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Break Out of Your Old Habits

One of the greatest challenges any musician faces is the plateau. We all know what it is like. You finally start regularly practicing, you make some strong progress with a few things that you always wanted to learn, and then all of a sudden…you stop improving. Every time you sit down to play, nothing new seems to come out. Try as you will, each practice session starts to feel more and more repetitive, mindless – and definitely not useful.

As it turns out, there some great ways to free yourself from this horror. The approaches vary widely, but there are always four basic principles that all of these ways have in common.

Identify and Name What You Are Playing

The first step is always name what you are doing. Are you using a particular scale? A certain set of chords? Do you come back to the same rhythms all the time? Can you name these scales, chords or rhythms? This can be very challenging because it requires stopping, thinking, and doing some honest reflection.

You may need to look up some concepts or find some lessons if you don’t know how to name what you are doing. In the beginning, if you don’t know where to turn, lessons or classes with a qualified teacher can help steer you in the right direction.

Stop Playing What You Identified

This can be the hardest step. It feels good to play things we know because we get a sense of immediate gratification from it, but remember – the goal is to grow. I find the best approach is to start designating a small amount of practice time each day where you do not allow yourself to repeat anything you already know how to play. As you start to practice this way each day, slowly increase the amount of time that you designate for not playing anything you already know.

Eventually, your entire practice routine should consist only of working on what you do not know how to play yet. Why? Because that is the point of practice. To learn something you do not know how to do yet.

Regularly Explore New Techniques or Concepts

As you are developing this practice, make sure you always have something new to focus on during these practice sessions. It can be a technique, a theory concept, a performance approach, anything. Just make sure you are regularly finding these concepts and working on applying them.

An excellent resource for concepts, techniques and performance approaches are music courses. They can be online or in person – whatever motivates you the most. They are often the most useful because they typically organize new ideas in an order that is manageable for your practice sessions.

Slow Down

Finally, once you have created the space in your practice time for new ideas and have found a good set of them to work on, slow down and be patient with yourself. New ideas and techniques are always challenging to learn – but they will never sink in unless you let yourself learn at the pace that you can really take them in. You might even consider taking some time to regularly practice more slowly than you think is required for you to learn well. It is often in that slower practice time that what it really means to master something becomes clear.

Final Thoughts

That’s it! Name what you are doing, stop doing it, find something new to learn, and then slow down and be patient with yourself. In music, as in all creative work, it is always more about the process and the journey than the destination. No one ever arrives and everyone is always looking over the horizon for the next wonderful, creative idea to explore. Now get to it and have fun!

Break Out of Your Old Habits By Daniel Roberts

http://hitmusictheory.com

How to Jam With Anybody

Trust Your Ear 

One of the hardest barriers to jumping in and playing with other people is the perception that there is a “right” and a “wrong” way to play music. This perception has come from a lot of places, but it is often very misleading. Some of the most common places this perception comes from are:

  1. Growing up in school and only ever being allowed to read the dots on the page in front of us.
  2. Learning some of the “rules” in the world of music theory and feeling forced to follow them correctly.
  3. Joining a band or other musical context with people who are critical.
  4. Being generally surrounded by people critical of you.

All of these places often add up to an enormous burden of self-criticism that makes us afraid to play for fear of playing something “wrong”. But the problem with this way of thinking is that it completely upends the fundamental nature and purpose of music, which is to express how we feel and think.

So – the first thing to do is to find what helps you to let go of any critical voice and start trusting your ear. Your ear is ALWAYS the final say in every musical situation – NEVER anyone else’s opinion. Remember: it is your own self-expression we are talking about – not someone else’s taste in music. You can tell when when what you are playing resonates with what you want to hear. Do that.

Take Risks

To find what you want to hear, one of the best things to do is take musical risks and make “mistakes”. Many of the best musical ideas come from “mistakes” during practice sessions, recording dates, live situations, and any other musical context you can think of. Since these mistakes can be so valuable, make them happen more often by intentionally taking risks.

Some examples of taking risks like this can be:

  1. Playing a chord other than the one you are “supposed” to play.
  2. Using a scale other than the one that the song seems to use.
  3. Moving a riff up or down by some number of frets on your guitar or keys on your keyboard, etc.
  4. Playing a random set of notes on your instrument.

As you explore and take risks, you will find more and more ideas that you like. Whenever you come across one, play it for a while to let it sink in and come up with a way to name it so you can recall it easier later.

Final Thoughts

Trusting your ear and taking risks will take you a long way into the world of jamming. Remember to be kind to yourself and have fun! The best musicians are always exploring, listening deeply, trusting their ears and taking risks. They do not spend much time listening to the critics. Give yourself the space and relationships to be free of hurtful criticism and just keep playing – and the more you play, the better you will get. Now go pick up your instrument and get to it!

