How to be a great musical instrument player
I thank all of you who read my first posting on how to be a great song writer and composer and made comments. My warmest thanks go to those who made positive comments. I also thank those who made negative ones. Your comments especially will help me made adjustments where I believed your comments are borne out of genuine desire to help. To those whose comments were borne out desire to destroy, I also say thanks anyway.
Now to business. Anybody who wishes can become a great player of any instrument he or she likes to play. The erroneous held view that only the gifted can become great instrumentalist is far from the truth. Anyone with a strong desire can become a great instrumentalist. But before you can become one, there are steps you need to take.
Choosing the instrument
The first step to becoming a great instrumentalist is choosing the instrument you love to play. In doing this, you need to take some steps to achieve your desire. There must also be sincerity of purpose. Because you admire the dexterity with which someone play an instrument is not enough reason for you to want to learn the instrument. There must be genuine desire to wanting to play the instrument. You must not enrol for guitar lessons because you admire the way Jimmy Hendrix or Carlos Santana play the guitar. If your interest in playing the guitar is not skin-deep, you are likely to abandon learning the instrument no sooner than you started. You must be deeply interested in the instrument you want to learn for you to be able to endure the rigors associated with leaning the instrument.
Enroll in a school or under a tutor.
Whatever instrument you choose to learn, you need an expert guide to put you through. Although there are many do-it-yourself books out there, you may not be able to get the best out of your instrument if there is no expert to guide you. An expert will know where to start and how to proceed with your lessons based on your intellectual ability. We are equally born but not equally talented. While some people will grasp the intricacies of an application on the first attempt, it will take some others two or three attempts before they understand the same application.
Choosing your tutor
Not all those who play a particular instrument know how to teach that instrument to others. The ability to teach is an inborn talent, a product of painstaking practice or acquired. Most good instrument teachers are those who studied both the theory and practical aspect of the instrument they play. Your tutor must be someone who can read and score music. There are also some good teachers who can neither read nor score music notes but are good instrumentalist. You might like many others including myself, not be overtly interested in the theoretical aspect of your instrument. I sympathize with you, but as much as you may detest reading music notations, you must grasp the basic ingredients of the theory of music. If you reject it now, I am afraid a time will come when you will realize you made a grave mistake in not learning the rudiments of the theory of music.
I hated figures and symbols. This hatred nearly derailed my degree in communication when the institution introduced shorthand as part of the curriculum. Having to do statistics was bad enough but shorthand! The day I saw that in our session course content, I nearly flipped my lid. As much as I hated it, I had to do it since I needed it to pass out of the university. Not just to pass but to come out with a very good degree. The point I am trying to make is, even though you don’t like the theory of music, you must force yourself to learn the rudiments. The book “Rudiments and Theory of Music” is a good book to start with. I don’t remember the author now since I lost my copy a long-time ago but not to worry, I have come across only one book of that title.
Your tutor must have the time to teach you. A professional musician may not be an ideal choice but if he can devote his time to teaching you, jolly well and good.
Deciding how much to pay your tutor.
Nothing in life is free except they are from God. Most freebies have strings attached or a condition subsequent. The decision on how much to pay depends on your pocket. Don’t choose a tutor who will charge you the roof because you think he is good if at the end of the day you won’t be able to continue to pay for his services. The decision on how much to pay should also be tied to the worth of the services you think the tutor will provide you. When you’ve decided on these things you can then agree to whatever the tutor is asking you to pay.
When and where to learn.
You may think where to learn not important but if you live in a place like Lagos, Nigeria where traffic is terrible most times of the day, you’ll begin to realize the importance of proximity of where you learn to where you live or work. If you are in paid employment, the time of your study has to be tailored with your work schedule. You may decide on weekends only if you are the type that is always busy during the weekdays. If you can squeeze out time to fit your schedule to do your studies during the weekdays, jolly well and good but you need to be consistent. When you have ironed out the place and time of your studies to the satisfaction of you and your tutor you can begin your study in earnest.
A music school or a private tutor which is best?
I would not say one is better than the other. In most music school you learn in a class and in groups. In most music school, you begin with the theory of music which you must learn for some time before they allow you to touch your chosen instrument. If you are like me, this part may be the put off. So, I’ll advise you to choose a private tutor who will begin to teach you your chosen instrument right away after the necessary dose of theory of music. Note that I strongly advised you to learn the rudiments of the theory of music. This basic knowledge you cannot do without.
When and where to practice.
When you start learning your instrument you need to decide the time and the place you will practice your lessons. Playing those same notes or chords over and over can be irritating to others who may not care about what you are trying to achieve. You need to choose a place where you will not disturb others with your practice. You must not make the mistake the practice you do during your lessons is enough. If you don’t practice what you learn in your previous lesson, you will forget it before your next lesson. Even if you remember, you’ll not be better than you were when you played it during your lesson. There is no shortcut to mastering an instrument than practice. If anyone tells you anything to the contrary, don’t believe him. If you are learning an instrument like the piano, you must buy one that uses batteries more so if you live in a place like Nigeria where electricity is a luxury. Don’t worry if you find practicing those chords progressions over and again boring. Others have trekked that route before you and they endured the boredom. Keep your goal in focus. One day you’ll reach there.
