learning

The Importance of Creating Good Habits

After taking a break from the blog while finishing school, I’m back into the swing of things. This post is all about the importance of creating good habits that set the stage for future success. An effective mindset is one that assumes the end result will be the culmination of all the small steps taken towards said end. Granted, life does throw us curveballs and failure is there as a teacher, however, in the end, you are what you repeat.

Here are a few habits I hold myself to every day that pay off whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out.

Practice Scales and Technique

This should be a no-brainer. Even just 10 minutes a day starting slow with the metronome will go a long way to developing ease and comfort on any given instrument. Remember – the purpose of practice is to make things feel as easy and natural as possible.

Send 5 Emails a Day

 If I want to be lazy and watch TV or wander down the YouTube rabbit hole, I ask myself “did you send your 5 emails?” If the answer is “No,” – I get straight to work. It’s easy to get overzealous with this one, but 5 emails everyday adds up to over 30/week and over 100/month. For me, I target local venues and past clients – anything more and you’ll flood the market.

With an investment of a mere 20 minutes, you’ll find it’s an easy way to get leads, keep in touch with past venues, and keep your fans updated on your upcoming projects.

Set Clear and Attainable Goals

Always refine what it is you are working on. Not just wishy-washy “I want to play at XYZ someday” or “I want to learn XYZ song.” Break that end goal into simple, small steps where results can be measured. As an example, I’m working on a new CD – both writing music and recording the songs. I set a specific schedule where I work on one piece every two-three days and set a firm timeline for the project. Therefore, “I want to play XYZ” becomes “I want to record XYZ by next Thursday.”

If you start with these simple steps and keep track of what you practice, who you email, and have a timeframe for any project you are working on, your work will pay off and the snowball effect will generate massive momentum. Remember that we’re often bombarded with “moments of success” on TV and media – someone wins American Idol, a video goes viral, a band gets a big break, a star athlete dominates a sport. What we don’t see is the countless hours of preparation that lead to that point – and this is where proper habits come in.

So are your habits hurting or helping you?

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5 Essential Practice Tips

A wise man once said “insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.” That wise man was Albert Einstein, and he happens to be a pretty smart dude. In fact, he felt most of his scientific breakthroughs came as a direct result of improvising on the piano and violin – so put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Music is a journey. Gaining musical proficiency requires both disciplined practice as well as patience. The process is about developing oneself through your ears and out your soul. If you do it right, you’ll notice changes in yourself – how you play a piece, how you perform with others reflects your personality and your day to day life.

Whenever I am struggling with a piece, technical exercise, or memorizing a new program, I find myself falling back on a variety of methods to dig myself out of a hole. Everyone is different, some may need to focus on only one or two of my tips below, others may need to do a little of everything. Below are the best ways I know of how to improve dramatically – even over the course of a day – and really begin to understand problems in your playing in an objective manner.

Listen to yourself: I firmly believe that the better you are at listening, the better you become as a musician. When you practice or perform a piece, how often do you really listen to yourself? Are you aware of that slight noise when your fingers touch the string – or do you just let it slide? Do you hear that gap when you shift from one fret to another down the neck? Take the time to listen to the sounds you create. Listening to each note from its inception until the last audible vibration is the best way to honestly appraise your playing. Start each day by playing/singing one note or chord, close your eyes and listen to it ring out. Take a breath. Repeat. Now you’re ready to move on.

Record yourself: This goes hand in hand with listening. If you record yourself playing for practice or even a performance, and objectively create a map of the things you want to improve you set yourself up for success. Hell, use a webcam, cell phone, video, audio – doesn’t matter. In fact, if you manage to sound great on a terrible recorder you know you’re practice is beginning to pay off.

Stop whatever you’re doing and do the opposite: Want to get faster? Forget speed for a few weeks and go back to basics at a snail’s pace. If you find yourself hitting a wall in your practice, sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break. Spend two weeks practicing something entirely different. Cultivate an awareness of your body and instrument and truly own the notes.

Perform for others: This is the biggest way to improve. Play for others. Play for friends, set up a small house concert. It doesn’t matter if you crash and burn – you’ll be better off after running the gauntlet. I’m convinced that the reason people get so nervous and notice what can seem to be an insurmountable amount of mistakes in performance comes from that fact that not only are you no longer on practice-room-autopilot, but you’re actually listening to yourself – AND – so are other people.

Set Goals:
This is simple, but it’s amazing how often people forget. My personal favorite is writing a weekly practice log. Sometimes I break it down into small daily goals. At the extreme, there have been times where I’ve written up a sheet of paper for each piece I’m working on as well as every gig I had coming up. I wrote dates and goals on each page and taped them to my bedroom wall. Every time I accomplished a goal or finished a piece, I checked it off with green marker. Learn to love the green marker. Even if you come up short, aim high. You can only end up ahead.

These are my 5 go-to practice techniques – if you have any other effective ideas, post below!