ArtistWorks Blog

11 Ways to Leave Your Musical Level

 

As a musician there are many plateaus that you’ll reach, some lasting longer than others. The good news is that if you’re dedicated to improving your skill level and musical knowledge, there are some tried and true ways of moving to higher ground.

 

Let’s take a look at 11 ways to leave your current music level:

 

Transcribing

 

If you want insight into how the masters thought and approached their instruments, there is no better way to discover this than transcribing. Transcribing works best if you take a tune that you already know, choose your favorite solo from that tune, and learn it note-by-note and phrase-by-phrase until you’ve got the whole thing down. At that point, it’s a great idea to actually notate the solo in standard notation, as you’ll begin to see musical patterns and relationships that aren’t always recognizable to the hands and ears.

Compose a Tune

Composing a tune of your own is a great way to use what you’ve learned to push the envelope of your technique and musical vocabulary. Even if you just started playing a few months ago, try to make some time each day to practice playing the ideas that you hear in your head. Remember, although creativity is largely innate, it is also a musical process that must be practiced like any other technique!

Mouth the Syllables

 

Adding words to music is one of the things that aids our memory of the individual parts of songs as well as how they fit into the overall structure of the tune. It can be a bit tricky to add words and play rhythm at the same time, so choose a song that you know really well and start to mouth the syllables of the lyrics along with it. You’ll likely notice that your rhythmic accuracy will improve and your playing will become more nuanced as you add syllabic practice to your routine.

Transpose to New Keys

If you’re an intermediate player or above, you’ve probably heard this a million times, but it bears repeating: Play everything you know in every key! Of course, as your repertoire of songs grows, you’ll quickly reach a point where it’s simply not possible to play everything every practice session. And that’s okay — it’s not about how many songs you transpose — it’s about how often you do it!

Free Improvisation

In the pursuit of new techniques and building a larger repertoire, it can be easy to forget the art of improvisation. Think of free improvisation as “daydreaming” on your instrument. It gives your hands and mind the ability to explore free association of ideas without judgment or stress. Freely improvise for 10 minutes every day and you might be surprised by what comes out when you let your guard down and just let things flow.

Use Single String Style

If you’re used to playing guitar, piano, or even banjo in a mostly harmonic style, try focusing solely on melodies and single-string playing for a while. Remember this: Harmony arises out of melody, not the other way around. As such, you should give the melody the respect it deserves and explore every nuance of the driving force of the tune.

Improvise to a Known Tune

 

You may find that improvising to a known tune is easier than free improvisation, especially if you’re new to the concept. What you’ll want to do is take a tune that you’re already familiar with — you know the melody, chord changes, etc., and just let your creativity lead you where it may. Start simple, because the more basic the improvisation material is that you start with, the more you’ll be able to build on each successive idea.

 

Try a New Technique

 

Sometimes you don’t need to memorize more songs and lead sheets, you just need a different way of playing what you already know. There are dozens of new techniques you can try at any time, depending on your instrument and skill level. For example, if you play pretty much any stringed instrument, you can utilize hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, and trills (also known as “slurs” or “ornaments” in classical pedagogy).

For starters, take a melody you know well and try to ornament every third note with the slur of your choice. Alternately, try to play a melodic line using only slides. You’re certain to find some cool new sounds to enliven even the most familiar material.

Learn Your Favorite Rock Tune

Rock tunes are great for reconnecting with the pure joy of playing your instrument. Pick a tune and rock out, frills and all! Regardless of whether you play fiddle, banjo, or sitar, play a Beatles or Led Zeppelin tune and you might just discover some new ways to use your instrument. Think outside the box with common songs.

 

Play with People Who Are Better Than You

 

If you’re reading this and don’t currently have a teacher, this one’s especially for you. It’s crucial for all musicians (your teacher included) to play with more skilled players in order to learn and grow as instrumentalists and well-rounded musicians. If you can’t afford a private teacher or don’t have one available, consider online lessons. And don’t forget, it’s not just about scales and theory — it’s about actually playing, too. So if you have a neighbor or friend from work who you think can teach you a thing or two, give it a try.

 

Try An Unfamiliar Style

Last but not least, don’t be afraid step into unchartered territory on your instrument. Every player’s experience is unique and part of finding your own voice involves experimenting with enough styles to know what excites you as a musician. Be open to all styles, reserving judgment until you’ve tried them in different settings, and with different people. You might be pleasantly surprised at what comes out!

May these techniques fuel you happily on your way to ever-higher musical skill! Good luck!

 

ArtistWorks instructors help students achieve their musical goals, with over 50,000 students seeing real results in their playing (in as little as 30 days). Explore all of our instruments and instructors here.

 

 

Read more about music education at ArtistWorks:

 

A Conversation with World Famous Violinist: Richard Amoroso

 

How to Make Your Musical Resolutions Stick: Tips from Keith Wyatt

 

How to Noticeably Improve Your Playing in 30 Days

 

 

 

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