Getting better at something doesn’t always require adding skills or knowledge.
-You can become a better listener by talking less.
-You can make better decisions by waiting, thinking, and avoiding taking impulsive action.
You can become a better musician by changing how you spend your time and energy, instead of practicing more hours.
In this post, I address what I think is the single most important thing you can do to improve your musicianship, and it doesn’t involve adding any new skills or knowledge.
So what is the easiest thing you can do to improve your musicianship?
Socrates said, “Know thyself.” The easiest way for you to improve is by recording yourself, listening back, and then making a note to refrain from playing things you don’t like.
I recommend you record yourself practicing, rehearsing, or performing. Then listen back whenever you have free time- in the car, during meals, before bed, etc. Through listening frequently, and critically, in order to shorten the gap between what you think you sound like, and what you actually sound like, you can become an unbiased critic of your own playing.
During the moment you’re playing, you may not have a clue what you actually sound like. When you listen back, you perceive something closer to what you actually sound like. You want to be able to hear how you really sound, not how you think you sound in the moment you’re playing.
When you hear things you don’t like in your recordings, make a note to refrain from those bad habits in the future. If you hear yourself using the same lick over and over again, make a note to limit your use of that lick. If you always play flat in third position, make a note of it. By becoming aware of these bad habits and actively rooting them out, you can rapidly improve your playing, and as you continue to listen to recordings, you will see evidence of that progress.
Healthy living starts with kicking bad habits. The same is true for musicians who are looking to improve. Identify and stop bad habits and you’ll become twice the musician you are today.
Listen to and “keep score” of many aspects of your playing. Music is multidimensional. Listen to your timing, tone, and phrasing, and make note of your strengths and weaknesses. An awesome way to expedite this process is by using looping technology. Looping is a great way for your to mimic a live performance setting when you are practicing alone. And listening to recordings of your loop jams will allow you to hear areas for improvement in both your rhythm and lead playing.
Here’s a loop-pedal performance of a tune I named “Pat From Memory” in honor of guitarist, Pat Metheny.
If you begin to regularly listen to recordings of yourself, I guarantee you will quickly start to see measurable improvement in your playing.
Please let me know what you think in the comments below.