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How To Learn Music

As we went through school, we realized that there were good ways to learn and bad ways to learn. We discovered some shortcuts and methods that helped us through the rough spots. As we get older and leave school we forget some of these and the effectiveness in learning. We're going to look at the different ways we learn and how we use certain techniques to improve our progress.


Beginner's Mind

When growing up and learning new skills, most children just usually dive right in. They don't think too much about the whys or what-fors, and just get into absorbing the new skill. (They're also usually excited which is another great advantage). As adults we learn that not everything that is placed in front of us is great, so we question a lot. We have a lot more internal dialogue going on. And, most of all, we have more bad habits and well defined patterns of thinking. These are useful in most situations but when learning something completely new, it's better to have what's called a 'beginner's mind'. A beginner's mind is to start with a completely open and empty mind; which is a lot harder than it seems. First of all, you have to be willing to make mistakes. You have to have the mindset that you know nothing. Even though you may want to build on your current knowledge, it's better to come into each learning session with an open, empty mind. It also means to be relaxed and pliable. For example when you learn a new music style, just try to absorb as much as you can without making too many judgements or evaluations. Just try to listen and absorb. There many be part of the style that doesn't make sense to you and having an open mind will help alleviate that.

There's a story about 2 martial artists that we taking part in learning a completely new form of martial art. They both we champions in their own style but this was something completely new. One of the martial artists was quite proud of his accomplishments and made no secret of his skill. The other martial artist was the opposite; in fact most of the other students didn't know that he was a champion at all. The first martial artist had a hard time learning the new style and eventually dropped out. The other martial artist became quite skilled at the new art. It wasn't until graduation that the martial artist let the others know about his other skills by going through an impressive set. The first martial artist relied on his previous training and when it became obvious that it was getting in the way, he couldn't 'drop it' to learn the new skill.

Patience

When you first started learning, you had an incredible amount of patience with yourself. When I teach children I'm always amazed at how much they'll work at it and not get discouraged. As adults we learn that if we don't get something within a reasonable amount of time, we probably won't get it at all. When students come in to me and want to learn certain skills, I already know how much time that will take. I know that if a student wants to learn skill 'x' it may take a year or so. Most things in music take longer to master than we usually think. I also know that it will take that amount of time if the student practices and sticks to the program. You're going to have to have patience when learning. It's not only good to have patience in the long run but in the short too. When I teach a new strumming pattern or a new finger exercise, I tell the student to have patience and practice slowly. I know that this rarely happens but I can't stress enough how important this is. If you learn a new exercise and practice it slowly until you can do it without mistakes, your progress will be much, much quicker.

Be Engaging

One of the things that you will notice when learning, that small details usually make a huge difference. This is just as true in music. When learning new skills you will find that there are always small details that come up. It can get to the point where you may feel that you're getting nit-picky. It's not really being picky as it is being thoughtful and concise. That means that whenever you learn something new, try and engage the mind as much as possible. You will find that when you really get into the process, all other thoughts will drift away. You'll absorb much more than usual and the new ideas will be assimilated much easier. It's the same thing when practicing, really think about what you're doing.

Mimicking

This is the primary way we pretty much learned to do everything for the first part of our lives. It's effectiveness can not be understated. Yet as we age, we feel that we must do things our own way. We feel that mimicking or emulating somebody else is cheating or just wrong. This in fact, is a great way to learn any skill, not just music. If you want to learn a new style, a new move, or get a new sound, one of the best ways to start is by mimicking somebody else who already does what you want to do. There are many advantages to this. First of all, they've probably done most of the homework for you. They've found what works for that particular situation. Second, by emulating them, you will automatically pick up subtle information and nuances that can't be gleaned from normal techniques. Most of all, your getting straight into what you want to learn and how you want to sound. If you want to get that blues sound, go right to the source. Then, once you have it, take it to the next level...


Taking It Too Far

For a lot of musicians, the last paragraph may be a big no-no because so often in music, musicians get so enamored with certain artists and styles that they become carbon copies. They exhibit no originality or creative thought. This is a familiar pattern to fall into but easy to avoid. The best way to avoid it is to do what I tell all of my students to do; I tell them; learn this stuff cold, then rip it apart. If you learn new techniques and go one step further and try to incorporate some creativity you end up with a musician who sort of sounds like this but still has something all their own. That way you impart the style and sound that you were looking for, but still have your own individual sound and voice. Not only do you develop you own sound, you may take the style to a whole new level. This is a long used tradition in blues and jazz, not to mention whole schools of music. The other way to avoid becoming a carbon copy is to learn the style of many different artists. Learn the styles of many artists in your genre but also include other related genres. Try to apply all of the different things you learned and develop them into your own style. Of course if you're a composer, an improviser and a gigging musician, you're going to have to be able to do both. You'll have to be able to fit into a certain category, make it sound authentic without straying too far, and still have your own voice.

One Day At A Time

Music is a huge and wonderful world. It takes a while to grasp all of it's subtleties but can be enjoyed the second you pick up the instrument. It takes constant and concentrated effort. It's not hard, it just doesn't happen overnight. Take your music lessons and practice sessions like a daily meditation. Forget the world and focus on what's in front of you. Use all of the tricks and things you learned when you were young and trying to get through school. Music is a life long learning experience, sit back and enjoy the ride.