3 Simple Steps for Leveling Up in Music
Are you treading water in music and feeling stuck? I've got three simple tips to help you and your brain focus on what's important to you—and to make progress. A little nudge for those who constantly struggle with procrastination. Not suitable for those who don't actually feel like doing anything and are quite satisfied with their own state of dissatisfaction.
You know you have a free evening or Saturday afternoon. And you've been wanting to move on in music for a long time. Take a singing lesson, learning a new guitar solo, or even trying a new instrument. However, you never find the time because there are a thousand important things that "get in the way." Then, you get invited to play somewhere, and it's only when you're on stage that you realise that you really haven't progressed anywhere in the last six months and you're playing your favorite song in a way that is quite unsatisfying. Okay then, what are you going to do with that next free night? Right, you'll go to the pub, as always. In the following paragraphs, I briefly summarize my personal attempts at "overcoming" unfocusedness and procrastination in my life. These are techniques known to the whole world, recommended in many popular how-to books, but not every one of them will be to your taste. You can choose to grit your teeth and try what works for you. Or you can leave everything the way it was.
1. What do I want?
First important question: What exactly do I want to achieve? Do I want to be more confident on stage next time? Do I want to feel good about having learned something new? Do I just want to impress that hottie I met in the music store once, and who said that the chords to "Nothing Else Matters" somehow really turn them on? Do I want to strum a few chords on another instrument at the next gig, because after 25 years of playing on nothing but my mother's old nylon-string classical guitar, I'm getting a little bit bored with it? If you really want to move on (and, let's face it, some people prefer just talking about making progress rather than actually doing something for it), you need to be clear about where you want to go. Crystal clear.
2. Why do I want it?
Although this is question number two, it is absolutely crucial. If you don't know exactly where you want to go in music, at least get clear on what it is that compels you. Why should you improve at all? What, specifically, will you gain from knowing five more chords? Or from learning a new technique? Will it make you play better? Will you finally be able to play the songs you didn't dare to play before? Will you be happy when your voice sounds nice and strong on the video recording of your live show? Being clear about your motivation is essential. It'll be your alpha and omega the next time you're deciding between the pub, Netflix, and a YouTube tutorial focused on improving your playing. And, trust me, once you've outdone yourself a few times and you've flexed your study muscles instead of going into a comfortable state of vegetation, you'll feel like you rule the world.
3. Do I have time for this? No? Then it's baby steps
You have three kids, two wives, a boyfriend who is jealous of your band, so naturally he complains that you spend time with them, even though you actually only rehearse at home by yourself, work 12-hour shifts, and on top of that, pilates (true story). In that case, go back to the previous two questions. What do I want and why? Maybe you don't really want to move on with your music at all, in which case's there's no point in feeling bad about standing still. But if you find that you do want some improvement, plan for parts of it. It's perfectly realistic to learn one cover song in an hour. But learning to play a new instrument in a few weeks and then taking it to the stage is not realistic. Unless we're talking about just banging out the pulse on a cow bell. But if you have a big goal and little time, it makes sense to break it down into several small steps. Tasks that you write on your calendar at times when you actually have a chance of accomplishing them. Twenty minutes a couple of times a week that you dedicate to do a thorough vocal warmup won't kill you or anyone around you—and you'll sing much more easily and with a better feeling at your next gig. If you've played guitar all your life and want to learn the piano, be prepared for a long and painful process, but one that will reward you infinitely. It's not just the fan base that will triple after your first go at "Empire State of Mind." If you feel like a boss after completing the small challenges, you'll be invincible after the big ones.
So, to sum up quickly:
What exactly do you want?
Why do you want it?
What small and realistic steps can you take today to achieve it?
Of the many different techniques, these three questions serve as a reliable guide. Personally, I found it most helpful to write down briefly what I want to achieve in a week and what small tasks I'm going to break it down into. Not only did I manage to complete a large number of things that made sense to me, but when, after a few weeks, I went back and read all I had accomplished, I felt like the ruler of worlds and underworlds. And I really wish for you to have this feeling as well.
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