Do One Thing at a Time!
Students at any level can get frustrated when a passage, riff or chord-change doesn’t lock in quickly.
Did that ever happen to you?
Playing music involves doing many things at once. Whether you are reading, improvising, playing by ear, or just foolin’ around, many coordinated actions are happening simultaneously. Much of the time, you need to break things down into smaller pieces in order to get all of the elements working together. The more practiced one is, the quicker the process will be. Learning a new chord-change might take a pro 20 minutes to nail, while an intermediate player might take four hours on that same chord change.
If you are not already used to the process, here it is:
1. Isolate one part of what you are learning and work on it. Take a short section of a guitar riff, piano fingering, scale, vocal passage, whatever it is, and work it out. Get it smooth and correct: coordinate the motions and master it. Break it down to just the right-hand picking directions on guitar, the left-hand piano shifts, where to breath, etc. Start with whichever element interests you the most, or is the easiest thing to tackle.
2. Isolate another element and work that out.
3. As you gain control over each part-of-the-whole, start combining them until the passage or section is complete.
It could take ten minutes or ten days to master one small thing, so have patience! Go for the new skill and don’t worry about time.
1. The rhythm of the melody, or passage, without the pitches: Tap or clap the rhythm, and count it out if you can. I suggest doing this to a pulse: metronome, drum machine or internal pulse, if your “time” is good.
2. The pitches of the melody in any rhythm: Concentrate on the fingerings, attack and the ear training. Sometimes a passage is difficult simply because you don’t really hear it.
3. The accompaniment rhythm: If you can count and clap it, do so. If it’s not something that can be clapped easily, tap it with your fingers, “drum” it with your hands and feet, or clap the main feel or accents.
4. Fingerings and hand/body positions: Left hand, right hand, together.
5. Feet and leg motions: Pedals and levers.
6. If it’s in an odd-meter, like 5/8 or 7/4, drill the meter first by counting it out, then work on the rhythm.
7. Stabilize your technique and articulation (attack): Picking, plucking, bowing, blowing or percussively attacking like piano or percussion. At this point a singer could focus on timbre and vocal technique.
These same principles apply to all instruments—everything really :-), whether you play flute, trombone or bagpipe!
If you isolate troublesome passages and practice them correctly, you should have them under your control in less time than you might have thought!