Learning an Instrument: Yes You Can

By Jane Brown, January 14th 2015 Editorial

learning a musical instrument

Don’t lie: you’ve always dreamed of starting your own rock band. If you’ve read our post on that subject, you know that the first thing you need to do when you want to start your own band is learn how to play an instrument. Sorry, for the purposes of this post, being able to hit a tambourine against stuff doesn’t count…unless you’ve found a way to do it really really creatively.

Learning to play an instrument doesn’t have to be an ordeal. In fact, like with most goals, once you break it down into its individual components, it’s totally achievable.

Find a Good Teacher

For some of you, that teacher is going to be a book or a series of YouTube videos and that’s okay, especially if you are shy or haven’t even held an instrument before. Videos and books are great for helping you get a basic feel for how an instrument works. Eventually, though, you are going to want to find a real human to help you progress and develop your skills. Music isn’t just about memorizing a few finger positions. There is math and theory involved and learning those things will help you with everything from how well you play to how well you compose your own songs.

Finding a good teacher can take time. You might even meet with a few candidates before you settle into a good groove with someone. A lot of people start their search with classified ads or at their local schools. The internet is also a great source. Just like there are sites that allow students to “grade” their classroom instructors, there are sites like LessonRating.com that allow music students to grade and review their lesson teachers. These reviews can help you narrow down your candidate field.

Develop a Routine

No matter what Amanda Palmer might wail in her song “Ukulele Anthem,” if you actually do want to get good at your instrument, you have to practice it every day. This is true whether you’ve chosen guitar, voice or (your poor neighbors) drums. Set aside at least an hour and a half every day to practice your music lessons. Yep. Ninety whole minutes. Most music teachers will tell you thirty minutes to an hour is fine but we say ninety. Here’s why: for the first sixty, you need to focus on all of the boring feeling scales and songs your teacher has given you to develop your dexterity, sheet music reading skills, etc. Then for the last thirty, just jam. Play around on songs you love. Try to write something new. Just have fun. Sitting down for the hour of focused work is easier to do every day when you know you have dedicated fun time waiting at the end of it.

Be Patient

Scales are boring. Warm Ups are boring. We all feel like that when we start out. It’s frustrating that the first few things you learn how to play on the piano are scales and simple things like “Auld Lang Syne” and “Ode to Joy.” Your heart is ready for symphonies and rock and roll! When you’re starting out, though, your muscles aren’t. These drills and simple songs are just as much about training your muscles as they are developing your mental skills. Plus, trust us on this: as you progress, you’ll find that the simple things you learn now are actually incorporated into the more complicated and fun stuff, a LOT. Think about all of the guitar shredding you’ve listened to over the years: isn’t most of it just running scales? Sure there’s some theatrics tossed in for show, but it’s mostly just fancy versions of the exact drills you’re learning now.

You will get there. It takes time and a good teacher and some real dedication, but you will get better. If you don’t believe us, think about this: Dave Grohl started his music career by playing fake drums in his bedroom at night years before he joined Nirvana.


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