Our guide to practicing, even when You think it sucks, and cultivating a life of music.
We've been doing a lot of thinking about what it takes to become a great musician and by "great" we don't mean the next Beethoven. There are umpteen different ways to make music and all that matters is that you're enjoying yourself.
But here's the thing. If you want to get good at what you love you have to put in the time. More importantly, you have to make it an integral part of your life. Look at all the best athletes, artists and activists out there that inspire us daily. What makes them so inspiring is that they live and breathe their passions. Even on the days it hurts or its hard, they push through and keep going. Playing an instrument isn't much different. It takes dedication, patience and commitment. It's not just a hobby, it's a lifestyle. Whether you're a beginner or professional musician, a student or the parent of a little budding musician we'd like to offer you this bit of advice on how to make practicing more efficient, fun and to cultivate a lifestyle around what brings you joy.
#1: EVERY ARTIST NEEDS COMMUNITY
The most beautiful thing about music is the way it brings people together. This isn't just a solo hobby that you can keep to yourself. If you really want to thrive as a music maker then you have to go out and be a part of a scene or create your own scene!
What we mean is, don't just limit yourself to the little practice sessions you tick off every day alone. Go out to shows and concerts, make music with your friends or family and don't be afraid to put yourself out there. Who cares if you're not the next Jimmy Hendrix. That's not the point.
Since the beginning of time, people have been using music as a tool to communicate, understand each other and come together. That's what it's all about. Being a part of a community that supports you in your creative musings is the best feeling ever. If your kids are learning music then don't just leave it up to the teacher to show them what they need to know. Introduce them to your favorite tunes, take them to the symphony or local concerts in your neighborhood. Play music with them or offer to be an audience. If you love it then make it a bigger part of your life. This brings us to the next point...
#2. TURN THE TV OFF AND PUT YOUR RECORDS ON
Before we begin to think about how we should practice our instruments or even play music, let's think about something that's just as equally important. How do we listen to music? When was the last time you sat down with your family or friends and just listened to a record all the way through? When was the last time you cooked a meal or did anything without having the noise of video games or the TV as your daily soundtrack? Yes, we live in a digital age where our eyes are constantly occupied by screens, but what about our ears? It would do us good to remember the importance of sound.
What is the soundtrack of your life? No one will play it for you so you have to push play yourself. Indulge in that music you love so much. Invest in some good speakers and listen to your favorite songs while you cook dinner or do the chores. Better yet, throw a dance party in your living room instead of sitting down to watch a movie for the night. Not only will it make the world around you so much more beautiful and bearable but how else are you gonna get that musical inspiration you were looking for that week? Inspiration doesn't just come to us magically, we have to seek it out. So go listen to something you haven't heard before.
#3. IT'S A LIFESTYLE
Learning an instrument takes patience and perseverance and the rewards aren't always so immediate. It can take a few weeks or months to accomplish a piece of music you've been working on and that's because playing music isn't just a mental game. it's physical as well. Muscle memory plays an important role in your ability to build speed and versatility as a performer. If you're not playing everyday you'll never build the chops you'll need to progress. So if you play an instrument it should be a part of your daily life, even if you can only squeeze in 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes a day will do you better then practicing for an hour once a week.
This concept also goes beyond the solo practice time. Playing with people, whether it be a casual jam session or an actual band that you believe in is just as important as those solo hours you're logging. Make the weekly commitment to play with your peeps because that's where the joy really happens!
#4. GET IN THE ZONE
Getting in the zone, finding your flow, whatever you want to call it, you know the feeling we're talking about. It's the same feeling you get when riding a wave, or when you're doing something you love and time just seems to stop. That's the feeling you should have when you're playing music. Of course that's easy when you're playing something you know well and love, but what about when you're working on something challenging? As long as your skill level meets your challenge then you should be able to conquer whatever it is you're working on. Nothing is impossible and all you need to do is take some baby steps towards your goal. Speaking of which, we've outlined those baby steps for you below...
#5. THE BABY STEPS
So you're ready to practice and you're not sure how. You've told yourself that you need to play for 20 minutes every day but when you sit down to do it you get overwhelmed by the challenge ahead and aren't really sure where to begin. Soon enough the 20 minutes is over and you're not sure what you accomplished. Take these baby steps below music maker and put your worries aside.
1: FIND YOUR ZEN
Turn off all distractions around you and find a quiet place to play your music. It's impossible to get in the zone if Master Chef is playing on the TV behind you and someone's blending a green smoothie in the kitchen. Find a zen-y place and let the people around you know that you're about to get your flow on and should not be disturbed.
2: WARM UP A LITTLE
Now that you've found your quiet place. Take a deep breathe and think about what it is you'd like to accomplish in the next 5 or 10 minutes. Maybe it's to warm-up with some scales or exercises. Perhaps you'd rather start your session by playing or singing a favorite piece that you know well? Whatever it may be, it's always a good idea to ease into it.
3: IDENTIFY + CONQUER THE TINY GOALS
Okay you've warmed up and played a few tunes that you know and love. Now it's time to work on that new piece that you're learning. Remember, you will not learn to play the whole thing perfectly today so create some tiny goals that are achievable. Maybe it's to work on those few measures that you haven't mastered yet, or maybe you want to focus on a new strumming pattern for that new Jose Gonzalez tune you love. Whatever it is, give yourself a time frame to work on it. Even if you haven't mastered it completely you can still feel accomplished and when you're time is up move on to something else. Work on these tiny goals every day and by the end of the week you'll have come a long way. How do you climb a mountain? Baby Steps.
4: HAVE FUN
Okay, you worked on your tiny goals for the day and even if you didn't conquer them, you've put in the time and you should feel good about that. Tomorrow is another day. But, before you end this exhilarating practice session of yours why not end it on a high note and play some stuff you love. Improvise, make it up, just fool around and get lost in the sound. Have fun and remember...it's just music.
#6. A NOTE TO THE PARENTS OF LITTLE HUMANS.
Steps 1 through 5 will not be possible for your little human to accomplish on their own. When the little human is just starting to learn music they will need your guidance at the beginning (especially for the baby steps). Make time to sit and play music with them, listen to music with them and show them that music is an important part of your family life as outlined in steps 1 through 4. This kind of encouragement will only enhance and inspire their love and dedication.
<3 The Kalabash Team