We all want to become better musicians, but how do we do it? Here is a list of 10 ways to become a better musician:
1. Self-evaluate. And be honest about it.
How does honestly evaluating your musicianship make you a better pianist/singer/violinist/composer/etc.? Well, I’ve got good news: you’re not as horrible a musician as you think you are!
We tend to look at our mistakes. This can be good, as it allows for future growth and development. But only looking at our mistakes detracts from our overall musicianship. It hinders growth because it promotes negative self-talk, which can suck away our desire to make music and become better.
Remember: Mistakes do not make you a bad musician. Instead of judging yourself through the lens of error, look for the positive in your playing. Chances are you do some things beautifully.
On the other hand, we always have things to learn. Part of holding an honest self-evaluation means that you recognize room for improvement. What can you do better next time?
You will become a better musician if you judge yourself honestly. Look for the positive, recognize what you can do to improve, and then implement these ideas in your goals and your practicing.
2. Set (realistic) goals.
Now that you’ve held an honest self-evaluation, it’s time to set some goals. There are two types: long-term and short-term goals.
Long-term goals are the ones we make to accomplish in the future (like graduate from college or go on a vacation). These are goals not easily accomplished right now, but they are important to set because they give you something to look forward to. They give you something to work towards.
Some examples of long-term goals for musicians are:
- Learn a specific piece
- Put on a recital
- Start a business as a music teacher
- Develop a successful YouTube channel
- Get a commission for an original composition
Remember: make sure your long-term goals are realistic. Attach a “due date” to your goal. When would you like to have this goal completed? What is a feasible timeline for you to accomplish the task? Building a YouTube channel will not happen overnight. Conductors aren’t going to ask you for a commission if they don’t know anything about your music. Learning a new piece does not take one practice session.
This is where short-term goals come in.
Short-term goals are the ones we can accomplish sooner than our long-term goals. In essence, short-term goals help us achieve our long-term goals (like take a specific class so you can graduate from college or save $10 a week so you can go on a vacation). These goals get us closer to attaining our long-term ones.
Some examples of short-term goals for musicians are:
- Practice every day for at least 30 minutes
- Learn multiple pieces
- Take a class to learn how to teach music lessons
- Post your first cover on YouTube and share it with your friends and family
- Compose a new piece of music every day
Remember: short-term goals are steps to help us accomplish the long-term goals. Just like with the big ones, however, the short-term goals should be realistic. Attach a completion date to your short-term goals. What is a feasible timeline for you to accomplish the task?
You will become a better musician if you set realistic goals. They will help you stay on track with what you want to accomplish as a musician, and they push you to work hard.
3. Practice (a.k.a. accomplish your goals).
Yep, I’m saying it: if you want to become a better musician, you must practice your craft. Remember those goals you set? Now is the time to act on them, work for them, and accomplish them. Becoming better won’t happen overnight; it takes time, hard work, and a willingness to make mistakes.
Remember: part of being a human is that we are not perfect. We mess up. But then we learn and grow from those mistakes. This can happen as you practice your instrument and play a wrong note. This can happen as you struggle to learn how to effectively teach young children music or as you teach yourself how to make YouTube videos.
You will become a better musician if you practice your craft. Set goals and then work to accomplish them. You can do it.
4. Take breaks
This is so so so important! Studies have shown that the most effective practice sessions
happen in 45 minutes with a 15 minute break before the next 45 minutes of practicing. Your brain needs a rest, so make sure you give it one. If you push yourself too hard, practicing can turn into a negative (and wasteful) experience.
Remember: It’s good to take breaks in any creative activity. Doing so allows your mind and your body to rest, and it provides opportunities to return to your project with a fresh perspective.
You will become a better musician if you allow yourself to take breaks, refresh your mind, and approach your project with a new outlook.
5. Practice some more.
The key to success is trying and then trying again. Mastering your instrument is a difficult and challenging task, but it is worth it. So instead of making excuses for why you haven’t accomplished any of your goals, buckle down and get to work. This is where things start to get hard, but if you can push yourself to accomplish your goals, then you will find success.
Remember: You will become a better musician if you practice your craft. Set goals and then work to accomplish them. You can do it.
7. Study the music away from your instrument.
It is necessary to set aside time every day to be at the piano or pick up the violin, but many musicians neglect to include study time away from the instrument.
Ways to study your music away from your instrument:
- Study the score
- Look for patterns in themes
- Notice dynamics, articulation, etc.
- Audiate the music
- “Play” the music in your mind
- Visualize the music
- Close your eyes and imagine you are playing your instrument/the piece
Remember: mentally studying your music is difficult but, if done correctly, can count as great practice. Instead of draining yourself on your instrument for 4 hours a day, spend some time away from the instrument and really get to know the music in-depth.
You will become a better musician if you study your music away from your instrument. You will learn the score better, which helps in memorization and learning the piece. It also helps your inner ear – your sense of pitch – as well as sharpens your mind.
6. Listen to lots of music outside of what you are currently playing.
One of my favorite things about being a musician is the fact that there is so much amazing music out in the world. YouTube is full of wonderful performances of all kinds of music ranging from Medieval to Contemporary and from classical to rap.
But why is this so important?
When you expose yourself to new music, you file those sounds away in your brain. Then when you go to practice (or write or compose or teach), you can recall those new sounds and ideas and implement them into your craft. If you limit the music you listen to, then you limit your creativity.
Remember: when you listen to new sounds, you are adding to your own library of music. Listening to and watching different performers and conductors gives you new ideas for interpretation. And who knows? You might discover a new piece or musical genre that you love!
You will become a better musician if you listen to lots of different kinds of music. Discover new sounds and find different interpretations that you can implement in your own music.
8. Live life!
The best part about being a musician is experiencing the music with our whole being. That being said, we can’t be good musicians if we haven’t experienced anything in life.
Our sorrows, our joys, our happiness, our anger, our anxieties, and our excitements all contribute to our music. They can inform our performance (by allowing us to call upon past memories/emotions to enhance a piece), strengthen us against hard times (by helping us remember our successes and our love for the craft), and encourage us to do better (by teaching us that our mistakes are not final failures).
Remember: life is wonderful and amazing, so don’t limit yourself. Experience new things! Meet new people! Talk to others who are different from you! All of these things enhance your musicianship.
You will be a better musician if you experience life. Learn all you can about the world and allow that to come through in your music.
9. Be kind to others.
Life is not a competition. Popular culture often says we need to be the best or else we aren’t successful, and that is just not true. This is why it’s so important to be kind. Trash talk and hateful words never made anyone successful, but kind words and supportive actions do make us better musicians and people.
Remember: we are all unique individuals with our own experiences, and chances are good that any person you meet is struggling with something. Be kind to them. Support them. Understand that their beliefs might be different from yours, and that’s okay.
You will be a better musician if you are kind to others. Empathy allows you to experience deep and wonderful emotions, and those help you make meaningful connections with others. These all influence your musicianship by giving you experience to call upon and perspective in your own life.
10. Rinse and repeat.
Becoming a better musician does not happen overnight. It takes time. It takes self-evaluation, goals, hard work, and experience.
So remember: never stop evaluating your musicianship. Always be working towards a goal. Make the effort to practice. Set some time away from your instrument. Sharpen your mind. Listen to new music. Experience life. Be kind.
And then do it again.
You will become a better musician.
a pianist, composer, writer, photographer, and overall life-lover who loves searching for new sounds and ideas.