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On Becoming a Competent Musician

Updated on July 14, 2015

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What Makes A Good Musician?

Becoming a good musician does not mean you have to play fast or flashy, nor does it mean you have to know how to play everything. (Although that would be cool.) It means being good at what you do whether it's complicated jazz-fusion or simple folk music.

You could play simple chords in a folk style and still be considered competent within in your style! If suddenly you decided you wanted to play speed-metal then perhaps you would not be considered competent in this style especially if your background is only in folk music.

Too often I hear musicians trying to compare other musicians, like who's better? B.B. King, or Van Halen? This like comparing apples to oranges, each one is totally competent in their own style but may have a problem if they had to trade.

PRACTICE

It is extremely important to be consistent in your practice schedule so do it everyday because even if it is not for as long as you would like, you will see more gains from this repetition than if you were just to be random about it. I think if you are serious, and have the time, there should be no problem with practicing 1-2 hours a day. More is even better!

PRACTICE SHOULD BE:

Consistent—Disciplined—Enjoyable—Focused with specific goals in mind

THEORY vs. EAR:

Ah, the on going debate, I don't know how many times I've heard this same old story, Joe FAMOUS Rock Star flashy guitar player proudly proclaims "I've never had a lesson in my life, and I've figured everything out by ear." or "I never practice,"

Of course then I get these young impressionable students who actually use this as an excuse to slack off. Or the other one is "If I learn too much theory, then I won't play with any feeling." You should work on both! It's great just to get out there and play and what happens is what happens. But what if you did something really cool? Would you be able to expound on it? This is where the theoretical knowledge comes in handy; it may suggest certain things to you that might not have otherwise been thought of.

In an ideal situation one would balance between the two, perhaps jamming around on your instrument until something sounds cool and then thinking of it in theoretical terms to see what the other options are that mix well with your original inspired idea.

Or maybe the reverse might happen; you are doing some technical exercises and suddenly you'll hear something really cool, so you start trying to expand on that. Any combination is possible, and the point is, is that the more experience you have using your ear and theory, the better musician you will become.

THINGS YOU SHOULD LEARN

Standard harmony

Scales

Chords

Grooves

Styles

Improvisation

Reading rhythms

Reading music

Writing and reading a basic chord chart

BROADENING YOUR MUSICAL HORIZONS

As musicians (and this goes for non-musician listeners too!), you should not limit yourself to one type of music; but rather, explore other styles that you are not familiar with. You should listen to, and even learn how to play some of these other styles. Even just listening to something different once in a while for pure enjoyment will probably cause you to pick up a cool idea or two.

One of the ways a musical style progresses is through incorporating other influences outside of that particular style. Otherwise, if you rely on and only accept what's been done before as being valid, that style will become very old, very fast. Think of these two highly influential bands and some of their influences.

Led Zeppelin

Jazz (The Rain Song), Hard Rock (Communication Breakdown), Folk (Hangman), Blues (Since I've Been Loving You), Country (Hotdog), Classical/Jazz/Rock (Stairway), Reggae (D'yer Maker), Middle Eastern

(Kashmir)

The Beatles

Classical (Eleanor Rigby), Hard Rock (Helter Skelter), Jazz (Yesterday) Folk (Rocky Raccoon), Rhythm&Blues (Oh Darling), Pop (Too many to mention.)

This does not mean that when you are in a band doing original music, that you necessarily throw in everything but the kitchen sink. What it does mean, however, is that you can draw upon ideas outside the style you are in, to add some originality to your music. Don't force it; but if it feels natural or just sounds cool, then do it.

A band that is mainly rock oriented will probably do mainly just that but, perhaps, they'll incorporate some jazzier chords (Jimmy Page) or a maybe a country feel in some of their tunes (The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, G&R).

The main influence on the majority of rock of course has been the blues, and that's a major subject of study in itself. Some of the heavy metal bands like to incorporate classical influences, while it's very normal to hear a lot of rock and blues nuances in country music or vice versa. Needless to say, the list goes on.

It is important to note that even such stylistically diverse bands as Led Zepplin or The Beatles always sounded like themselves no matter what they did; and if you were a fan, you knew right away it was them no matter how left field they went.

A lot of people are not even aware how many different influences are involved ina given band's sound or even that styles that seem miles apart are actually very close, using the exact same chords and melodies, and even rhythms.

If you really like a particular band's style, it will do you good to find out who their influences were and then, go even further and find out who the influence's influences were and so on.

LESSONS

Lessons are always good. Make sure you find a competent teacher that relates to what you are into.

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