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New Year's Resolutions for Musicians


It's that time of the year again. As you can tell from the posts on all of your favorite development blogs, the topic this month is New Year's resolutions. Some people love it, some will have nothing to do with it all, but most people will at least try something. I, for one, like it because it gives me a chance to start fresh. It also gives me an excuse to look at the past year and take stock of what I've done and what I'd like to accomplish.

Make the List

For most musicians out there, I'm sure that there is at least one music related resolution one your list. It may be getting better at your instrument, writing more songs, or getting some well deserved income from your music. Even if you don't have any music related goals on your list, it is a good time to take a break from your practice sessions and take stock of where you are. It gives you a chance to take a good look at what you've accomplished in the past year and what you'd like to get done this year.

No Time

I hear some players say that their instrument or their music is just a part time thing. They may not have the time (or even inclination) to do much more than 'fool around' on their instrument when the mood strikes. I know tons of musicians who have lost interest in playing or 'hit a ceiling' and can't see their playing getting much better. It's sad because there really is no such thing as a 'ceiling' in music. Music is, or at least can be, a never ending journey. It's all up to you. The fact that they have lost interest may be related to the fact that they're just been going through the motions for the longest time; there has been no growth, effort or motivation to do much more.

The Big Picture

Sitting down to figure out where you are with your music has a two-fold effect. First of all, not only does it gives you a clear picture of where you want to go, it also may enlighten you as to where you are now in your development. This may seem incredibly obvious but you'd be surprised how many musicians I know have never done this. I never did it until I went to university. It's almost like it's a bad thing or uncool for musicians to be practical and studious about their development. Secondly, it's a great motivator. Just thinking about all of the songs that you want to learn, the skills you want to master, or the things you want to do with your music may spark a whole new chapter in your development.

Storming Your Brain

Schedule yourself a brainstorming session. You don't have to make it very long, it's all about just writing down what comes to mind. You'll be editing and sorting the lists and ideas later. Sit down and ask yourself some questions. What tunes do you know? Do you have a list or is it all in your head? More importantly, how many songs do you know all the way through, by heart? How many chords do you know? Have you been playing the same chords in exactly the same way for years? How are your improvisation skills coming along? (Please don't tell me that you can't improvise, everybody can!). Is your technique getting better? When was the last time you wrote a song? You may realize that you haven't really improved much or gotten much done in a long time. This may not be a bad thing if it motivates you to get something done. Just sitting down and brainstorming may bring up tons of new ideas to apply to your practice sessions.

Here are some ideas for your brainstorming session. Get some paper and a pencil. I prefer a pencil for these sections for quick (short) edits. Section off one piece of paper and put down the following areas. Theory, songwriting, technique, and songs. The theory section will include all of the things you know about music theory including: scales, chords, arranging, ear training, etc. Put down all of the areas you'd like to get better at. The songwriting area could include: recording, improvising etc. The song list would be all of the songs you know and then a list of all of the songs you want to learn. In your technique section list all of the different styles and techniques you'd like to master. Make another section for overall notes. Now just start writing ideas down. Make a list of what you know and what you'd like to learn. The order doesn't matter. If you are working on your song list and then have an idea of some technique you'd like to learn, write it down right away. Later you're going to keep these pages and put them into your practice binder/workbook. We've talked about the workbook before where you place all of your notes and ideas for your music and practice sessions.

Once, Twice...

I do this every time I get a new student. You figure out what the student knows, what their taste in music is, and what they would like to learn/accomplish. You should too. It shouldn't be just a once a year thing. It should be like planning other parts of your life career. There are a couple of major planning/review sessions a year. But then there should also be a small review at the end of the week or at least once a month.

Worth the Cost

You may be sitting there thinking that this may be too much. Your music is part time and/or just for fun and you don't have time for all of this. In actuality the amount of effort is minimal. It will take extra effort but not much. In the end you want to enjoy your music and ultimately you want to improve. Sitting down to figure out where you are only takes about as long as a regular practice session.

The enjoyment of music not only comes from playing and jamming but from creativity and growth. This tiny bit of extra effort has a huge payoff. I'm always amazed (and so are the students) at the results after just a short time of concentrated practice. Keep in mind this isn't much more beyond their typical commitment. It's just a matter of concentrated effort. It's a matter of thinking about what you're doing when you sit down to practice. It's a matter of getting organized with your practice sessions. This includes going through a number of exercises every session. It includes monitoring your sessions and making sure that you're doing the exercises and reviewing your results. It's a matter of making an effort to memorize and learn new songs. It's trying new chord progressions, scales and ideas. A small amount of consistent, concentrated effort can have tremendous results. Part time student or not, this can only make your time with your instrument that much more enjoyable and satisfying.