9 Directions That Will Help You Grow As A Musician

Posted in Guides And Tips

a single light bulb in the dark

#1 The Power of Thought

Artists in general and musicians, in particular, are a quirky bunch.

On one hand, we develop some pretty thick skin that deflects harsh critiques, snide comments, occupational harassment, and peer judgment.

On the other hand, we develop a style of sensitivity and emotional addiction that drives us to become closer to our craft, self-conscious of our work, and insecure about our public display.

It is quite the juxtaposition.

Yet throughout the course of life, we all encounter situations that get the best of us; situations that pierce our thick skin, lodge themselves deep within our soul and get tangled in our sensitivity and emotional addiction.

That’s why simplicity is beautiful.

Simplicity clears the emotions, blows out the confusion, refreshes the mind, and rejuvenates the heart.

When you boil it all down, what is left to guide you is your thought.

The ideas the drive you, the dreams that move you, the morals that shape you, the passion that fuels you, the wisdom that advises you, the vision that guides you, the soul the defines you, the memories that remind you, and the love that revives you… are all based on thought.

Thus, I did this posts that focus on the manner in which an artist/musician/drummer should think in order to cope, act, and succeed in the arts.

#2 Think YOU

Who do you want to be? What type of qualities do you want to have? What type of characteristics do you want to display? How do you want to make an impact on other people’s lives? How do you want your work to reflect you?

Most artists/drummers spend a lot of time studying and researching what other respected individuals in their field have done. This is a great learning tool, but at some point, you have to step aside and decide what it is that will make you YOU in the world.

Learning to appreciate and emphasize the qualities that make you YOU will not only make you happier but also more memorable.

#3 Think BIG

What do you want to do? What is your dream? What do you deserve? What makes you happy?

Think about these questions and don’t feel guilty or self-conscious about your answers. Instead, do everything you can to compliment your big thinking and then follow your big thoughts with big actions.

Do you want to be the first person to drum on the moon? Go for it.

#4 Think DIFFERENT

What makes people memorable? What makes people interesting?

The fact that they have a unique persona about them or that they are different from other individuals you know probably has a lot to do with it.

Following someone else’s footsteps casts you in the shadow of that person. Find what makes you YOU and spin it in a way that makes you unique in your art.

#5 Think EFFICIENT

(CM_BigIdea_Berg_12/19/14) Columbus Monthly's Big Idea opener photographed in the studio December 19, 2014. (Photo by Tessa Berg)

Had it not been for his concept of the assembly line, Henry Ford may have never achieved his great success of mass producing automotive vehicles.

As mundane as an individual task in an assembly line may be, the overall process is an incredibly efficient method of production. For its sheer qualities of simplicity and efficiency, the assembly line is a beautiful concept.

Artists can’t think this way directly because the act of creation is built on sporadic and chaotic ideas that manage to gel themselves together in a single piece of work. To create some type of assembly line for this process would jeopardize the core potential that the work obtains (something that no artist should want to risk).

Instead, artists can think of entire projects as stations on an assembly line. At each station, focus all of your attention and effort on completing one project. When the said project is complete, move to the next station (project).

What does this do and why is it efficient?

It organizes your thoughts, efforts, and attention. Listen carefully because this is why most people fail: instead of having ten projects going on at one time and making slow progress on all of them, you focus on one project at a time allowing you to complete it sooner and with a higher caliber of detail. As you move through each individual project at a faster completion rate and with more detail, you will probably complete the original ten projects sooner than you would if you worked on them all simultaneously.

Face it, artists have tons of ideas and are often scatterbrained. By focusing on one project at a time you have the ability to complete more projects in a timely fashion. The more you complete, the better you feel and the sooner you can get to complete other projects. It can boost your spirits and help deliver your message into the world.

#6 Think NOW

By this point, you have decided what big goals you want to accomplish and what you want to be. The question is, why wait to become those things?

Many people, myself included, get caught up in the moment. During those moments, procrastination always finds a way to present its self and the thought of working towards your goals at a later time sounds far too appealing to pass up. You get your instant gratification by watching that TV show or movie and call it a night. What a feeling. Yet meanwhile, your grand goals are sitting in your mind collecting dust… fantastic.

Avoid setting out on a mission with no intent to succeed at it. Create goals and work towards reaching them, NOW.

#7 Think EXCEPTIONAL

Be the opposite of ordinary and gain an exceptional reputation as a result.

  • Create exceptional work.
  • Treat people exceptionally well.
  • Make exceptional promises and fulfill them.
  • Establish exceptional goals and accomplish them.

#8 Get Rid of Unproductive Practice Once and For All

You spend hours upon hours practicing your instrument, but the fact of the matter is that the majority of your practice time is wasted. I will teach you the first rule to maximizing your practice time and learning more in the process.

All you need to do to improve your practice results is utilize a simple yet important observation made by the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto.

In 1906, Pareto noticed that there was an unequal distribution of wealth in Italy in which 20% of the people owned 80% of the wealth. While fascinated with this distribution of wealth, he also observed that 20% of the peapods in his garden yielded 80% of the peas that were harvested.

Since Pareto was the first person to note this ratio, the concept has become commonly known as the Pareto Principle and states that the majority of effects come from a minority of causes.

While the numbers can vary depending on the situation (say 85/15, 90/10, or 75/25), the concept still remains the same.

In the percussionist’s case, 80% of your improvement is the result of 20% of your practice.

To learn more and at a faster pace, you have to determine what 20% of your tactics produced 80% of your improvement. While your tactics may vary from practice session to practice session and goal to goal, it is relatively easy to track and determine what is working and what isn’t. Here’s how:

  • Write down a few specific goals that you want to accomplish in your practice session.
  • Throughout your practice session, write down every tactic, method, and exercise you use
  • At the end of your practice session, give every tactic, method, and exercise a rating between 0% and 100%. 100% being it made you better and was effective in helping you reach your goal and 0% being it didn’t make you much better and didn’t get you closer to your goal. Be harsh. Do not lump all of your tactics up in the mid 70’s. Give the tactics that worked really high scores and the tactics that didn’t work really low scores.
  • Look at the ratings and identify the small number of tactics that created most of your improvement.
  • In your next practice session (assuming you’re still working to achieve similar goals), only use the tactics that worked best.

By utilizing Pareto’s Principle, you cut out time-wasting tactics that don’t produce meaningful results. When you cut those out of your practice sessions, you are left with refined, efficient, and effective methods that will help you maximize your time by learning more at a faster pace.

When practicing, make sure that you create small and specific goals to accomplish. For example, instead of making your goal, “Learn Solo X” make it, “Learn the first 5 measures of Solo X at a slow defined tempo.” This will help you rate the effectiveness of your methods more accurately after the session.

Also, be sure to keep a list of what methods work for you when trying to accomplish different goals. Some methods will be more effective for drum set than marimba so be sure to keep track of what methods work for every instrument and type of goal.

After you get in the habit of slimming down and refining your practice methods to yield the greatest improvement, you will be capable of learning more in less time.

#9 Question Your Sound

What do you want to sound like?

In order to arrive at a destination, you must first know where you want to be going. Without a destination, you will move around aimlessly and only arrive at locations you happen to stumble upon. Happening to stumble upon a location is only a matter of chance.

Why resort to the level of allowing your sound to be the result of chance? Why, after years of practice and hard work, would you be willing to risk sounding a way that you happened to develop and not the way you wanted to sound?

Ask yourself the opening question. Make your answer your destination. Create maps and directions that will lead you to that destination in a timely manner and take off on your journey.