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  • Andrew Harrison

What does it take to be a musician?

Persistence and the sheer pleasure of picking up your instrument and making noise, whether that is good noise or bad.


Some kids were into football when I was at school, I was not. But this has led me to a thought I would like to share with you. This can also be translated to any other passion.


You are walking home from school and you cut across a park to get home. There are some other kids playing football on the field and you come across a spare ball of theirs which they have clearly forgotten about. Do you walk past it or kick it nearer to them so that it won’t be forgotten later?


Can you imagine the temptation to kick that ball?

How hard is it to resist that temptation?

The ball almost seems to be taunting you into kicking it.


These same visceral feelings are how a musician feels when they spot their instrument. Whether it’s a guitar sitting on its stand looking all lonely or a piano sitting silently, waiting to sing. That same temptation and inability to keep walking is the way music should feel for musicians of all abilities.


What is practise?


Practise is the only way anyone in any field goes from being a beginner to a master.


As a music teacher, I ask each one of my students whether they have practised before every lesson. Often the answer is yes, often the answer is no and often it is some sort of mumble which indicates to me that it is a no.

The truth is that I don’t particularly mind if they haven’t practised because it comes in many forms. They may not have picked up their instrument all week but have discovered 3 new bands which they love listening to. This will spark their want to pick up the instrument the next day.


Active practise is the act of improving on something for the duration of your time sat down. This could be playing something seemingly impossible at a very slow tempo so that you can get the timing correct. Once you are getting the notes and timing correct, you must change up the exercise because you are then no longer practising but rehearsing a part you already know.

You can change up the practise session so that you gradually increase the speed of those notes. If you are constantly doing this and pushing your abilities then you will always be in a state of active practise.


As a student of music, you should never get stuck in the rutt of rehearsing when you should be practising. This isn’t good for your progression. However, if you love the thing you have learnt, by all means play until your heart's content. But know this, you will never improve on other aspects of your playing if you do so forever.


When did you last practise?


Now that we have established what practising really is and at what point practising becomes rehearsing, I want you to think about the last time you picked up your instrument for a ‘practise session’. Did you spend the entire time playing things you already know?

(We are all guilty of this by the way. I am not pointing fingers).

Or did you learn something new/improve on a piece that you have been working on perfecting for months/learn a new scale and how to apply it/write a song that before yesterday didn’t exist? The list goes on…


I often tell my students that when practising with a metronome, you should always set the metronome slightly faster than you find comfortable. This pushes you to reach that speed. Once you are there you should do the same again. It is a surefire way of knowing that you are always improving instead of sitting comfortably.


Let’s start practising.


Andy


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