The practice triangle is a concept very similar to the project management triangle. The project management triangle outlines some constraints that you’ll have when working on a project. Simply stated it says:
Good, fast, cheap: pick two.
In other words, if you want something built well and quickly, then it’s not going to be cheap. Want something built inexpensive for not a lot of money, then it’s going to take a long time. Fast and cheap, well it’s just not going to be good.
In the wonderful book effortless mastery by Kenny Werner, Kenny outlines ‘the practice triangle’. In this case, the three corners of the triangle are:
All The Way Through
Up To Tempo
or as I like to think of them:
How well you play the piece or excerpt.
Length of excerpt
Speed you play the excerpt.
Like the production triangle from earlier, you get to pick two. If you play a long excerpt quickly, then it’s not going to be good. Play a short excerpt slowly, then the quality of the performance is going to be very good. I’m sure that you work out the other variations for yourself.
What Kenny suggests is that you practice using all of these variations to really help you get to know a piece well.
I strongly suggest that everyone practices small excerpts slowly. Slow and short is the most underused practice technique, particularly for beginners.
However, It can be helpful to have a quick and rough run through the whole piece just to get to know the whole thing. In much the same way that it’s really important to have repeated listenings of whatever piece that you’re working on. This helps you begin to subconsciously store the ‘map’ of the piece in your head.
At the end of repeatedly practicing a small segment slowly, it can be fun and useful to see how far you can push the tempo up also. Again, I’d like to reiterate that this should be a small bit of your practice, not the majority.
Try all of the variations you can think of in your practice. Not only will it help you find weak spots in what you’re working on, it will also spice up your practice a bit and keep it interesting.
Have you heard of ‘Four Stages Of Competence’? It’s a learning model that describes the steps you go through to become good at a skill. It’s something that we like to teach our clients as early as possible in their music learning journey. FSC is a great tool for understanding how to learn skills as quickly as possible. Learning music takes time, but we want to help our clients to use that time efficiently.
What’s important to remember is that these levels apply to very small skills. It won’t help you to rate skills like ‘playing the guitar’. What’s more helpful is understanding what skills are required to ‘play the guitar’ and to move those skills up through the stages.
The four stages are:
Where you don’t know what you don’t know.
You may be unaware of a bad habit you have on your instrument or in your voice. There may be something that you’re not doing that could help your playing or singing a lot.
You become aware of a skill that you don’t have.
You might unable to play a piece of music smoothly, or not get the sound you want out of your instrument. You may stumble across the reason why by youself.
Most often you reach this stage by having a good mentor diagnose a problem. They’ll then prescribe an exercise or a physical habit for you to carry out to fix it.
You can perform a particular skill.
After working on the skill for a while, you can do it. Although you still have to think about it. That verbal part of your brain is still running the show when you’re using the skill.
You’ve practised the skill enough that you no longer have to think about it. The skill has become completely automatic.
That means that there’s only one way to get something into this stage, and that’s via repetition.
We All Are On All Of The Levels
All of us have skills spread across all the stages. I’m very confident that there are things about guitar playing that I don’t know. When I find out about them and start to practice those skills they’re going to be very useful to me.
So don’t think that you’re on one level or another. There are things that you can do automatically already, and things that you don’t know about.
Applying the Four Levels to Music Learning
As we’ve all got limited amounts of time, we want to keep the number of repetitions we have to do as low as possible.
The best way to keep the number of repetitions down is to focus on one small skill at a time when you practice.
Here’s how I visualise the whole process:
I think of the levels as a series of shelves. The ‘Unconscious Incompetence’ level being the floor. This floor is littered with things I can’t really see clearly because of all of the mess.
Once I discover a skill on the floor that I didn’t know I needed. I’ll move it up to the next shelf (Conscious Incompetence). It’s a matter of “Hey, I can’t do that thing! Let’s put it up here so that I can start to work on it”.
I select that one small skill, devise a way to improve it and include it in my daily practice. I’ll do that one thing that I need to work on with a metronome. I’ll usually play at around 30–40 BPM for at least 5 minutes without stopping.
Once I start working on it, it’s going to eventually get moved up to the ‘Conscious Competence’ shelf. I’ll be able to do the skill, but I’ll still have to be concentrating to carry it out. At this point, I really focus on relaxing while repeating the skill. This takes my mind away from conciously carrying out the skill and helps push the skill towards being automatic.
