Here are a few more tips for practicing. I’ve used all of these, plus the first four from my last post. I believe that if you are going to play an instrument, take it seriously. I don’t mean that there isn’t room for casual players who want to play at a party or sitting around a campfire at the beach and strum some chords on an acoustic guitar. What I mean is, if you pick up an instrument and start playing it at a party and you can’t play, you’re wasting everyone’s time and undervaluing the instrument. With that in mind, I’ll start out with this tip…
5. Make a game out of practice.
Practicing is hard work. At least, if you want to get better, it should be. But you are a musician because it’s fun! So while practicing is serious business, you can make great strides if you can make a game out of it. You can pick a difficult part and see how many times you can play it without stopping. Or, take a familiar part and see how fast you can play it. Learning scales? Play the notes in letter order but on different strings so that you aren’t playing them in direct ascending or descending order (like, on a guitar: A on the 6th string, 5th fret; B on the 3rd string, 4th fret; C on the 5th string, 3rd fret, etc.) Or learn a new part from one song and then choose another song that relates in some way to the first song and play a part from that song. Then see how many song parts you can string together like this.
6. Practice backwards.
Take a phrase, passage, or even a whole song that you know by heart and learn to play it backwards. This helps you look at something familiar from a new perspective and inspire you to create something you might never have thought of. Jimi Hendrix recorded the guitar solo of Are You Experienced backwards while the tape was recording backwards and came up with an amazing effect that nobody had ever heard on the radio before when they were both played forward again, together.
7. Change your venue.
Everyone has a favorite place to practice. The right room, the right time of day, the right gear, the right lack of people bothering you, whatever makes it just right for you. Sometimes we get too comfortable though. Try moving to a different spot and make do with it. If you’re a pianist, take a keyboard onto the back porch and play through its built-in speakers. Electric bass players, borrow a small guitar practice amp and go to the park. Flautists, jump in the car and play. Every time I have picked up my guitar and played in a place that I wasn’t used to, it forced me to focus on what I was doing so I could tune out everything around me, made me really aware of the quality of the sound my instrument was producing, and, if there were other people around, get over the uncomfortability factor of people possibly hearing my imperfect practice playing. Which brings me to…
8. Play to an audience.
I play because I like to create. Music is created in a moment and then is forever gone. I have literally spent years playing music that only I have heard if you add up all the hours. But I have also spent a lot of time playing in front of people. Performing for an audience gets you better in several ways. First, it gets you over that “It’s not good enough!” mental hurdle. News flash! It’ll never be good enough. Second, in order to prepare, you get inspired to REALLY practice. Sometimes this translates into more hours and sometimes it means just focusing on getting the most out of the time you do spend. The big thing is to make sure you are ready to be as least embarrassing as possible. But the third way it gets you better is that it forces you to learn to trust your abilities and just play the music. You have practiced the songs, you’ve practiced the mechanics of playing. When you play in front of an audience, you run through each piece once, with the next one right after. You don’t have time to stop for mistakes, you don’t slow down for parts you are unsure of and you have to keep going when you look up and become acutely aware all of a sudden that a bunch of people are staring at you. Playing in front of people makes you good because it makes you realize: This is for real.
Keep practicing, and find ways to always keep it fresh!! More tips next time!