If you’re a music teacher, you’ve definitely had the experience of your students not practicing. Have you ever had an experience where your students said they practiced, but they obviously didn’t get any better? Both cases happen far too often. You may have tried everything to get them to practice including stickers, accountability charts, getting […]
Can you learn music as an adult? Of course you can. It’s not a question of is it possible or not, the question is how to you learn music as an adult. That’s a very different question that deserves some attention.
Learning to play a musical instrument isn’t a skill that most people learn very quickly. It’s a complex fine motor skill that takes years of concentrated practice to become proficient. Children that acquire this skill almost always have a parent or two that help them stay with it for many years. Skilled musicians have added up hundreds, often thousands, of hours of practice over the years. As an adult you need to realize this, and you need to be ready for some work.
Generally I believe that it’s a good idea to work on more than one piece of music at a time. Working on a lot of music helps to vary your practice and keep your attention focused. It increases enjoyment, and it’s also very helpful for learning many different styles. With that being said, there comes a time for most musicians where a deadline is coming up and they just need to learn one piece as quickly as possible.
Typically you don’t want to rush learning music, but sometimes you just don’t have a choice. If you had just a couple of weeks to learn a piece of music that normally takes you months, what can you do to maximize your practice time and still have the piece learned well at your deadline?
If you’ve read around the internet, including this blog, muscle memory for musicians often gets a bad rap. It’s the worst kind of memory. Muscle memory causes memory slips, and you should never rely on it. It’s a horrible no good very bad thing! Avoid it at all costs.
None of that is true. Muscle memory is actually needed more than any other type of memory. It’s just easy to acquire.
Have you ever crammed for a test? I would be lying if I said I never did. Actually for me the better question would be, “did you ever take a test that you didn’t cram for?” I’m not sure what the answer to that one is. When you cram do you do well? Most teachers and parents tell you not to cram, but it worked for me. Well, it worked for what my goal was. I got good grades on the tests I crammed for. If you were to ask me today to tell you much about what I learned in high school biology, I wouldn’t even know where to start.
Cramming helps if you only need information for a day or so, but learning to play an instrument isn’t the same as memorizing facts to put on a test. Even if it were, you don’t only want to be able to play a piece the next day, you want to learn it well, so you can play it any day.
In order to get to that point you need to understand how to use sleep to your advantage. No more cramming.
If you’re a musician, you’ve likely used a metronome. Click… Click… Click… It can really get on your nerves. A lot of students feel weighed down by it, even stifled in their creativity. Music is about expressing yourself right? So why do we need to play like robots with a machine clicking in our ears?
There are good reasons. Your teacher isn’t trying to make your life miserable. Your teacher tells you to use the metronome because it works.
If you’re serious about your music, and you weren’t born a prodigy, you’ve probably felt that you couldn’t compete at one point in your life. It’s a tough feeling when you put your all into music for years and years, and you see a YouTube video of a little girl that doesn’t look like she should be able to read words, flying around effortlessly on the piano.
You’re not alone if you’ve ever felt bad about your progress. Most musicians, yes, even prodigies, often don’t feel good enough. It’s really unfortunate, and I’m here to tell you you shouldn’t feel bad about yourself.
Do you sit down and practice your instrument, or do you just play it? Growing up, I don’t know if I knew that there was much of a difference. Practicing just meant that I was making music, or at least sound, on my instrument. Somehow I would get better. Right?
Both practicing and playing music have their place, but if you want to get better quickly, practicing is where you should spend most of your time.
Music is made up almost entirely of patterns. Patterns can be defined as notes that are organized in a predictable manner. If you are able to find these patterns in music, you can often predict what is coming next. Understanding patterns can also help in learning and memorizing a piece much faster. Many students of music understand that patterns exist, but they fail to use them to learn their music, instead relying on learning one note at a time.
Finding, labeling, and sometimes extending patterns, are the first things that you should do while learning a piece of music.
Learning technique for your instrument is often one of the most boring things you can practice. People tend to avoid practicing their technical exercises. For the most part, that may not be a terrible thing. There are usually better ways to spend your time practicing than working on unmusical technical exercises all day.
There are two important exceptions to that though. Those exceptions are scales and arpeggios