10 Simple Ways of Improving Your Musicianship Cont’d (part 2):

A continuation of 1-5… Enjoy!

6. Play with people! As obvious as this may be, for many, it may not be so… Many musicians are more than comfortable playing solo at home for ourselves, or our friends and family, but it is totally different when you play with another person (or a whole band). So many things can change when we are in a setting with other players that our musical selves must react to, from simply playing at a different tempo than we’re used to, to having to accompany someone, to having to think in terms of filling up space, and so much more… Getting into these settings can really help by putting us in the moment, and having our ears and hands react to our surroundings outside our comfort zone.

7. Write music if you’re an improviser, Improvise if you’re a composer/songwriter It can be pretty easy to get into a rut, hit a wall, or just get creatively tired, so we have to in many cases, put ourselves into a different context to get inspired. Composing and songwriting is really just writing down something that was improvised, then editing, and improvising is just composing or songwriting in real-time. Try the reverse of what you’re used to, to get a fresh and inspired perspective, while improving your overall skills as a musician.

8. Transcribe. As per the previous blog entry Transcription: A guide to the how and why of stepping outside yourself, which you can check out and read about transcription a bit more in depth, I believe there is no better musical workout than transcription. You can get the instant results of learning something you like such as a solo or a song, etc, and have that added to your vocabulary and repertoire all while giving your ears and hands a workout. By transcribing you build up your ear training, your vocabulary, and your technique, as well as seeing lines, phrases, chords, etc, that you would not have been able to think of yourself. It is truly the best workout for all aspects of your ear, hands, and musicianship.

9. Ear training. There are plenty of tools and software programs on the Internet for this, or you can simply just transcribe. By building your ear’s instant recognition of intervals, chord types/qualities, rhythms, and phrases, your musical self is elevated. By having a strong ear, not only can we pick up music quicker, be a stronger player, and have command of the things listed above, but it also builds the (arguably) most important thing: the ear to hand connection, and the eye to ear connection (if reading music). This allows us to have command of executing what we hear in our heads on our instrument, as well as translating the notes on a page to inside our ears and subsequently on our instrument.

10. Take a Lesson. No matter what stage of the game you’re at, studying with a pro can always help. Tiger Woods still has a teacher, as does Andy Roddick, so do the Boston Celtics, they have coaches. There is always more to learn, and we can only get so far with out having a professional 2nd set of ears from an outside prospective to give constructive criticism. There is an endless amount of information, as well an and endless amount of great teachers (such as http://www.MusiCloudLessons.com) out there willing to share their knowledge; Take advantage and be open to not only what a teacher, but a fellow musician has to say!


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10 Simple Ways of Improving Your Musicianship (part 1):

In every musicians development, regardless of experience, level of playing, style, or age, there is always more to learn and ways to improve.Many of us (if not all), at some point can get into a rut, or get creatively stifled. Whether or not you find your self in that situation, or just want to get better or come up with new ideas, I’ve compiled a list of some ways to improve your overall musicianship. Some may be obvious, some not so… Enjoy!

In no order of priority or effectiveness they are:

1. Be an active listener! The simplest and most effective way to broaden your musical horizons, vocabulary and overall musical scope is to listen to music. All styles, especially those outside of your comfort zone, and all eras. Just like learning a language, like when we all began to speak our native tongue, we accelerated our learning by hearing people speaking all around us. Focus in on the melodies, harmonies, rhythms, inner lines, arrangements, instrumentation, texture, colors, etc…

2. Pick up another instrument. Even if you’re a complete beginner at whatever new instrument you pick up, give it a try. This can benefit you in a multitude of ways. Such as: 1) Seeing a different visual layout of notes, as well as hearing them in different colors and timbres, can give you a fresh visual and aural perspective and will hopefully lend to new ideas and creativity. As well as 2) Giving you new appreciation for your current level of playing on your primary instrument. By picking up a new instrument as a complete beginner, we can think back to when our primary instrument was in our hands for the first time. Remember that? The overwhelming quality, yet new, exiting and endless room for growth. Try to bring those thoughts back to your main instrument…

3. Improvise with 1 note. There is no better (and perhaps no other) way of completely isolating everything but rhythm, shape, phrasing, timbre, tone, etc… but by playing with only 1 note. Try this: Pick a note, and put on a backing track, recording, metronome or anything with a pulse, and improvise with just the 1 note. Harder than you think right? You will be forced to be musical with your playing because you have no other choice, and nothing else to fill up space with! You will find and hear instantly that you have to create rhythm that will hold it’s own. You can’t fake it with 1 note!