Once it’s there, it’s not too many more repetitions until it makes its way up to the ‘Unconcious Competence’ shelf. I won’t need to think about it anymore. It may need occasional fine-tuning, but it’s probably going to stay with me for the rest of my life. Now that I’ve got the free headspace, I can start again with another skill.
The important part of this process is that the skills that you’re moving up the shelves should be very small. You should move only one skill at a time. Also, you should practice the skill very, very slowly. I can’t stress that enough.
On guitar, for example, I’ll focus on one very small thing. Making sure that I place my fingers exactly up against the fret wire (but never on top) is a good skill. I’ll practise this skill until I just start to place my fingers there automatically.
Spinning too many plates
Trying to move a bunch of skills up through the levels is slow and ineffective. You’ll get there eventually, but it’s definitely the slowest route possible. It’s a bit like learning plate spinning and starting off with 8 plates at once.
Why slow practice?
The brain doesn’t care what speed you carry out a motion, it learns it just the same regardless of speed. So why slow? So that you can learn the skill perfectly.
There’s no point in making an imperfect skill automatic. That’s the very definition of a bad habit. The other reason for going slowly is that it gives you an opportunity to practice being completely relaxed.
There’s much research on how much more effective learning is when you’re relaxed. You’ll also find that if you practise your new skill slowly and perfectly that it will become automatic quite quickly.
The Tricky Part
The big trick, of course, is finding out what you don’t know. The slow way is to keep guessing by yourself. You’ll probably get there in the end. It certainly won’t be easy or the best use of your time. The faster method is to find someone who’s been where you’re headed and can help you avoid the pitfalls along the way.
A good mentor can spot the skills you’re missing quickly, help you work on them in the right order and get you playing the music you want to player sooner.
Emotional (changing an impatient attitude to one of positive and supportive)
Mental (going from a perception of a blur in time to one where you are in control of your time with some type of structure or habit you put in place)
Spiritual (where you connect momentarily with something or someone that really matters to you)
For many of us, music fulfils not one, but all of those categories. Considering that “Music Is Like A Full Body Workout For Your Brain. Setting aside a few, two to ten-minute sessions a day for some playing or singing is a good idea. These sessions are not just for good for your health, as the above TED-Talk describes. They’re also for your productivity and energy levels at home and work.
Can you keep an instrument in the office or do you work from home? Do you have a place that you can go to have a sing to yourself? If you can, great! Schedule in some break time and do some playing.
If not, try doing some practice in your head. You’ll be surprised at how effective it is. There’s much research confirming the effectiveness of mental practice. So don’t be afraid to take some time out and simply imagine yourself playing through a piece of music or exercise.
Alternatively, instead of scheduling in some time. When you start to feel tired or unfocused, just grab your instrument and have a quick play (or do the mental equivalent).
Playing music can be a great way to achieve a quick ‘recharge’ during the day.
Knowing now that you only have to set aside a few minutes a day to learn music. Not only do you no longer have the excuse that you don’t have time for playing music. You have the added bonus of knowing that playing a little music every day could be making you more effective at work and home.
If you’re not making music already, get started now! Not only is it fun, it’s really good for you.
Being present while performing and practicing is, I believe, the most profound and important aspect of all your music making – being able to freely access this state of mind will improve your gigs, your songwriting and your improvising instantly.
I’ll break this blog entry down into a couple of different parts – What is being present? – What does it look like? – How does it work? – Exercises to experience it – Exercises to integrate it – When you can expect it to work and (finally) Where to use it.
WHAT IS BEING PRESENT?
“Being present” is the best way that I have to describe the feeling of deep, soft focus that all great creative people can access at will.
It’s a place inside you where time and all the niggles of the world don’t exist, it’s a place of flow and authentic creation and it can be invigorating and exhausting. Les Murray, one of the world’s greatest living poets (and an Aussie!) puts it beautifully
“It’s wonderful, there’s nothing else like it, you write in a trance. And the trance is completely addictive, you love it, you want more of it. Once you’ve written the poem and had the trance, polished it and so on, you can go back to the poem and have a trace of that trance, have the shadow of it, but you can’t have it fully again… You can be sitting there but inwardly dancing, and the breath and the weight and everything else are involved, you’re fully alive. It takes a while to get into it… Sometimes it starts without your knowing that you’re getting there, and it builds in your mind like a pressure. I once described it as being like a painless headache, and you know there’s a poem in there, but you have to wait until the words form.”
