parker Omni book). Being an excellent sight reader, the pianist in question played through it almost without error on the first pass. What she played, however, bore almost no relation to the music of Charlie Parker. Why? The pianist had never heard any jazz (She’d grown up in Asia and had listened almost exclusively to Western Classical music).

Because there’s not enough information on a written page of music to inform a performance, what she played was note perfect, but missed all of the other data needed to make it sound like that music.

If you were to add all of the details of a performance into written music. The music would be so dense and complex that it would be almost impossible to read. It would be more efficient simply to listen and imitate the sounds.

Many Great Players Can’t Read

Mark Knopfler, Jimi Hendrix and Sir Paul McCartney did not learn to read music. Tommy Emmanuel also can’t. I think we’d all agree that they play quite well. Regardless of whether you learn to read or not, the common skill between all of the great players is developing a great ‘ear’.

Music Reading Doesn’t Help You Learn To Play

Reading music won’t help you with the mechanics of playing your instrument. Being taught good technique at the start of your musical journey is the best thing that you can have happen to you. Music reading has nothing to do with the physicality of your instrument. It’s also not necessary to read music to have an understanding of music theory. Much of the theory of western music (particularly that in common practice in the 20th century onwards) can be explained using letters of the alphabet.


Unless you have some very specific goals. Like playing classical music, or playing in an ensemble / orchestra then music reading is a nice optional extra, not a necessity.

Don’t let the fear of having to read music put you off learning music. It’s a great thing to have, but it is definitely a skill that can be added later.


Andrew Farnham is one of the two directors of  IMA Music Mentoring where he leads the Guitar Lessons team.

Book a free, introductory music lesson and start following your musical dreams.

Music The Quick And Easy Way

(or why fundamental technique is your friend)


You know when you try to take some kind of shortcut, and it ends up taking you way longer to get to where you’re going? This might be in actually traveling to get somewhere, or in trying to achieve some specific goal.

We’ve all tried “the unthinking short path”. It’s when you’ve tried to brute-force your way through without knowing what you’re doing.

The other alternative is the “overcomplicated short path”. Like when you were still learning to read. The teacher would go around the classroom getting each student to read a sentence. You’d count ahead, figure out which bit to read, and then, blam! You miscounted, or the teacher changes the order and you’re left flat-footed.

With these methods, sometimes you get there, but the result just doesn’t hold together. Sometime’s you end up with a complete mess.


Photo credit: Gary Wong Photography via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

I’d like to contrast this with the times when you’ve had a really good hard think about something, or asked some advice and you’ve discovered “the simple short path”. It may have been in the way to travel to a destination. It may have been when somebody told you a better way to do a job. Either way, doing some research in advance ends up being a better method 99% of the time.

Learning music is much exactly the same. Humans have been doing the music thing for quite some time. During that time, some humans have worked out the simplest and best ways to play music. I’m not talking the style of music, or how it’s constructed, but the technique you use when it’s played.

A good teacher makes a point of ensuring that you have good technique first. Why? It’s the shortest path to where you want to go musically.

Avoiding the Learning Curve Plateau

If you don’t get your technique settled in at the start, you’ll end up with a plateaued learning curve. It looks something like this:

Plateau Learning Curve

You move forward, and then get stuck. Sometimes you have to go back and retrace your steps to relearn something in a better way. Sometimes you get permanently stuck and the plateau persists for quite a while. Why do we get stuck with music? Frequently it’s because of an inability within our physical or mental techniques. Once this is fixed, we can move on.

It’s a case of going through the ‘four levels of competence’ with whatever problem that you’ve encountered. The biggest trick, of course, is knowing what you don’t know (or what you’re doing wrong). The second trick is knowing what to practice to fix the problem. From that point on, it becomes a matter of doing the skill enough times to make it automatic (unconscious competence).

When you get some fundamental technique in place first, you’ll get to move forward in a more steady curve. It can even resemble an S-curve (see the Sigmoid Curve):


The same applies if you’re stuck on a long plateau and someone teaches you a better way to do what you’re doing.

This works out a lot better in the long run. Don’t worry about the steep bit at the end of the S-curve. When you get very good at what you’re learning. The refinements you’d like to make can take quite a while because they’re very subtle. If you’re not already close to mastery on your instrument, this flat bit is nothing for you to worry about.

Technique is a means to and end…

…. Not and end in itself. What does that mean?

Sometimes, players get so caught up with technique that they forget the reason for it in the first place. My favourite quotation about this is:

“Technique is the means to let the heart fly freely”  Tweet This!

I think it’s a lovely poetic expression of what technique is all about. I thought that it was attributed to the french composer Olivier Messiaen. I can’t, however, find it on the all-knowing internet, so if anyone know’s what the actual quote is and who it’s attributed to, please let us know in the comments.

The technique allows you to remove impediment from expression. Have good technique means having the freedom to get our what you want to say. Once you’ve got the technique, the next important step, of course, is to have something to say.

Don’t Think About Technique

To have complete freedom to express yourself, you need to not be thinking about technique. Once again, subconscious competence comes to the rescue. Having good technique as a completely automatic habit, means that you have the free brain space to get on with expression.

Good technique means relaxed technique. Learn to relax while playing and learning. This will promote faster learning, increase your accuracy and decrease your risk of injury.

relaxed technique

Photo credit: chooyutshing via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Avoid Injury

Avoid Downtime due to injury. If you can’t practice for weeks or months that will obviously slow your progress. Permanent injury can happen and then you’ve never achieved your musical goals. Good technique will be relaxed with no strain and will minimise the amount of fatigue that you feel from playing or singing. If music practice hurts its wrong (tweet this).

The Fastest Way Forward

In the end, the fastest way to learn any instrument is with a solid, relaxed technique on your side. Get a good teacher who’s interested in sound fundamental technique and move your playing along at the best pace.


Andrew Farnham is one of the two directors of  IMA Music Mentoring where he leads the Guitar Lessons team.

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