How to Jam With Anybody By Daniel Roberts

http://hitmusictheory.com

The Quest to Become a Better Musician

We all want to improve as musicians, but it can be hard to identify clear ways to improve. Just starting to practice on a regular basis can help you enormously, but it can also be a real challenge. Many times it’s hard to decide what to practice when you finally sit down with your instrument, right? So I thought I would give you 3 Practice Tricks To Become a Better Musician.

Part of the challenge is knowing what is most important to practice each time you sit down. How can you use your practice time to improve as a musician on a consistent basis. To address this, we each have to learn to reflect on our playing and knowledge and to turn that reflection into action. But regardless of whether you are a beginner or a really advanced player, there are some aspects of being a musician that always matter and can always be improved on. You can use these areas as a structure to start thinking about and analyzing what you can work on when you’re practicing. Here are some of the most important ones to me.

Your Sense of Time

At the very foundation of all music is time. You can think of time as the heartbeat (or groove) of the music, and rhythm as the dance that happens from that beat. Every rhythm you play is just a way to dress up the heartbeat underneath everything. How deeply and accurately you feel this underlying heartbeat determines how strongly everyone else will respond to the music. When you really know the heartbeat, your music becomes undeniable. You can often know when you have it, because the crowd will feel compelled to get up and dance.

Think of time as the heartbeat (or groove) of the music, and rhythm as the dance that happens from that beat.

The most important aspects of time to develop are your sense of the beat and its subdivision. We all can count the main beats of a song (think of the drummer counting off “One! Two! Three! Four!”) but do you know how those beats are subdivided? You can usually tell by listening to the drummer’s hi-hat part. Are they playing eighth notes? Sixteenth notes? Triplets? Is the subdivision straight, laid back or played on top of the beat? Is it swung?

Trick #1 – When you sit down to practice, try to think about the subdivisions happening in the music you love and create exercises that help you play them. Start simple. Play your scales or strumming patterns with quarter notes, then with eight notes. Do that for a week and then try sixteenth notes. Start with a slow tempo and ease into it. After a month or two of exploring subdivisions by twos, try exploring subdivisions by threes. Try some triplets. Take your time, have patience, be in the moment and try to think systematically as you create various exercises for yourself. You will probably find that you will stumble on musical ideas you like as you do this. Enjoy exploring them as soon as they come up. When they bore you, go back to your exercises.

Your Sense of Tonality

I cannot tell you how many times I have been in a rehearsal with someone who does not have a clue what key they are in. It’s critical that you know this, because everything you play comes from a key whether you know it or not – and if you don’t know, you may find yourself being that guy in the band who seems to have five heads.

Don’t be that guy in the band who seems to have five heads.

There are two things to know about the key you’re in. First is the tonal center. This is the note everything is organized around. When someone says “let’s play in A major” – they are telling you that everything they are about to play is organized around the pitch “A”.

Second, when they say “major” they are telling you the particular type of organization they are using around the pitch “A”. In this case, they are using the major scale (which is a series of whole and half steps) as a pattern for organizing pitches. The result is a tonality – a set of pitches organized around a central pitch (“A” in this example).

Incidentally, this is why scales are so important. It’s not enough to understand the idea of tonality – you need to be able to play it on your instrument. Scales are just specific instances of tonalities.

Trick #2 – When practicing, consider killing two birds with one stone by practicing your scales with specific subdivisions you want to improve on. For instance, you might choose one scale a day to practice with eighth notes for a week. If you practice every day of the week, you will be much more comfortable with seven new scales and your sense of eighth note rhythms will be much deeper.

Your Sense of Harmony

Once you know the tonality you are in, you can use the pitches and interval relationships inside it to create harmony. Harmony is created anytime you make the listener hear two or more pitches at the same time. You can combine pitches however you like, but we all tend to hear these pitches in similar ways (which we call harmonic function). The ways we hear groups of pitches and how we name them varies. I recommend starting with roman numerals or nashville numbers and the triads associated with them inside of the tonality you are working in.

Trick #3 – In any major key, there are seven basic types of chord function (since each basic type of chord in a key is built on a note in the scale). These chord functions are described with numbers that correspond to the pitch in the scale they are built on (if you build a chord on the first note in the scale, it’s called a 1 or I chord – but if you build it on the second pitch in a scale, it’s called a 2 or ii chord). If you are in nashville you write this function with arabic numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), but they are called “Nashville Numbers”. In most other music contexts, we use the classical theory system that uses “Roman Numerals” (I, ii, iii, IV, etc.).

You can use these naming conventions to identify and make chord progressions. In C major, chords 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, respectively are C, D-, E-, F, G, A- and B diminished. Once you learn these chords in C major, see if you can find them in other major keys you know.

A Final Thought:

Once you have found a few things to work on in each of these categories, take the time to practice them each time you pick up your instrument. Organize your practice sessions into a routine so you don’t have to decide what to work on each time you sit down. If you can get into regular routine, I guarantee that you will find yourself improving with these 3 Practice Tricks To Become a Better Musician.

By Daniel Roberts

Learn more here http://hitmusictheory.com