When you play music from this place you don’t spend the whole time thinking “oh I gotta get this note” or “I hope the drummer comes in at same time as me”. Instead it feels more like you are listening to yourself play, like you’re outside of yourself and playing at the same time.
When you are truly present you will connect better with audiences and other musicians as well as always performing at your very best.
WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?
If you’ve ever been to a concert and you’ve felt the artist on stage change the “feeling” of the room dramatically – you have experienced a performer who was being present.
Jeff Buckley was a good example of someone who was truly present while he performed. Also Tori Amos, Miles Davis, Ian Kenny from Karnivool, Thom Yorke from Radiohead, KD Lang, Katie Noonan, Bruce Springsteen, Antony (from Antony And The Johnsons), Jan Garbarek, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Mogwai. When these artists play they hold the audience in the palm of their hand. When they sing or play very quietly it’s like they’re casting a spell. When you see a great musician like that you feel transported, transformed – witnessing that sort of performance is something you might talk about for the rest of your life.
Even great performers don’t do it every time they perform though. Some nights you will see these artists and they will be in the zone for the whole gig, sometimes just for a few songs or even just for a part of a song. When they talk between songs you might notice that they have a completely different feeling from when they are playing.
Frank Zappa is a good example of a musician who goes there sometimes – often when he is singing or talking in the microphone he is more like a circus ringleader – just like a funny guy on stage – but then when he solos on the guitar, he’s gone, musical ideas just keep flowing effortlessly as he goes somewhere else for those few minutes of soloing.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
I don’t think anyone knows exactly how it works. But the good news is that it doesn’t matter how it works. If you have experienced it as an audience member or a performer you know that it’s real. The best news is that it’s something that you can learn how to do and it’s something that you can practice and get better at.
EXERCISES TO EXPERIENCE BEING PRESENT
Here is one of the easiest ways to experience being present.
1. Pick a really simple, repetitive task that involves just a little bit of attention and where your mind normally wanders away. (Like washing the dishes or painting a wall or washing your car).
2. While you perform the activity – let’s say washing the dishes – really pay attention to what it feels like to wash the dishes. Notice the sensation of the sponge in your hand and how it scrapes away the food or grease. As you turn the plate over feel the weight of the plate and it’s point of balance. Be aware of the sound of the water dripping back into the sink. Who knew that washing up could be so engrossing!
3. When your brain wanders way from doing the dishes (as it will), don’t fight it. Instead, notice what it is that you’re now thinking about and say these exact words to yourself. “Hey brain, thanks for bringing that to my attention but right now I’m just washing up.” Do this as often as you need to so that you can eventually be present for the whole task.
That exercise just starts you flexing your focus muscles – here’s an exercise that you can apply right now to your playing.
1. Blow, pluck, strike or sing a note.
2. Listen to the note – like, really listen to it. Hear how it fades away to nothing or how it’s texture and timbre changes over time.
3. Repeat this and explore how much information, how much there is to listen to, in just a single note.
4. Do this maybe in a scale or over a tricky passage that you are working on – don’t play it fast or in rhythm – notice how your fingers shift and how the note changes as your fingers shift – notice the quality of the note and how the instrument resonates differently for each note that you play.
5. Maintain this awareness as you add rhythm and increase speed.
6. Observe your playing/singing as if you were a listener and not the performer.
7. Try this for improvising as well!
There’s a fantastic book by Pat Pattison called Writing Better Lyrics. Chapter 1 – Object Writing outlines an excellent exercise that will teach you to be present while writing lyrics or poetry. I highly recommend it and teach it to all my writing students.
WHEN CAN I EXPECT BEING PRESENT TO WORK FOR ME?
Like anything, being present is something that requires regular experiencing (I’m going to say “experiencing” rather than “practicing”).
When you are nervous or underprepared it can be very elusive. For me nowadays, a successful performance is when I get to that place at least once and a fantastic performance is when I maintain being in that place for a long period of time.
Start by strengthening your mental muscles with the first exercise above – do that exercise as many times a day as you can. Bring it to your regular playing sessions (I don’t like the word practice) with the second exercise and be patient and kind with yourself as it becomes a permanent part of your playing.
Being able to stand on a stage and go to that place will happen, but it will only happen with experience and time. Seek opportunities where you can perform and try things out and it doesn’t matter if you screw up. Jam sessions are great – particularly jam sessions that don’t have a lot of chord changes (there’s a reason that Miles Davis wrote Kind Of Blue the way that he did).
