Monday, December 27, 2010

Your Musical New Year

So what is your musical goal this year?  With the beginning of the year coming around, everyone is thinking of their New Year's Resolution.  This year, why not be specific?  Here are some ideas for improving your playing this year.

1.  Play with others at least once a week.  Now here's a goal that will really help you improve your jamming skills!  If you can't meet at your own house, then suggest another place that will work for everyone.  Maybe it's a good idea to take turns playing at each other's houses.  What about a local business?  Someone's basement or garage?  During the months that the temperature will allow, you can simply meet outdoors!

If you can't do once a week, then choose another schedule that will work for you.  Even if it's just for an hour, you will be well on your way to improving your rhythm, backup, and confidence!

2.  Improve your backup skills.  Start listening to recordings of others that play the same instrument you do.  Start learning a few different fill-in licks.  If your ear isn't good enough to do that yet, then look through some books, or ask another musician for a lick.  If you have a cell phone that has video or audio recording capabilities, you can even record the person playing the lick for you so that they only have to play it once for you and you'll have it to look at as many times as you'd like!

3.  Learn how to make up your own breaks to songs.  If you have never learned how to play a song without a tab, try learning to write your own tabs this year.  If you can already play without tabs, then try coming up with some new variations to songs that you already know.

4.  Learn how to sing one new song a month.  In a year's time, you'll have a dozen new songs to sing!  If you already know a lot of songs but don't have them memorized, then make your goal to actually memorize a song each month.  Be sure to play your new songs at the next jam session!

5.  Learn how to sing harmony.  Not sure where to start on this one?  Try listening to some older Country Gentlemen or Seldom Scene recordings.  John Duffy did some great tenor harmony that is fairly easy to pick out because it's loud in the overall mix.  If you can't hear harmony naturally, and most people can't if they've never done it before, start trying to listen for it each time you listen to a recording.  If the person next to you in a jam session is singing harmony, try singing it softly along with them.  If it's offered in your area, take a class on it!

6.  Improve a specific technique in your playing.  For fiddle players, this could be improving the looseness in your wrist on your bow arm, learning double stops or vibrato, or even learning to play harmony!  For banjo players, it could be working with a metronome to increase your speed, improving your pull-offs and hammer-ons, or making your playing smoother overall.  Bass players?  Maybe you need to learn some bass runs this year, or even a new technique like slapping.  Guitar and mandolin players - do you know how to cross-pick?  What about moveable chords (barre chords), flatpicking, runs or some new chords?  Maybe you're a rank beginner and you just need to improve the speed of your chord changes.

7.  Maybe one of the things you need to learn this year involves maintenance on your instrument.  Do you already know how to change your strings?  Clean the fingerboard and frets?  When is the last time you cleaned your instrument? 

These are just a few ideas for you.  I'm sure you can think of many more goal-worthy things to add to this list.  Don't overwhelm yourself.  Make your goal(s) manageable and then start working on them!

Here's wishing you a very successful and FUN 2011!

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