Practice, practice, practice
Most masters of musical instruments you hear about today are those who have paid a heavy price to become what they have become. To be a master, of your chosen instrument, you have to practice and practice and practice some more. This is not easy but it is the price you have to pay before you can become proficient in your instrument. If your time is regimented by a busy schedule, choose the time you must practice and adhere strictly to it. Nobody can be busy for twenty four hours. You must have your free time. That time you choose to watch your favourite movies or the time you spend at the club with friends yield you nothing. Those times could be utilized for your practice. If it is only one hour a day, make sure you keep to it religiously come rain come sunshine.
When I started to learn the guitar, despite my busy schedule in the office, I managed to practice for a minimum of four hours everyday. You think that is not possible? I practice even when I got back home from the office by seven o’clock. Those four hours is the opportunity cost of the television viewing hours and socializing with friends I forgo. You have to sacrifice some things you do with your free hours for mastering your instrument. If you want to learn, you have no choice. The man who is learning the piano so he can play for his church choir has a focus of what he wanted to achieve by his lessons. Sometimes you don’t feel like practicing; it is a natural feeling. When you feel like this, carry your instrument and play anyway. With your goal as your motivation, you’ll have the will to play. Remember, nothing good comes easy.
Have a target
This is not an easy aspect of your study. To put a target on something like learning to play the piano or the guitar could be intimidating. Supposing your church just bought a piano and there is no one to play it and you decided to enroll with a tutor to learn how to play the instrument. You cannot spend years to learn because if you do somebody will fill the vacancy. Nature abhor vacuum; you might not be the only one with that bright idea so if you take too long a time in learning how to play, somebody who also is doing the same thing will take up playing the piano before you are through with your lessons.
When do I stop learning?
A man only stop leaning in life when he is six feet below the ground. You never stop leaning an instrument since you never stop practicing. But you can stop leaning from your tutor when the time you enrolled for expired. You may extend it if you feel there are things he still needs to teach you. If you are enrolled in a music school, you definitely have a time limit for your studies.
Do I ever stop practicing?
No, you never stop practicing an instrument because no one can say he has known everything there is about an instrument. The more you practice the more proficient you become. Even the master of an instrument still continues to practice in order to get better and not become rusty. When you stop practicing because you feel you have known all there is to know about an instrument, retrogression begins to set in. Practice, practice and practice some more.
How do I know I am good enough?
It all depends on what you want to archive with your studies. If you are studying piano for example to play in a church, you will know you are good enough when you are able to play and back most of the tunes they play in your church. If on the other hand you are practicing to play with a band, you will know you are good when you can play with the other group in the band.
Tuning your instrument.
If you are playing a musical instrument like the piano, tuning is really not necessary. But if you play a string instrument like the guitar, then you must learn how to tune your instrument. If you play in a band, the guitar must be tuned to an instrument that cannot be readily tuned e.g the electric organ, piano or harp.
If you are a soloist i.e if you play alone, it doesn’t make any difference if the notes you play are actual concert notes as long as each note is tuned in relation to the other notes on the guitar. To tune this way, tune the E string (the heaviest one) so that it vibrates easily, does not buzz yet not too taut. Now press down on E string just behind the fifth fret. You are now producing the tone of A. While still pressing the E string as instructed, tune it and the next string (the open A string) to sound alike.
After completing this, press down on A string just behind the fifth fret. You are now producing the tone of D. While pressing the A string as instructed, tune it and the next string (the open D string) to sound alike.
After completing this, press down on the D string just behind the fifth fret. You are producing the tone of G. While pressing the D string as instructed, tune it and the next string (the open G string to sound alike.
After completing this, press down on the G string just behind the fourth fret. You are producing the tone of B. While pressing the G string as instructed, tune it and the next string (the open B string) to sound alike.
After completing this, press down on the B string just behind the fifth fret. You are producing the tone of E. While pressing on the B string, tune it and the next open string (the open E string-the tinniest string) to sound alike.
If you are tuning to a piano, tune your first note or any note as the basis of your tuning. Re-tuning is often necessary. After a little practice, this is easy to accomplish. Tuning a guitar might prove difficult if you don’t press on the string near the fret to get a good clear sound.
Which book to buy?
There are many books out there that teaches the subject of your practice but if you must buy a book, buy the one that has a practical value. For example if you want to buy a book on guitar, I would recommend you buy, “The Guitarists’ Picture Cords by Happy Traum. This book has pictures of different chords you can learn to play and at the end of the book; there are different chords progressions that you can practice.