WHERE ELSE CAN I TRY BEING PRESENT?
You can be present everywhere! Try it at work (I’ve been practicing it as I write this blog). Try it walking through a park. Definitely try it with your other creative outlets – remember that you’re probably creative all the time at work – putting together a great power point presentation or diagnosing then repairing a fault in an engine or playing a sport are creative acts too.
Know that every time you practice being present you are strengthening your “being present” muscles and your music making will only improve as a result.
Seamus is a writer, performer, educator and co-director at Independent Music Academy. He has been playing music for 34 years and teaching for 25. You can hear/read his work at www.kingcolossus.com
The sooner you start the sooner you’ve be up and playing.
November is shaping up to be extra busy at IMA. We’ve got a lot of events happening throughout the month on top of our usual busy lesson times. There are going to be some great opportunities to play, listen and catch up with your fellow music-makers and just generally have a good time.
(Under 18s – 22nd of November 11 am) (Over 18s – 22nd of November 2:30 pm)
IMA Concerts are the biggest event of November. We run two concerts, two times a year. One for under 18s and one for over 18s. They’re an awesome opportunity to play with a professional band on stage. Also to be in front of a friendly and supportive audience. If you’ve not been to an IMA Concert before and you’re not performing, come along and check it out. There’s great music and you’ll supporting and encouraging the performers which they’ll really appreciate.
If you’re playing in the concert, you may want a rehearsal with the band…..
(20th & 21st of November 9am – 3pm)
Not everyone needs a rehearsal with the IMA band before they do the concert. If it’s your first time performing it’s a good idea. Definitely a good thing to discuss with your mentor. We’ve got a couple of firsts this year in relation to the concert rehearsals:
We’ll be rehearsing at our new Ashgrove location. It’s got a much larger area that is for ensembles and group classes.
By the time you get to rehearsals, you should have your piece well rehearsed. One of the important aspects of performance is stagecraft. Performing on stage can be a completely different thing to performing in your bedroom. That’s why we suggest that you check out our Performance Workshops.
(Over 16yo – Saturday, 14 November 2015 from 8:30am to 12:30pm) (Under 16yo – Saturday, 14 November 2015 from 1:00pm to 5:00pm)
Emma and Lauren will be hosting this workshop. They’ll be covering things like:
Performance anxiety and how to beat it!
Good microphone technique.
Stage presence, how to move freely on stage and capture an audience.
Once a month we hold Jam Night. Our clients choose from a list of songs that they’d like to play, and the IMA Band learns the tune for you. On the night, you get to get up in front of a friendly audience of friends, family and fellow performers. It’s great way to get used to playing in front of people in a comfortable, supportive environment.
If you’re in the concert, this can also be a great opportunity to give your song a try before the day.
If you’ve ever wanted to play guitar and you’ve been finding excuses why not to start, this is the event for you. This is a great introduction to the instrument, and at $59 for 4x 1hr lessons it’s extremely good value. Singers, this is an excellent way to get started with accompanying yourself on guitar.
Do you have friends who always talk about learning the guitar but never start? Just send them here:
If you’ve had singing lessons before you probably know a stack of exercises – like exercises for your breath – some that help you get high notes – some to increase stamina and flexibility.
The effectiveness of all of those exercises can be improved by using one simple (and rarely taught) concept.
It’s called Kinesthetic Awareness (or body awareness or proprioception).
It’s been a critical part of my teaching for the last 15 years and I’m really excited to share it with you today.
I’d like to talk to you first about how NOT to practice – then how to practice – a quick explanation of kinesthetic awareness – and then how to integrate kinesthetic awareness into your singing TODAY.
HOW NOT TO PRACTICE
1. Set up your practice area.
2. Run through your exercises. Just do them once or twice each then move on as quickly as possible.
3. Sing some of your songs.
To be honest, this kind of practice is better than nothing. But only just.
If I had a client who was practicing like that I would suggest to them that they just sing some songs instead. Be engaged and enjoy singing. Have some fun. The angst that that they are getting from doing exercises is not worth the limited benefits they’re getting from forcing themselves.
WHY EXERCISES ARE IMPORTANT AND BEING PRESENT WHEN YOU PRACTICE
Singing involves very specific control of mostly small muscles. You can’t see these muscles and in everyday life you don’t have to control them that carefully either.
