Sunday, January 04, 2009

Ten Ways To Improve Your Playing in 2009

Happy New Year! As you can see, it's taken me a few days to get posting because I've been reading manuals for new software and doing lots of jamming. Many people make their resolutions in December and pledge to keep them, whether they involve a new diet or financial goals or getting rid of bad habits. One of the many good habits you might've decided to embrace for 2009 has to do with your music; I know I did! This year, as any other year, I want to work towards being a better player and if you're with me on that, here are ten ways to improve your playing in the new year:

1. Set aside time - we all get busy and this year will be no exception. However, in order to improve anything, you need to invest time. Make your music important enough where it doesn't fall by the wayside. Schedule a "date" with yourself as often as possible to let the music flow.

2. Join a group - playing by yourself is always rewarding, but so is joining a local dulcimer group where you'll be able to exchange ideas, pick up new tunes and learn to play well with others.

3. Study theory - I know, it sounds like a number of things including "boring" and "stressful", but music theory doesn't have to be a painful experience. In fact, I tell my students that we all know music theory, we just don't know all the fancy words. Interactive sites like teorĂ­a - Music Theory Web are painless ways of getting into the basics of theory and allowing yourself to build up the tools necessary for better, stronger playing.

4. Exercise - many of us like playing tunes, either through tablature or by picking out notes by ear. This is great for learning songs. Couple this with practicing technique, simply running scales up and down the fretboard or playing licks using a number of ornamentations like hammer-ons and pull-offs; this is kind of like working out in the gym before the big track meet or game. Hand-in-hand, exercises and tunes equal better playing!

5. Listen - whether on YouTube or one of the many tune sites (such as The Session), we often improve by imitation. By expanding our horizons towards music that we may not be familiar with, we also increase potential for getting more music out of ourselves and instruments.

6. Book A Gig - nothing gets you in a preparatory mode like practicing for an upcoming gig. Book something semi-casual, like performing with a group at the library, or by yourself for a hospice home. Heck, next time someone in your family has a birthday, volunteer to sit in a corner and strum. With ears listening, you will be focused on playing your best.

7. Take some workshops or lessons - whether in person or online, having an instructor lead you through your paces is a great way to improve your playing. Self-discovery is, of course, all part of the deal. But it helps to have someone who can watch your hands as you play and suggest things to consider as you continue your journey playing mountain dulcimer.

8. Be tough, but loving - Any successful player knows that you've got to enjoy what you do, take your successes as victory, just as you continue to challenge yourself with things that are more difficult. In all of your practice-times, rehearsals and gigs - be sure to appreciate what it is that you've done well! At the same time, be sure to always push for the next level. That's the only way to insure growth.

9. Treat yourself - you've worked hard! Nothing says "I'm worth it" more than a new axe, er, dulcimer. Just like certain cars ride better than others, some dulcimers just play and sound better. If you've been plinking away on that old starter dulcimer for years now, perhaps this is the year where you save up and get yourself a next generation model. The reward will be in how great it sounds and how great it makes you feel - a worthwhile investment.

10. Channel You - nobody can play what you can play, so channel everything you've got into your music. Even if you're performing with others, there is a unique voice that you bring to the table through your interpretation of the notes and rhythms. Don't be afraid to be different in that respect - it's a gift that only you can bring!

I'll let you in on a little secret. Instructors sit behind closed doors and do the same things that you're doing; pushing to improve, working hard to get rid of bad habits and stressing over certain seeming inabilities. I was tweeting with a player recently who said that he was a little green in playing the dulcimer. To which I tweeted back "as players, we are all varying shades of green." I got news for you. There is no "top of the hill." Even the best players in the world are finding new challenges every day to keep them motivated, whether it be goals for playing or for communicating ideas and emotions - if you find that you've run out of challenges, chances are you've stopped growing as a musician! So enjoy the journey, take the victories and embrace the rough stuff. It's kind of like life, isn't it?

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