Author: Campbell, Bruce

Getting Better All the Time

Playing music is lots of fun. This is not a news flash for anyone out that plays music. It is fun, at every level. More so, I think, than golf. Nobodyís keeping score in music. Nobodyís going to beat you at the game of music. Itís not a game - itís a form of expression and thatís why itís so fun.

But like golf, most of us who play music would like to play better, at some point. Make no mistake - however you play, itís a joyous noise, and no one can take that away from you. But weíd like to hit the right notes, sing well, and enhance any ensemble we play with, right?

How do we do this? How do we get better? Here are some ways that really work.

Play with people
This may sound obvious, but you have to interact with other musicians to learn a sense of rhythm and sharing. I have met players who only played to records or from tablature, and they were flat out lost playing with other people. Itís a skill thatís worth cultivating, and you will learn something every time you do it. (And youíll probably teach others at the same time!)

Go to Music Camp
This build on the notion of playing with others, only at a music camp, the playing will be with actual teachers. Youíll learn from the teachers of course, but you also learn watching and listening to the other players as they learn too. And youíll make friends for life and be on a first-name basis with some bluegrass stars!

This sounds obvious, but are you playing every day? And when you play, what are you playing? Two common problems: Playing only stuff you already know well, and practicing mistakes. In the first example, you have your pet ďgo toĒ songs you believe you play well (you may be right!), and so thatís what you play, every time. You will get better at those songs (probably), but you wonít grow as a musician.

The second problem is very common - practicing mistakes. You learn a song, pretty well, but a certain part of it gives you problems - you flub it every time. So, you learn to play the rest of it well, and try and fudge through the flubs. What happens is, the flub becomes the norm. You have to revisit the flub parts until you get it right.

Bands can fall into this trap. They have a song and it never starts quite right - not everyone is sure of the arrangement or chords, so they run through it, and it sounds all right at the end, and thatís what happens every practice. In bands Iím in, we warm up with a gimme, and then plow into every song that had a mistake at the last gig, until we can play it without the mistake. It can be embarrassing, but better to be embarrassed in a practice than on stage, right?

You donít have to aim for the stars. If youíre like most people, you have demands on your time that can supersede music: family, work, who knows? But if youíd to play a little better (or a lot better), a few good habits can pay big dividends!

Posted:  7/16/2014

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