practical tips for aspiring musicians
these helpful hints are presented here as they were published in the British magazines MK Pulse and NN Pulse from March 2021
Active listening is perhaps the most important skill a musician can develop and it’s especially important if you are going to play with others. The more you develop your listening skills, the more you’ll understand and appreciate music.
Watch and listen carefully to players you admire – their concerts, recordings and videos. Listen to each player in the ensemble and hear their contribution to the whole. Listen to the soloist and hear what they are playing and how – the tones they create, the expressive techniques they use and their timing. Watching virtuosos performing at the top of their game may seem daunting. But a presupposition (principle) of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) is that if one person can do something, others can learn to do it.
In the decades that I’ve been working with music my listening skills have developed significantly. I now hear the same music I liked years ago, but in whole new way. I understand it better and enjoy it more. I am also proud to work with international jazzman Andy crowdy, who has accompanied me with superb string bass on my recordings. Andy is perhaps the best musician I know. He’s also the best listener I know – it’s no coincidence.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice is often underrated and I’ve seen many a performance marred due to poor preparation. So don’t cut corners on practice. It’s absolutely not a waste of time. Whether you perform or not, quality practice will not only enhance how you play your music but improve your skills, confidence and even wellbeing.
Quality practice means not playing, idly but being focussed. So take a break every hour to keep your concentration high. When you make a mistake: Stop, understand what’s gone wrong, then play the phrase over and over slowly, until it is re-committed to muscle memory correctly. Once you can play the pieces flowingly and consistently, play to a metronome. As you get to know a piece it’s tempting to play it faster because you can, rather than you should.
But music is more than just the dots on the page and playing the right notes at the right time. Music is about sound and feeling, so don’t forget the emotion. Once you can play a piece well, focus on what it means to you. You will then express it in a way that brings the music it to life.
‘Practice makes perfect’ they say, and I could not agree more