Become a better musician: No substitute for practice

Keep going, remember to think about your grip and by the time you're five you'll be cooking

Practice is a means to an end, playing well, and it is a vital component to reach that end. I don’t think I have ever met a musician who I thought was a great player who didn’t practice and practice effectively.

When I first went to conservatory I would stumble around in awe of all the amazingly talented people I was surrounded by. They seemed like a different species to me. After a while I was able to hear some stratification of ability between these brilliant musicians and I noticed that the better ones (in relative terms they were all amazing players) practiced a lot and practiced effectively.

Regular practice is the key to the door. If you don’t do that you can’t even gain entry to the temple of Euterpe but to really become good, Manuel Barrueco good, you’ve got to practice effectively. It’s not enough to just punch the clock and lather, rinse, repeat. Getting better demands that you pay attention to what and how you practice too.

Identifying specific element that you want to improve is important whether it’s a technical element or a piece. If you keep practicing that thing you can do well you’re not getting much return on your effort. There’s less room to get better there than there is working on things you can’t yet do so well.

This happened at conservatory too. I would hear the halls echoing with someone banging out a Rachmaninov Prelude and sounding great, but after a while you could notice the same musician playing the same piece over and over. Sometimes a few doors away you could hear another musician trudging through arpeggios or working on a technique like their trill. It didn’t sound so impressive but it served them better in the long run. Being great at playing one thing is no bad thing but it’s not the same as being a good musician.

Practicing is not the same thing as playing. Cranking through your repertoire of pieces isn’t effective practice. It won’t do you any harm, but to build a strong foundation of facility and technique requires thought about who you are and where you are as a musician. Try to identify where you are now as a player and where you want to get to. What can’t you do yet as well as the players you admire? That’s where to put the effort in. Continue reading Become a better musician: No substitute for practice

Ideas are like piles, sooner or later every a**ehole gets them

man fixing steam pump

Ideas are just a starting point. The real trick is taking an idea and making it happen as well as possible. Derek Sivers defines ideas as a multiplier and I think that’s a useful way to look at it. He even gives some definition to the values with a so-so idea worth half as much as a good idea and that in turn being worth half a brilliant idea.

The real trick is the execution. That’s the tough part. You can’t phone in execution from your hammock in Bimini despite what Tim Ferriss might tell you, at least I’m not convinced. Execution is the perspiration generating part of the job and ultimately it is what makes things happen.

This is clear if we’re thinking about a business idea but I think this is a useful model to apply to any aspirations we may have. Writing a song is more than plucking an idea from the bosom of Euterpe.
To start with the idea needs to be captured somehow, written down on paper, sung into your cellphone or tended in your memory until it can be preserved somewhere. Then the execution can really begin. The idea needs to be developed unless you’re lucky enough to have dreamed up a complete work, melody, lyrics, chorus, bridge etc.

Sure a great idea can make a song better, but a rubbish arrangement will kill it stone dead for sure. Value good ideas but recognise them for what they are, a starting point and value the execution.