When you do a singing exercise (which could be a silly noise or a particular way of breathing) you are isolating those muscles and learning to control them more accurately – in ways that will benefit your singing voice.
Like developing any skill – you need to pay careful attention to how you develop your vocal skills too. Imagine an archer trying to improve by just shooting arrows off into the air? Of course she doesn’t! She stands in front of the target, breathes deeply, then is completely focussed when she fires of the arrow. And because of this she improves.
Exercises are exactly the same. They need to be approached in a relaxed way, with good breathing and focus, and you need to be present (not thinking about other things, not racing through them) as you do them.
WHAT IS KINESTHETIC AWARENESS?
So our archer (let’s stay with her because she is so excellent at practicing) has some advantages over us. For one thing she knows when she succeeds because she hits the target. She can work on her technique by adjusting her stance or lifting her arm differently. Then as she adjusts her stance or lifts her arm it has an immediate impact on her success. She misses the target and she is inspired to try a new technique or carefully adjust what she just practiced or she hits the target and is pleased with herself and that makes her want to hit the target again.
She has it so easy compared to us.
We make silly noises and we’re not sure exactly why we’re doing them (because there is no target to hit) and we can’t see our singing muscles (so it’s very difficult to make slight adjustments and measure how they impact on the outcome that we’re confused about anyway).
So we stand in our practice room and go over and over our exercises in a way that is like firing random arrows off into the air and if we improve it’s really more dumb luck than anything skilled or clever and if we don’t improve it’s because we’re just “not destined to be a singer”.
But here comes kinesthetic awareness to the rescue!
I did a quick google and found kinesthetic awareness defined as “awareness of body parts and the relationship of those parts to one another and the environment”. That’s a pretty good definition. So basically kinesthetic awareness is the awareness of where your body is in space and how the different parts of your body are interacting with each other. Athletes and musicians, surgeons and martial artists have excellent kinesthetic awareness. The martial artist knows exactly where every part of his body is at every moment. The surgeon knows exactly where her hand is relative to the scalpel at every moment.
KINESTHETIC AWARENESS AND YOU (THE SINGER)
As singers we want to develop kinesthetic awareness of our singing instrument. This means that as we go for that high note we can feel the tongue or throat tensing and relax it. We can feel that we need to engage more support or that we’re bringing our head forward or sticking our jaw out (we don’t want either of those things!)
Also, when you have great kinesthetic awareness you can notice how it feels when you’re singing AMAZINGLY. The you can replicate that function tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that. (This is one of the coolest things about having great kinesthetic awareness).
And finally, focussing on kinesthetic awareness makes exercises way more interesting.
DEVELOPING KINESTHETIC AWARENESS
The first part of developing your kinesthetic awareness is to realise that it exists! Accept that in the same way you can get more skillful with your hands by being aware of your hand’s muscles and paying attention to how you use them, in the same way you can also greatly increase the skill of how you use your voice.
There are some great exercises that help you to develop your kinesthetic awareness but the first thing that you can do (all by yourself) is simply notice where you physically feel your voice. As you sing a high note do you feel it more behind your nose or in your chest or throat. Then notice the muscles that surround that sensation. Does your throat get tight as you get higher? Can you go all the way to the top of your range with it staying soft and unflexed? What’s your tongue up to? If you work your support muscles does it make it smoother? What happens if you go slow? Fast? Curly?
Suddenly, if you looking at it through the lens of kinesthetic awareness, a simple siren cam become the most interesting exercise in the world.
I like to say that “Learning to sing is like learning to play the guitar – except the guitar is in pieces, you’re in a pitch black room and you don’t know what a guitar looks like.” Simple exercises, performed in a present, focussed way is where we singers begin to assemble our instruments. So many of the answers that we seek – how to be more in tune – how to sing louder – longer – higher – lie in kinesthetic awareness.
The sooner you start the sooner you’ll be singing.
Most of us have limited time for practice. Whatever time that we have, has to be used effectively. So how do you get the most from the practice time that you have? In this blog post, I’ll explore some methods I’ve found to improve practice effectiveness. This is admittedly from a guitarists point of view, I am a guitarist after all. Ask your IMA Mentor how to apply these techniques to your instrument.
Listen To What You’re Doing
I know that sounds like a strange thing to say, but it’s a problem we see everyday when mentoring our clients. Getting too caught up in the mechanics of what you’re doing is a problem. It prevents you from hearing what you’re actually doing.