4. Take a week off. If you can afford it, try it (literally and figuratively, as for some this my be logistically impossible!) If you’re an active player, and practice or play with others or at home most everyday, try taking a few days to a week off. The benefits of this can be many. You may (hopefully find) that in coming back to your instrument you will be creatively refreshed, excited, and inspired. It may take a minute to physically get your chops back to where they were, but ideally, mentally you will be in a good place. I see this to be just like restarting your computer after a bunch of applications have been running for a while and eating up all your memory!

5. Play with a recording. On the same lines of the first (Be an active listener), playing with recordings can really open up your ears, and put you in with the masters. We all know that playing with musicians better than us raises the bar, so what better then playing with the best, and our influences? Put on a recording and play along with it. Like the learning a language analogy, hearing the language and vocabulary of our heroes influenced us early on by just listening, and can seep into our playing as well by directly playing along with them. Our ears and our playing will consciously and subconsciously react to the melody, rhythm, harmony, color, and energy of what we are hearing, and inform our playing directly.

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Part 2 (6-10) to follow…

Transcription: A guide to the how and why of stepping outside yourself

Traditionally, transcription has been the preeminent, “go-to” way of becoming a great improviser, and one of the most effective ways of learning the language of music.

There are undoubtedly many of the great living musicians and improvisers that have never done a transcription in their life, and there’s something pure about that. Though, for the rest of us who may follow in the ideal of Stravinsky’s quote: “Good composers borrow, great composers steal”, there are many clear tangible benefits of transcription, and in many ways is the ultimate musical workout with benefits such as:

  • Gaining vocabulary to use (licks, phrases, etc…)
  • Ear training in it’s rawest form
  • Rhythmic training
  • Opening you up to new harmonic concepts (new ways to use scales, patterns, devices, etc…)
  • Looking at your instrument in a different visual sense (if transcribing from another instrument than your own)
  • Developing new fingerings
  • Develop better feel, pocket, groove, etc…
  • And so much more…

Live the solo

In looking at these benefits, and seeing the fact that transcription hits all areas of musicianship, not just learning a solo, I’d like to focus in on one area; developing feel. It occurred to me at one point while doing some transcribing, that given the goal of trying to learn the style of another player that: When you play the exact note, with the exact fingering, with the exact phrasing, with the exact intonation, you will then FEEL what that musician was playing at that given moment. To learn honestly from another musician, we must feel what it would’ve been like to play that phrase within that solo at that given time. Then, we can assimilate the idea of stepping outside our natural human limitations as a player, and live that solo through the musician you are transcribing.

That being said, the practical elements of transcription how-tos, can be rather personal, depending where you are at in your musical development. One thing is the same for everyone though: we’re trying to play what we hear. The following tips will provide an efficient method to get the most out of your time, and as we all know transcription can be a very tedious process.

Listen. Over and over

There is nothing that will waste more of your time than trying to play a phrase if you haven’t listened to it enough. You must absorb the music first. For some of you it may only take 1 listen to get it, others 20, but if you can’t hear what your trying to play in your head first, there’s no way you’ll be able to play it on your instrument; you’ll simply be guessing!

Sing it first

The ear to hand connection for musicians is the primary bond we have, and what we all strive to strengthen. Singing is the best way to do it. When you sing a phrase, it is reinforced in your mind and then therefore made available for your hands to play. When transcribing, sing the phrase you have just listened to, and if you can sing it correctly, you can play it correctly. Let your ears guide your fingers, not vice versa.

Slow it down

Simply stated: Speed is the byproduct of accuracy. If you can’t play something slow, there is surely no way you’ll be able to play it fast. As musicians we all want instant results, but be patient and take your time. In the long run, the time it will take you to slow down the phrase your working on, play it at a comfortable tempo (or even slower than that!), and then and only then work it up to the recorded tempo, you will end up saving time and energy that you would’ve wasted playing it fast and wrong over and over…

One Phrase at a Time

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If your inner ear can’t remember the entire piece, or several phrases that you had just heard, you’ll be playing the guessing game again on your instrument. Take it one phrase at a time, to digest fully what you have just heard. If you take a transcription (or learning any piece of music for that matter) bit by bit, you will learn faster and more efficient. Follow these steps

1) Transcribe the first phrase, and then work it up to tempo

2) Transcribe the 2nd phrase, and then work it up to tempo

3) Play both phrases together slowly, then work up to tempo

4) Transcribe 3rd phrase, and then work up to tempo

5) Play all 3 phrases slowly together, then work up to tempo

6) So on and so on…

By working this way, you reinforce all previous phrases you had learned, and you will strengthen your musical memory, and efficiently learn your transcription in the big picture.

Overall, if you follow the guidelines here, you will undoubtedly become an efficient transcriber, and vastly improve not only your musical vocabulary, but also your overall musicianship. Everyone learns differently, so be patient and stick with it. Remember, the more you transcribe, the bigger your musical muscles will be and the easier it will get. Happy transcribing!