In this article you will learn three tips that will instantly impact your ability on your chosen instrument.
These exercises are based on accelerated learning principles, which meansrapid improvement.
Now, instrumental ability isn't directly associated with great songwriting ability, but being able to play to a high level does help… as a crucialsongwriting skill is to be able to take the ideas in your head, and bring them into the real world.
Becoming excellent on your instrument will help with this tremendously.
Let's get into the exercises.
This first exercise is something I picked up in a book called The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green (a great book and I recommend that you pick up a copy and read it). This exercise will really quickly allow you to improve your playing technically on your instrument.
Now, the first thing you need to know is when you’re playing any instrument there are literally hundreds of muscles involved in the process. And if all of these muscles are working in the correct balance your playing will be excellent.
If your muscles aren’t working in this correct balance or there are other muscles that are interfering then your playing will be much less than perfect. Another side effect of having these interfering muscles is it’s going to be really uncomfortable to play because these muscle movements restrict what the correct muscles are supposed to be doing.
Here’s the exercise.
Firstly you need to sit comfortably with your instrument and begin playing… Now, as you play, identify a group of muscles that you can feel are involved in the process and tighten them. Tighten these muscles even to the point where it might even feel a little bit uncomfortable.
Keep playing with these muscles really tight and then after 10 seconds or so deliberately loosen this same group of muscles as much as you possibly can without stopping playing.Continue this cycle… tighten for 10 seconds and then loosen for 10 seconds and move back and forth.
A good way to think about this is if you pretend that there’s a scale of 1 to 10 and when these muscles are really tight it’s a 10 and when they’re really loose it’s a 1. And as you play you’re switching between a 10 and 1, you’re going really tight, really loose, really tight, really loose.
Once you’ve been doing this for a couple of minutes, allow this muscle group to relax into a position between 1 and 10 where it feels really natural and comfortable.
This is where the magic happens because it’s very likely that you’re going to settle into a much more relaxed state after doing this exercise. Also the degree of tightness of this muscle group is going to be much different than when you first began the exercise.
After you’ve completed this you can do the same thing for another group of muscles that you feel is involved in the process.
Rinse and repeat until you’ve covered all the muscles that are involved in your playing.
Once you’ve done this exercise for 5 to 10 minutes you’ll find that you’re playing your instrument with much less interference and therefore much less strain.
The reason it works is because it gives you a new awareness for how relaxed you can be when you play your instrument.
An example of this technique in action is in the book I referred to earlierThe Inner Game of Music. In this excellent book there’s a story about a pianist who complained of a stiff back every time he played. And he said that this was both making him really uncomfortable and also adversely affecting his performance.
So he used this exercise and after playing with a few different muscle groups he discovered the exact group of muscles that was causing him the trouble. With the new awareness he’d gained from the exercise he was able to relax these muscles…
… Which improved his playing dramatically and also made it much more comfortable for him to play the piano.
It’s quite likely that at the moment when you play your instrument you’re tensing up some muscles that don’t need to be tense and this is effecting your playing as well.
The second technique for improving your ability on your instrument leverages one of the most profound discoveries every made about the way humans learn and improve at any given task.
I learned this concept after reading many books and research studies in the field of accelerated learning. And it’s VERY powerful.
Here’s what I learned…
People improve FAR more rapidly by learning from the feedback that comes back to them after doing a task. This means it’s not when you’redoing a task that you progress and improve the most. It’s when youmonitor what comes back to you after doing it.
Which means that one of the best things you can do to improve dramatically on your instrument is to deliberately set up a feedback loop so you can monitor the results that come back to you.
When you do this, you can take what’s working and then make it BETTER. And you can also identify what’s not working and then either just get rid of that element completely, or improve upon it.
In a moment I’m going to show you how you can easily set this feedback loop up, which will have you improve dramatically on your instrument in a short amount of time.
Let’s just say you’re taking a singing lesson every Saturday. You go to the lesson and you practice the exercises… and each time you make a “mini breakthrough” or even a “major breakthrough”. As these breakthroughs happen, your teacher lets you know about it and it feels really good.
The problem is: by the time you get home and try to recreate what you’ve just learned you’ve probably forgotten how you were doing it. Or you might practice the exercise try and recreate it but you can’t really hear if you’re getting the same results that you were getting in the lesson.
This is an example of NOT having a big enough feedback loop to learn from. And if you want to improve at a painfully slow rate then this is a really good plan!
Here’s what you need to do.
When you practice your instrument, make sure to record the session. It doesn’t matter how you record it and if the recording quality is good or not.
As long as you can listen back to it and hear what you were doing, the quality is fine.
Now you’ve recorded yourself playing, you must listen back to this recording. As you do this you are MONITORING the FEEDBACK… Listen for things like how good your tone quality is… if your timing sounds good or if it sounds off… and also listen for things like if you’re hitting the right notes and if you’re expressing music the way you want to express it,
MONITORING feedback in this way works amazingly well because listening back in this way gives you a completely different experience to the one you had when you were actually playing the instrument.
This is a really great way to improve rapidly on your instrument and it’s also really easy to implement. I’ve used this exact method to become really good at many instruments including piano, guitar, bass guitar and even the saxophone. And in most cases I made all this progress with no outside training whatsoever.
If you practice each day, record the session and listen back to it… by the end of the first week I promise you’ll be hearing differences already. I’m positive that you’ll be delighted with the results.
One thing that many musicians forget when they’re playing their instruments is that music in itself is a language. In some ways it’s actually more powerful than the English language.
A passage of really inspired music played with feeling and passion can provide a much more powerful experience than words ever could. You’ll find that movie makers agree with this wholeheartedly because in most movies you’ll find many scenes that use the power of music to take the audience on an emotional experience that they’ll never forget.
With that in mind…
When you’re playing your instrument, try to use it to actually tell a story and communicate what your song is trying to express.
Firstly conjure up in your mind a beautiful moment in your life where you felt like you were literally walking on air. Gently bring that image into your mind… now pick up your instrument and without using any words whatsoever… without saying or using any lyric ideas try and express this feeling on your instrument.
After you’ve done this for a couple of minutes it’s time to switch it up.
This time pretend that you’re scoring a movie and it’s a scene where the main character has just suffered a terrible tragedy and their world is literally falling apart in front of them.
Pick up your instrument and try and describe this scene with it. Describe the emotions that this character is going through and use your instrument to speak and express the emotion in this scene.
As you’ve just experienced the two passages of music you’ve just performed have probably communicated much, much more than if you just sat there trying to hit certain notes in a certain order. This is because what you’ve just performed contains much more emotion and actually usesthe language of music to communicate certain ideas.
Be sure to play around with these exercises because they’ve allowed me to dramatically improve on several different instruments and they really do work.
Practice them often and you will improve dramatically on your chosen instrument.