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How to Make What You Practice Actually Stick

Practicing your instrument is a way of life. You know that to get better there needs to be time spent meticulously honing your craft.

But how can you make the things you practice stick faster?

Like most musicians, your musical goals are most likely straightforward. You want to play faster, feel more confident when you improvise, and maybe you even have the goal to write your own tunes.

While there's no magic bullet or no secret mastering those skills, your success really does come down to one simple solution.

Before we can get into that, let’s take a look at some of the things that may be getting in your way...

Let me give you an example from my own practice: When I actually set aside time to focus on what will make me a better player, a part of my mind figures out ways to distract myself from that work. This resistance is something most people experience when learning anything new, and especially when getting over plateaus in your development.

How good can you get at observing yourself?

Noticing your patterns and habits, like your resistance, can help you realize you actually can make a different choice, so you don’t keep repeating the same patterns when what you want are new results.

Resistance for you can look like any number of things... one more cup of coffee, watching random videos on YouTube, mindlessly browsing through Facebook, you know what I’m talking about.

I’m not saying these things are inherently bad, but they are when they stop you from doing what you actually want to do and getting the results you want.

So, how do you outsmart and override your resistance?

Can you imagine the most epic musician version of yourself? Think back to those first moments of picking up your instrument. Do you remember the excitement of playing your first tune and just how the sound of the instrument exhilarated you? Notice if there’s any more excitement to pick up your instrument and play now. Try to stay away from judgements like “I sound bad” or “I could sound better,” and just enjoy the sound of you creating music.

I notice when I do this I remember how fun playing music is, and that’s really the only reason I do it. Then, once my instrument is in my hands, it’s hard to stop. I can focus on practicing what I need to and creating my own music.

Think about your goals and practice routine… If you want to become a better musician, consider these two “rules”:

1. Try Something New - Try doing something you’ve never done before, like learning a tune by ear or improvising with the metronome. This might be where the resistance will show up. It may seem too hard at first, but they are only challenging because you haven’t dedicated the time to make them easy.

2. Consistency - change will happen when you embrace consistency in your practice routine. Organize your practice so you’re working on the same concepts on a daily basis until they get easier. Remember how difficult Cripple Creek was in the beginning? But you practiced and practiced one small lick or phrase until it sounded good and felt easy.

Remember, all players have their challenges. It’s important that we surround ourselves with like-minded and supportive peers. My goals right now are to realize my improvisational potential and to become a better composer so I can make a record of tunes that I love and are written by me.

I know that once I start to record my improvisations and write music on a daily basis, my playing will improve and I’ll even be a more fulfilled and happier person.

So here’s my promise to you (and myself) - despite all of my resistance, I will record myself improvising and write music every single day - even if it’s only for 5 minutes.

What will make you a better player? Transcribe more? Play with the metronome more regularly? Play with other people?

Most of us know that learning by ear and playing with the metronome will lead to becoming a great musician, but for some reason we’re led to believe they can’t do it, or we don’t have the talent. That thought is neither supportive nor accurate as our minds will adapt to what we’re doing most.

What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to know. Comment below and share your own frustrations, experiences and tips if you have one that has worked well for you!

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© Listen & Learn, Inc. 2016