Becoming a good musician requires patience, perseverance and a heck of a lot of practice. If you’re just starting out, here are 10 career-changing tips for becoming a good musician.
1. Don’t Let Your Mindset Hold You Back
Whilst it sounds like a strange point, I firmly believe that one of the biggest things holding budding musicians back is their own mindset. Becoming a good musician is no doubt a challenge; however, it’s all-too-easy to let your frustration and self-doubt get the better of you.
Here are a couple of actionable tips for overcoming a counter-productive mindset:
- Accept that it takes time to make progress: Great musicianship takes years of practice, patience and preference to conquer. Once you’ve accepted the amount of time and effort required to hone your craft, you’ll be far less-likely to let frustration get the better of you.
- Don’t compare yourself to others: Comparing someone else’s musical journey to your own is a pointless activity as no two journeys are the same. It’s unfair to compare yourself to someone who has more experience than you do.
- Remember that failure is a necessary step to succeeding: As previously mentioned, each person’s musical journey is unique to them. Therefore, failure is necessary to identify and overcome your own shortcomings. View failure as an opportunity to improve rather than a reason to throw in the towel.
2. Hire A Tutor
Hiring a tutor is one of the best things you can do to accelerate your musical development. An experienced tutor can quickly identify problem areas in your technique, before providing actionable advice on how to improve. Similarly, they’ll devise lesson plans and practice routines that are specifically tailored to you and your goals.
If there’s a certain area of your journey that you want to develop, make sure you tell your tutor! They’ll then be able to provide additional guidance on how to move forward in a way that suits you best.
3. Practice Daily
Yes, daily! In order to make consistent progress as a musician, you’ll have to put it consistent effort. If you’re serious about becoming a good musician, I’d recommend practicing for at least 1 hour per-day. If you feel you haven’t got time to practice, you’re going to have to make time. This might mean getting up an hour early (which I did for years as a teenager) or sacrificing that Saturday night out drinking in order to practice.
Once you’ve scheduled your daily practice time, I’d suggest creating a practice plan to allow for maximum productivity. Here’s an example of an efficient hour-long practice plan:
- Warm ups (10 minutes)
- Practicing a technique with a metronome (20 minutes)
- Practicing 2-3 songs that use the same technique (15 minutes)
- Review video footage of the previous point (5 minutes)
- Implement any necessary changes and run through each song once more (10 minutes)
You’ll notice that the above plan includes a point about reviewing video footage. Filming your practice is one of the best ways to identify mistakes and catch things that are impossible to notice whilst actually playing (such as your posture).
Lastly, you’ll want to make sure you minimize distractions in order to stay productive when practicing. Minimizing distractions comes twofold:
- Distractions in the practice space: If you’re rehearsing in your room or the living room, it’s all-too-easy to spend the entire time playing Xbox instead of actually rehearsing (trust me, I’ve done it).
- Personal distractions: Turn your phone off whilst practicing to prevent unnecessary distractions. In addition, try to leave other aspects of your personal life at the door once you step into your practice space.
4. Practice To A Metronome
Practicing to a metronome is absolutely key to honing your craft. The reason it’s so effective is because it forces you to nail the technique before incorporating the speed. Here’s a quick guide on effective metronome practice:
- Start the metronome at a speed where you can comfortably play each note
- Once you feel comfortable with the technique, increase the tempo by 5bpm
- If you start making mistakes after increasing the speed, go back to the previous tempo
- If you’re struggling with a particular phrase in the solo, try practicing that phrase in isolation
Korg offer a great trainer metronome on Amazon that also analyses your pitch, tone and volume whilst playing. This is a great little device for making sure your technique and tone are as accurate as possible when practicing.
5. Have A Basic Understanding Of Music Theory
Having at least a basic understanding of music theory will make it much easier to develop as a musician. Similarly, it’ll open doors to gigs that require you to be able to sight-read (such as theater or session work). Whilst music theory can seem daunting to a complete beginner, most of the concepts aren’t too complicated to grasp.
Here are the concepts I’d recommend learning:
- How to read sheet music: Clefs, note duration, rhythms etc.
- Chord Progressions: Common chord progressions, cadences, circle of fifths etc.
- Scales: Major & minor scales, keys.
- Intervals: Consonant & dissonant intervals, inversions.
- Rhythm: Time signatures, syncopation, off-beat rhythms etc.
- Aural skills: Being able to aurally identify chord progressions, scales etc.
Almost all music theory can be learned online for free. I’d recommend starting on YouTube as many of the concepts are better-understood from a visual standpoint. Here’s a great 1 hour crash course from Ross the Music and Guitar Teacher:
6. Learn How To Play By Ear
I literally can’t stress how much of an advantage this is. Over the course of your musical career, you’ll often be put on the spot and expected to pick up material instantly without the aid of notation/tabs. Similarly, it’ll save you a lot of time if you’re learning a new batch of songs as you won’t have to hunt down notation first.
In order to develop your aural technique, I’d recommend a game called ‘Song Roulette’. Here’s a quick guide on how to play:
- Find a playlist of random songs that you’ve never heard before (preferably in a range of different genres)
- Play along to the playlist, attempting to figure out each song by ear in real-time.
- Once you’re halfway through the playlist, start adding in improvised sections
Song roulette is effective at tightening up your playing because it requires you to think on your feet and adapt to sudden change.
7. Play The Song, Not The Instrument
If you’re working on developing your technique, it’s all-too-easy to fill your parts with all sorts of extra licks and fills. However, if you’re playing with a band or writing an original piece, an overly-busy part might take away from the rest of the arrangement.
Make sure you always keep the song itself as the main priority and tailor your playing to the needs of the arrangement. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t express yourself through your part, but allowing the song to take priority over anything else will vastly improve your overall musicianship.
8. Play With Other Musicians At Every Opportunity
When you’re first starting out, two of your biggest priorities are going to be gaining experience and building a name for yourself. Playing with other musicians on a regular basis is a fantastic way to achieve both of these.
Unlike playing along to a studio recording, playing with other musicians requires you to focus on what’s going on around you and adapt accordingly. Similarly, playing with other people will help you build contacts and get involved in the local music scene. This helps to develop your professional and interpersonal skills, which are both crucial components of strong musicianship.
As an additional point, I’d thoroughly recommend going to local shows as an audience member as often as you can. This’ll allow you to not only meet new musicians, but observe them and learn from their experience.
9. Set Short & Long-Term Goals
A primary reason why budding musicians fail to make consistent progress is due to a lack of goal-setting. Setting both short and long-term goals for your music provides two main benefits:
- Ensures consistent progress can be made & measured
- Provides you with a sense of achievement on a regular basis
Examples of short-term goals are as follows:
- Finish learning a new song today
- Master a new instrumental technique this week
- Play with someone new this month
Examples of long-term goals are as follows:
- Join a band in the next 3 months
- Write 20 new songs in the next 6 months
- Go on tour by the end of the year
The best way to set & achieve goals is to treat your music like a part time job. Many musicians complain about a lack of overall traction, yet will go weeks or even months at a time without practicing or playing with someone new.
To achieve consistent traction, time needs to be set aside to work on your music. Take a couple of hours each day to work on new music, practice your instrument or meet other musicians.
10. Have Fun!
Whilst it sounds like an obvious point, you’ll struggle to become a good musician if you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing. Enjoy the journey and take pride in your development!