It is impossible to be good at everything. There will be some things you are naturally good at, some things that you will need immense patience with to be decent at and some things that you know will never be in your remit to achieve.
Learning to become a musician requires an immense amount of patience and acceptance. For in learning to be a musician we will always fall short, in one area, or another. We can not possibly know everything, which is both joyous and torturous. It is joyous because there will always be more to explore and discover. It is torturous, if we believe this makes us inadequate for our lack of knowledge.
We can never achieve perfection. We will always be perfectly imperfect, no matter how much we learn. But we can strive to be excellent. Excellence is obtainable.
To become an excellent musician we must learn and equip ourselves with various skills.
The skills that I believe help to become a well rounded-musician are the following:
1. Ear Training - Ear training consists of a few key areas to practice; Rhythm, Movable Solfège and Harmonic training. When we become stronger in these areas it helps our performances flow and translate better to other people. It also helps us when jamming, improvising and performing with other musicians. These skills can help us to write down pieces and compositions, without even touching an instrument, which can be incredibly useful if you are out and about and want to transcribe something. For many instruments (such as voice, saxophone, violin etc.) learning movable solfège will really help with staying in tune. (to read more on what solfège is and why it's important read my blog, 'The language of music and the magic of Solfège') Having a good ear when it comes to music is a serious game-changer. It can really make the difference to how well you play and compose.
2. Theory - For a lot of musicians this word can bring up dread. But as tedious as it may seem this area is incredibly beneficial. As well as helping you learn to read music, it can help you understand music at a much deeper level, which can really enrich your compositions and also help you memorise pieces. You can get by without theory, but if you are a composer it can be something to seriously consider learning more about. As the old saying goes, 'Learn the rules first, then you can break them'
3. Technique - You can be a good musician without technique. But you can encounter a tremendous amount of difficulties (including possibly injuring yourself) if your technique is incorrect. Moreover, you will never be able to perform some demanding repertoire without it. Technique is best taught through private instruction. You can learn some good technique from youtube tutorials, but there will be conflicting advice, which might really hinder your progress if you learn from someone who has a subpar technique. It is worth really spending some time to research good teachers near you and then taking some lessons, just to ensure you are on the right track with this. Technique can really help turn a good performance into a beautiful one, as you can achieve many more subtleties and pretty nuances, when you have mastered this area. Of course, not to be overlooked, is to ensure that you practice exercises for strength, agility and tone. For piano, I love practicing Hanon as a good warm-up.
4. Repertoire - This is not something that most musicians need convincing to practice. There are lots of benefits to practicing pieces, it can help you learn more techniques and be a fun way of learning and engaging with music. Learning repertoire not only enriches you as a musician but it enriches your soul and helps with emotional release. Learning pieces with other musicians is also a really good way to improve your own rhythm and can be really aid in securing you more jobs as a musician. Furthermore, it can also help you learn more styles of music and help you develop your own compositional style. A good tip for practicing repertoire is to revise one old piece and learn one new piece each session. By revising old pieces, you not only refresh the piece but you will also feel soothed and successful playing something you already know. Plus, when you hone in on a piece you already know you can find new ways to make it sparkle more. By learning new pieces it will expand your musical capabilities and make you a better musician.
5. Improvisation - Improvisation is not just something for Jazz musicians to learn. There are times when no matter how much we know a piece we might slip up, or someone else might slip up in an orchestra/band and if we don't know how to improvise, we can literally fall flat on our face, or just play really badly until we get out of the mess. Improvisation can really help us when we go 'wrong' in a piece. It can help us escape our mistake more smoothly and actually take us to an even more interesting place. It is also a really beneficial area to practice, as it can help you learn to jam with other musicians and help you explore your instrument better. It is also a really great practice to help kick start your own compositions. Many songs have been composed by improvising(/messing around) on an instrument. Most importantly, it is a great transitional skill that can help you in everyday scenarios.
6. Sight-reading - Learning how to sightread, from both completely written out scores and lead-sheets, can really help you learn pieces faster. It can be an incredibly practical skill to have up your sleeve. If you know how to sight-read you can accompany other musicians on the go, or play songs on request at live gigs. This skill also enables us to explore and learn more repertoire faster, which will in turn make us better musicians (due to the aforementioned reasons).
7. Listening - The more we listen to music the more we can internalise music as a language. By listening more we can explore more musical ideas and see how different people interpret things. It can help us learn different nuances and techniques from a myriad of sources ,which can thus help us develop our own style.
Each of these areas can really help us become better musicians. Each area bounces off each other, the more we learn about one area, the more we can understand another. In turn this can lead to us becoming a well-rounded musician, that is equipped for any scenario.
I wish you luck on your musical journey. I hope you always find the joy in your practice and learning of music.
Naomi Leila Xx
p.s. Controversial perhaps, but I wonder, does anyone consider Music Production to be an essential pillar to becoming a well-rounded musician in our modern-society? If so why do you consider it to be so? Do you have any practices that you do to improve this? Please leave a comment below, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
p.p.s If you can think of any other areas of music that I haven't mentioned, or any other reasons why these areas are beneficial, please leave a comment below.
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