Measuring Your Music Talent

We go through life relatively quickly. It's easy to go through an entire day and not really remember what you've done. It's just as easy to accomplish quite a few things in a day and not realize it. It's the same with our musical progress. It's easy to just go day by day without figuring out exactly where we are, what we are doing, and what we'd like to accomplish.

We have a terrible sense of time. It's the same with a lot of areas of our life where we go with our gut feelings or some vague recollection. How many songs have you written? How many songs do you know? You may think that it may be a large number but until you sit down and actually calculate the exact number, you really don't know for sure.

Measuring Your Progress

How many scales do you know? How many songs do you know? Licks? Cliches? Chord progressions? You get the idea. I would venture to say that most musicians have no clue to most of these questions. The best thing to get an idea of where you are is to start writing things down. Start with a list of the basics. Chords, scales, songs written, songs learned, solos, etc. Make this list as comprehensive as possible. By making a list, you start to get an idea of where you are. Keep in mind though, that this isn't a list to try and put as many things on it as possible; it's just a guide. Knowing more scales doesn't make you a better player if you don't know how to use them. On close inspection, it becomes obvious what you've done. If you've thought that you've written a lot songs, but then see on your list that only a handful are actually completed, it may be a wake-up call. Initially, this list will be a work in progress. Don't worry about making a completed list right off the get go. Take some time and figure out where you are in each area. This will be our starting point.

What's The Point?

The point of all of this isn't to brag to your friends about knowing 1,000 chords. It's for you only. It's about seeing exactly where you are and what you need to do. The best use for me is a guide as to how many songs I know. I also use it to see how many songs I've written lately. It must be updated regularly but once a month should be enough. It's great as a review system too. A review should be done at least once a year, if not more. The review should include all of the things that you've been working on for the year. Reviewing is the best way of keeping the things you've learned in your head and on your fingertips.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Everything you learn, you want to remember and use. The best way we learn is through repetition. When you learn something new, the best way to remember it is to review it often. If you've gone to your lesson and learned some new skills, you should review what you've learned as soon as you get home. Try to put it into your own words. Go through the points that the teacher made and try to do the exercises on your instrument. This should be done the night of your lesson. Then, another review should be done the next day. Do the same things you did the night before. Spend some time going through the concepts in your mind. If you've done these two things, you're well on your way to retaining the lesson. Other reviews can be done but as long as the concepts where reviewed in the first place, the time between reviews can get longer.

For example:
1. review as soon as you can after the lesson
2. review the lesson again the next day
3. review once again within the next couple  of days
4. you can wait about a week before going over the material again.
5. review once at the end of the month
6. from here on out, once every couple of months and the concepts are yours for life

Once you've created your list, your going to want to put it in your practice workbook and update it regularly. I've talked about the importance of having a practice workbook here before. You may also want to keep other kinds of workbooks in helping with your learning and creativity. If you're having trouble keeping one updated, stop there. Try not to worry too much about these things. You don't need more things getting in the way of practicing and creating. But if you have tons of ideas running through your head and don't know what to do with them, the workbooks are the best idea. If you have tons of ideas and know that if one arises, you can write it down and place it in your journal, your great ideas will never get lost.

The Journal

Creating a journal is nothing new to artists. DaVinci was famous for his workbooks and journals. There are many different types of journals. There are the open ended, what's going on in my brain today type journals. There the goals and aspirations type. And there are the aforementioned DaVinci notes and ideas journal. Most artists keep journals to varying degrees. These vary as much as the artists do. For musicians, the lyric journals are popular but there are also the music ideas journals. Beethoven was famous for writing down tons of ideas and themes in workbooks. He would come back to them on a regular basis and review them, edit them, or add more. The key here is that not only would he keep the journal, he would return to them often. If it's not getting used, it's a waste of time..

Your Practice Workbook

This is the most important part of the equation. It's important to have a daily journal of what you've done. It's easy to guess that you've done this or that. Or to think that you've done more (or less) than you have. But when you have the practice workbook sitting in front of you, with all of your lists, notes on what you've done you no longer have to guess. It's all right there in front of you. You can see what you've done specifically so no matter what you may have thought, it's there in black and white. It's important that your workbook stays up to date. Make notes whenever you can. It's about a little at a time. I don't want you to lose sleep over this or use it as another thing getting in the way of your practice. If you do it regularly, it should only take a second. Whenever you do something in your practice sessions, make a note in your workbook. At the end of the month, just before the end of one of your practice sessions, take a quick look back at the past couple of weeks and make a note of what you've accomplished. If there are things that you wanted to get done but didn't, make a note. Put a star beside it if it bothers you and you want to make sure that this gets done next month.

Computer Stuff

Most of my writing these days is done on the computer. It's so easy to start writing something or try new ideas. You can save your work and come back to it later. Of course the most important part of that statement is 'come back to it later'. This is one of the main reasons for the workbook. It's all too easy to lose track of what you've done and what needs to get done. If you've got a hundred songs on your computer and none of them are done, you need to stop and get some of them to completion. Again, we come back to the workbook. Make a list of all of the songs you have on your computer and then make notes on each. Which ones are close to completion? Make separate notes on each such as what needs to be changed and what is good. Of course the list can be on your computer but make sure  you put it in it's own folder. Make a folder just for your workbook notes. I'm suggesting a folder instead of just a note taking program because you'll want to include other things  in there. I like to make mp3's of all of the songs I'm working at so I don't have to open my DAW just to hear what they sound like. I also keep pdf's and things I've copied  from the internet in there.

This Is What I Know

If you've done everything that is listed here, you'll know exactly where you are. You can see that you have all of the pentatonics memorized but need to work on soloing in different keys. Your chord knowledge is going well but you need to work on chord progressions. You have 10 songs written but want to get more of that done. You haven't worked on your theory at all lately and want to learn more to apply it to your songwriting. You want to learn about film scoring but you know that you're just a beginner and need guidance in this area. Your not sure about how many songs you know and have to get that list together. It may not be an exact measurement of your musical talent but it really gives you a good idea of where you are.

The Data-Driven Musician

More and more it's becoming easier to measure our life. Where this is taking place in every other part of your life, it's now becoming part of your musical journey. There are better ways to learn and make sure you are accomplishing your dreams. By writing down what you've done and what you are doing, you know exactly where you are heading, where you've been and where you're going to end up.The best system is automatic and gets done with very little effort. Make a small effort everyday and you'll see exactly what you've done and where you want to go.