5 Ways to Spruce Up Your Practice Routine

Practice.

Just the distant sound of the word is enough to strike fear in the hearts of men. What a drag, right?

Keeping a productive practice routine going for your instrument(s) can be one of the most difficult things for a musician, especially since most of us are easily distracted — which is one reason you found this blog post. Shouldn’t you be playing?

I digress…

Here are a few ways you can shake off the laziness and get back to what you love: becoming a better player!

1. Make It Musical

There’s no question that practicing rudimentary things like scales and arpeggios is one of the most beneficial things for your technique. But some would submit that it’s also one of the most boring ways to spend valuable practice time. If you happen to fall into that category, ask yourself this. What are you doing to make it musical? If the goal is ultimately to make music, then shouldn’t you also be practicing music?

Take the C major scale for instance. A staple of theory and building-block practice, this is often one of the first things you learn how to play. Like any major scale, it’s a pleasant set of intervals with built in musicality. But rather than just running the scale like a robot on auto-accelerate, try playing like a human. Instead of focusing purely on technique, focus on phrasing, dynamics, articulation, even alternating different rhythms. There are more ways to play a scale than I could get in to in a short post, but my point is this. If it doesn’t sound like music, it’s not because there’s no music in it — you’re just not looking for it.

2. Get Inspired

If you plan to practice your instrument for thirty minutes, take the first five minutes and youtube your favorite player. Focus on something he does well, and then work on that when it’s your turn. You will always get out of your instrument whatever you put into it, so if your goal is to work up an insane double-thumb tapping back-flip harmonic, take it off of your to-do list, and just do it. You might surprise yourself. A little bit of inspiration can keep you motivated while you try something that you think is out of your realm of capability.

3. Learn Music That You Love

It can be tempting to learn a piece of music as a status symbol, or a social benchmark among your musician friends. Chances are whatever will impress your buddies is not the same stuff that you’d like to be playing. Forget about what you think you should be learning, and just pick that one tune that you’ve had on repeat for the last 6 days. However easy or challenging it is, learn it. Nothing is more gratifying than loving the sound that’s coming out of your instrument. And if a certain song causes you to spend more time with your instrument, it couldn’t possibly be a bad thing, right?

4. Practice Mentally

Many musicians could benefit from using visualization in the same way that athletes do: Running through your music without touching your instrument could prove very useful. Try bringing your music along with you (either on paper or a mobile device) when you know you’ll have some downtime, such as during a car or train ride, and read through the piece silently. If it’s a new piece, this could also be an effective way to familiarize yourself with the music, or just get a little more pumped about it. Preparation is always a good thing. Just ask Dr. Evil.

5. Make It Fun

There is a lot to be said about making ordinary tasks funner by implementing things like rewards, extra challenges and small goals. Plan your practice time on paper with clear, attainable goals. Try to get through the first 16 bars of that new piece mistake-free, or reach a new tempo on a finger exercise. Each time you achieve a goal, reward yourself with something small, like a snack or a short break. People in every line of work use this same type of process to push the limits of productivity, and it really works.

Also, quit reading blogs on how to be a better musician. 🙂 Go play your instrument. Embrace your mistakes, and look forward to the times that they are absent. It all amounts to you getting better.

Happy practicing!

John

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5 Mistakes Cover Bands Make

Being a musician in a cover band can seem like a job that some would scoff at, and in reality there are many who just don’t take it seriously. But in reality it’s a job like any other, and deserves [and even requires] an appropriate amount of respect. Here are just a few mistakes that I’ve seen bands make over and over again.

SHOWING UP LATE

If there is one thing every band has in common, it’s that the time it takes to set-up gear is typically underestimated, sometimes to a large degree. If you’ve ever had a “real” job then you know: if you show up late, you’re in trouble. In many cases that sort of thing can put you in danger of losing your job. As with any important event, being late or even on time shouldn’t be an option.

Allow yourself plenty of time by showing up early and setting up your gear at a relaxed pace. This keeps your head clear, and you’ll most likely play better as a result. It also affords you valuable time should your gear malfunction. Not to mention, this is exactly the sort of thing that attentive venue managers look for.

Even if you’ve got a relatively small rig [or none at all, singers], don’t consider yourself exempt. Your bandmates could probably use a hand.

GETTING DRUNK

This is along the same line. If you showed up to your job at an accounting firm and started hitting the Red Bull and Vodka, you’d probably be out of there quicker than an unexpected bout of flatulence in a gale force wind. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a drink or two, but the moment it starts affecting your ability to play it’s time to stop. And contrary to what some of you are surely thinking, being buzzed does not help you to play better.

Consider what might happen if the venue manager is booking for next month, and his decision is split between two bands. One of those bands is always tanked by the end of the night. The other stays sober, maintains their ability to communicate, and has the stage torn down in a reasonable amount of time. It’s a no-brainer.

POOR SET TIMING

If you’re like me, set breaks are like little slices of heaven. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing. But there are times when my voice is fatigued, my feet hurt, and that next break can’t come soon enough. At times like those, I have to remind myself that I’m at work, and that I have a job to do.

Bands who play short sets, or take longer breaks than they should are [in my experience] far less likely to be invited back to a venue, which can seriously harm your income, and eventually your reputation in the area. Bar and club owners talk to each other, and word of bad experiences travels very quickly.

Find out before you play exactly what the manager expects. Some prefer four 45-minute sets with 15-minute breaks, while others like three 1-hour sets, with 30-minute breaks. Start playing on the hour, and tim your sets as close to perfect as you can [and always err on the long side]. If timing is good, and your band doesn’t completely suck, you’ll be invited back.

NOT KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE

This one should probably go without saying, but your song selections should always cater to your crowd. If there is no crowd [which we’ve all experienced], find out what style the manager prefers. Of course, most bands have a specific style that they’re known for, and if the manager is worth his salt he’ll only book bands that are a good fit with his regular clientele.

If people keep requesting blues-rock and country, save your Hall and Oates mashup for another night. There’s a reason the place lights up during the first bar of Sweet Home Alabama. It works.

FORGETTING THE BAND’S REAL JOB

The painful truth is this: a cover band’s job is not to capture the crowd and melt their faces like an arena headliner. At the end of the night, you are playing to help people get drunk. Every venue will rate how “well” the band did, not by the note-perfect guitar ride during Free Bird, but by how many dollars the bar made. It’s business.

Before each set break, it’s a good idea to remind people to get a refill, and to tip the bartenders. Before you play, get the bartender’s name, and tell people over and over to take good care of whatever-his-name-is. If the bartender likes your style, he will sell you to the manager, and you’ll be back. A lot.