Just playing, without listening intently to what you’re doing doesn’t help you improve. To change your focus to be more audio based, try listening to just one part of the sounds you’re making.
How does the note I’m playing now start?
How does it end?
Stay focussed on the sound of what you’re doing exactly when you’re doing it. This skill can take a little while to learn. Like all things, with practice you will build up those ‘listening muscles’.
There are a few things that you can do to help this process along:
Play everything slowly enough so that you can hear and understand what you’re doing. When practicing with a metronome, I would ‘penalise’ myself 5 beats per minute for every mistake that I made. This ensured that I was going slowly enough to play whatever I was working on perfectly. Once I could achieve that then I could speed it up.
Play In Front Of A Mirror
Humans are visually focused animals. When we hear a sound, it’s a cue for us to look to see where it came from so that we can identify it. We always turn to look at what we’re listening to. When you practice in front of a mirror, it can be like looking at another performer. This can help us listen a little more intently.
“Listening in the 3rd” person as I like to call it means that you’re listening as if it’s not you making the sound. This can help you to detach yourself from the act of making the music and be more aware of the sound. It also allows you to “sit back and enjoy the music”. We play music because we love it, so this has got to be the best outcome of all.
It can also help you be aware of your technique. As a guitarist I look for things like:
Are your fingers up against the frets
Are your fingers on their tips
Are you pulling weird facial expressions
Are you pulling the strings to one side?
Be aware of these things, don’t worry about them. Awareness is the first step. Sometimes being aware is enough and you’ll start to correct the problem without too much thought.
Developing Better Awareness Of Your Body
While you’re in front of the mirror you can also:
Keep an eye on your breathing
Watch for shoulder tension
Watch for jaw tension
Being aware of tension in the body and working on relaxing that tension can improve your playing significantly in a short space of time. Try breathing slowly while you practice. The breath out is the most important. Try relaxing your shoulders as you breathe out. Not only will this relax you, but it will make learning faster and playing easier.
Use An Echo / Delay Effect
Got an electric or an acoustic with a pickup? Do you own an echo or delay pedal? Try:
Setting the effect unit to 100% mix with 800ms of delay time.You can then listen back to each phrase after you play it.
Setting the effects unit to 50% mix and play along with yourself. Try playing one note over and over again in a regular rhythm like straight crotchets (1/4 notes) or quavers (1/8 notes). This can help you with playing along with other musicians, keeping a steady tempo and learning to listen to what you’re doing and correcting it on the fly. For a more sophisticated version of this exercise, have a listen to Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” and “Another Brick In The Wall Pt I”.
Using A Looper Pedal
If you’re lucky enough to own a looper pedal, you can ‘record’ yourself playing some chords or some sort of rhythm part. Then you can layer another part over the top. This can be hours of fun and really good practice for your rhythm playing.
Recording What You Practice
Simply recording what you’re working on can provide some great feedback. Don’t be too harsh with yourself though. Keep what you’ve done for at least a couple of days and then listen back again. You may find yourself much more forgiving after you have some perspective.
Try laying down a backing track or chord progression, then improvise over the top. This can be a great way to practice your soloing (as well as your rhythm playing).
Archiving What You Record
Don’t throw out those old recordings. They’re great to go back to hear how much you’ve improved. I really recommend going back every three months or so and having a listen to some old recordings. You’ll be surprised at how much better your playing has become.
Working In Headphones
The human brain has a preference for reflected sound over direct sound. That means that if you’re listening to a sound source in a room (like someone talking to you), you’ll be focused on the sound reflecting off the walls in preference to the sound coming out of the person’s mouth. To a small extent, we use sound to echolocate. Working in headphones eliminates the reflected sound, and helps you focus on what’s really coming out of your instrument.
Silencing Internal Dialogue
Concentrating on breathing and relaxation are a great way to eliminate that internal dialogue. You know the voice inside your head that says, “Here comes the hard bit” or “I’m going to stuff this part up again”. You can’t tell this part of your brain to be quiet, that’s just giving it focus. Instead, focus on other things like breathing, relaxing and listening and that voice will fade into the distance.
Don’t Forget To Enjoy Yourself!
To sum up, probably the most important thing is to enjoy yourself. That’s why we love playing an instrument or singing after all!
If you’ve got questions, feel free to share them in the comments.
