Monthly Archives: June 2011

How do I get better fast?

By | Bass Guitar, Guitar, Piano, Ukulele | No Comments

This is the number one question that I am asked. And the best way to answer it is to say ‘by practising’. This is a topic that I have spoken about in the past (see ‘Practise Makes Marginally Better’), but this time I want to look at it from the perspective of the beginner who is impatient or unwilling to put the work in to get results.

We have all either been this person, or have seen this person complaining about their current level of ability. Or we have had to teach this person how to play an instrument. To turn these people around and get them improving quickly we need to understand why they are not getting results. Once we understand this then we can remedy the situation.

All of us who have practised and become better know the value of hard work and perseverance. For a person that has never had to do this before it can be a daunting task. Also people want to believe that you can sit and dream about playing well and it will happen. Unfortunately this is rare and for the vast majority it is unrealistic. Once we are able to accept that some form of practice is required then we are ready to take the next step.

To help a person see the benefit in practising you need to make them aware of the results. Now the easiest way to do this is to let them see the improvement. As we all know, with some things it can take a while to see the actual results of practice. This will cause a lot of people to think that their hard work is fruitless and that they are not making any progress. But if they practice the correct movements and concentrate on keeping their movements efficient and relaxed then results will appear a lot faster.

In my experience I have seen both extremes of this type of behaviour. I have noticed that the students who improve the fastest and see results the quickest are the ones who focus on gaining control over the correct movements. They also make sure that they perform them extremely slowly until their muscles become familiar with the movements and they have developed control over them. On the other side of the ledger are the people who think that running through chord changes and difficult single note passages without any focus on control or efficient movement will get results. It is sad to say that this is not always the case – yes you will improve but not as fast as somebody who has worked on efficient movement and technique first.

Beginners are not the only people guilty of this type of behaviour. Many more experienced musicians can fall into this trap when learning new techniques or styles. What we all need to do is come up with a plan or template to help us on our way. The first and most important thing to do is ask ourselves ‘is this the most efficient way to perform this technique?’

Now before you rush in to saying yes or no you need to be aware of a few things. Are the fingers moving in the most efficient way (i.e. are they only moving enough to perform the technique without any excess movement)? Are the correct muscles or body parts performing in the correct manner? Are all other parts of the body that are not required kept in a relaxed state? If you have answered yes then you are on the right track.

Check back soon for the next part of this article.