Our guide to getting over your learning hump continues here – in part 2 we discuss how to listen to yourself play (and thus avoid putting your friends through audible turmoil) and how to practice more intelligently to aid progress.
The Benefits Of Recording Yourself
Besides listening to real musicians (not that you aren’t a real musician), listen to yourself.
Record your entire practice session and listen to it back, record yourself playing your favourite 20 minute Pink Floyd solo, really hear what you are playing and analyse it.
You might find yourself messing up particular notes, particular chords, so you’ll know those are things to work on. If you don’t listen to yourself nobody else will want to.
An incredible tool for improving your playing is a Loop pedal. Popularised by Ed Sheeran in recent years, these incredible pieces of gear allow you to record yourself and play over it, creating multi-tracks at the tap of your foot. One of the most important things I’ve found with a looper is that if you make a mistake, it’s repeated over and over and over until it haunts even your dreams.
After that you’ll know never to make that mistake again. Boss have three different loopers for the first-timers up to the pros, find them here, here and here.
A rut is often caused by the feeling that there isn’t anywhere really for your playing to go. Maybe you feel like you’re just learning an ever-changing selection of songs, and never really moving forward with your abilities, perhaps you play the same old pentatonic scale until even your cat starts to purr a flattened third.
A really good way of moving out of this rut is to give yourself solid, long-term objectives and tangible things to aim for in your playing. These goals will be best achieved if you aim for something attainable, yet also something you feel is perhaps beyond your abilities at this time, like a really difficult piano piece.
Going further, goals like this are nearly always achieved using theory ideas like scales and arpeggios, so you can measure your improvement in terms of tempo and progression through more challenging ideas. So, your goal might be to play that ridiculously complex piece of piano music involving difficult arpeggios and crossing of hands, but the way in which you measure your improvement will be through working on scales, arpeggios and technical matters. A book like this on music theory will help you nail these technical aspects, or just an essential reference guide like this.
Something else that I’m going to try, but which might not work for everybody, is improvising.
This will help you practise every single piece of theory you know, but you’ll be making amazing music at the same time, and all you have to do is play. Sound too good to be true? Well, it takes a lot more than simply playing some notes and claim you’re improvising. It’s a ridiculously difficult concept to learn to do well: you’re creating music at the rate of thought; your brain is responding to music that’s playing from either your speakers or inside your head, and it’s telling your fingers how to make music that sounds great, immediately. Sound too bad to be true?
The good news is the more you practise the more instinctive it gets, but the hard part is, as before, really listening intently to what you’re playing. Don’t ever let your mind wander. Start slowly and for short periods of time and work your way up. You’ll be improvising 30 minute solos with the Grateful Dead in no time. If you need a hand, a search for ‘improvisation’ on our website will give you tonnes of great resources to get you started.