We all know that practice is the only way to get better. Not all practice methods are created equal though. So how do you get the most our of your practice sessions? What’s the best way to structure them?
After years of devising complicated practice structures. I finally came up with a something simple and effective. It’s a practice plan that’s worked for both myself, and my clients over the last ten or more years.
My Simple Practice Structure
Divide whatever practice time you have into three equal parts:
Got 6 minutes? Do two minutes of each. Got an hour, do 20 minutes of each. It’s as simple as that.
If you’re not in the mood for practice, I’d recommend doing just sections 1 + 3. Do a little bit of technique to keep you progressing, and then just play and have some fun. That’s why we do this whole music thing after all, right?
Here’s what I do in each part:
Practice the skills that you’ll need to improve your ability to express. If you have difficulty saying a word, your less likely to use it in a sentence. That’s what technique is for, to give you freedom to express yourself. Work on making playing your instrument (or singing) effortless. As soon as it’s easy it will be good. As a guitarist, I work on string crossing, position changing and synchronisation. What you work on will depend on your instrument.
Scales, chords, scale sequences, chord patterns. Any vocabulary that you use to express yourself. You may use this vocab as a performer, composer or improviser.
Why learn scales? They’re great ear training (as well as good for the fingers). You can use them to improvise or to compose. Scale patterns are even better. Chord patterns are great to know too if you play a chordal instrument. They’ll help you figure out songs by ear with ease.
Connecting your ‘internal ear’ to your muscles is critical. That way, when you hear a sound you can play it without having to think about it. Your brain will know the finger patterns that a particular sound makes on your instrument.
No one wants to listen to a good practicer, they want to listen to a good player. As such, it’s something that you’ve got to work on. Practice playing pieces, getting the emotional content of a piece across to the audience.
Try recording a chord progression (or using some software to create one) and then try improvising over the top.
Figure out a piece of music by ear. The more you do it, the faster you’ll get at it and you’ll also become a much better musician. Having a good ear is the most important skill you can have as a musician. Transcription, or figuring things out by ear is one of the best ways to develop that.
Any of these make great things to practice during that ‘Application’ part of your practice.
Practice Every Day
Don’t forget. You don’t need to practice for hours. You’re better off doing a little bit everyday. You’ll get much more benefit that way. Especially if you use the method above. It will help you develop into a well rounded musician.
If you’ve got questions or your own awesome practice methods, feel free to share them in the comments.
Many people who want to learn to play music are put off by the fear that they “Don’t have it”…. that they’re not “musical” or “talented” or that they just can’t learn music. We know this isn’t the case.
We know that everyone can learn music because we see it everyday. Every day, complete beginners come to us for mentoring, and they all end up being able to learn music.
In Other Cultures, Everyone Plays Music
In traditional cultures, everyone sings, dances or creates music in one way or another. When travelling to an African country, one of our staff was asked what she did for a living. When they were told that she was a singing teacher they were confused. They had no singing teachers in their community, everybody just sang. This is because it’s a normal part of life and they had grown up surrounded by it. In much the same way that we learned our first language, children growing up with music just learn it. No one in that community had any doubts about their “talent”.
Excuses For Not Learning Music:
Everyone seems to have their own special reason why they can’t learn music. Here are some of the more common ones.
I’m Not Talented
I’ve never met a musically talented person. Never encountered someone who learned music per hour faster than anyone else. I’ve met people who are passionate and obsessive about music and practised 8+ hours per day and thus learned quickly. Never have I met anyone who did a limited amount of work who made great gains in their musical ability. Working as professional musicians, we’ve not met anyone who was amazing who hadn’t worked really hard.
I’m Tone Deaf
If you can hear when someone inflects upwards when asking a question, then you’re not tone deaf, as simple as that. We’ve had clients express a concern that they may be tone deaf. To this date we’ve not encountered anyone who was. It does exist, but it’s extremely rare.
I’m Not Musical
What does this even mean? Does it mean that you can’t play or sing instantly without having done any practice? If that’s the case, then no one is musical.
I Don’t Have Time
Can you find six minutes per day? We’re pretty sure that you can. If so, guess what! You have enough free time to learn music. Doing regular playing or practice is more effective than doing a long practice once a week.
In 20+ years of teaching we’ve not met anyone we couldn’t help. Depending on your prior experience and the amount of free time you’ve got. The time it takes to learn will vary (see How Long Will It Take to Learn Music ).
The sooner you start the sooner you’ve be up and playing.