In every musicians development, regardless of experience, level of playing, style, or age, there is always more to learn and ways to improve.Many of us (if not all), at some point can get into a rut, or get creatively stifled. Whether or not you find your self in that situation, or just want to get better or come up with new ideas, I’ve compiled a list of some ways to improve your overall musicianship. Some may be obvious, some not so… Enjoy!
In no order of priority or effectiveness they are:
1. Be an active listener! The simplest and most effective way to broaden your musical horizons, vocabulary and overall musical scope is to listen to music. All styles, especially those outside of your comfort zone, and all eras. Just like learning a language, like when we all began to speak our native tongue, we accelerated our learning by hearing people speaking all around us. Focus in on the melodies, harmonies, rhythms, inner lines, arrangements, instrumentation, texture, colors, etc…
2. Pick up another instrument. Even if you’re a complete beginner at whatever new instrument you pick up, give it a try. This can benefit you in a multitude of ways. Such as: 1) Seeing a different visual layout of notes, as well as hearing them in different colors and timbres, can give you a fresh visual and aural perspective and will hopefully lend to new ideas and creativity. As well as 2) Giving you new appreciation for your current level of playing on your primary instrument. By picking up a new instrument as a complete beginner, we can think back to when our primary instrument was in our hands for the first time. Remember that? The overwhelming quality, yet new, exiting and endless room for growth. Try to bring those thoughts back to your main instrument…
3. Improvise with 1 note. There is no better (and perhaps no other) way of completely isolating everything but rhythm, shape, phrasing, timbre, tone, etc… but by playing with only 1 note. Try this: Pick a note, and put on a backing track, recording, metronome or anything with a pulse, and improvise with just the 1 note. Harder than you think right? You will be forced to be musical with your playing because you have no other choice, and nothing else to fill up space with! You will find and hear instantly that you have to create rhythm that will hold it’s own. You can’t fake it with 1 note!
4. Take a week off. If you can afford it, try it (literally and figuratively, as for some this my be logistically impossible!) If you’re an active player, and practice or play with others or at home most everyday, try taking a few days to a week off. The benefits of this can be many. You may (hopefully find) that in coming back to your instrument you will be creatively refreshed, excited, and inspired. It may take a minute to physically get your chops back to where they were, but ideally, mentally you will be in a good place. I see this to be just like restarting your computer after a bunch of applications have been running for a while and eating up all your memory!
5. Play with a recording. On the same lines of the first (Be an active listener), playing with recordings can really open up your ears, and put you in with the masters. We all know that playing with musicians better than us raises the bar, so what better then playing with the best, and our influences? Put on a recording and play along with it. Like the learning a language analogy, hearing the language and vocabulary of our heroes influenced us early on by just listening, and can seep into our playing as well by directly playing along with them. Our ears and our playing will consciously and subconsciously react to the melody, rhythm, harmony, color, and energy of what we are hearing, and inform our playing directly.
Corey Hendricks is a guitarist/composer/educator active in the Boston/Minneapolis/NYC areas. He is Founder of MusiCloudLessons.com, a cutting edge approach to online music education, that offers live, 1-on-1 lessons with top teachers of all instruments via video-conferencing. Corey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and writes for the MusiCloud Blog at www.musicloudblog.wordpress.com