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A beginners guide to growing as a musician and songwriter- 10 Tips and pointers to always remember

26 July 2016 By Marcel Smith

The Basics…

Whether you’re a guitarist, bassist or drummer, every musician starts out by learning the basics. Those simple scales and drumming techniques are ultimately what creates every song. Yes in the early stages it can seem quite dull and boring learning the same scales over and over again, but you will find ways to manipulate these scales and techniques into amazing pieces of music.

When you begin to progress as a musician, you’ll naturally find that you want to try out more complex styles and techniques of playing. But it’s still important to remember the basics.

Take Joe Bonnamassa for example, a fantastic blues rock guitarist. He predominantly uses minor pentatonic scales with various blues notes imbedded in them. And those pentatonic scales are pretty much the first skills that any guitarist learns. So when you’re trying to create a song, remember to always go back to the basics and make sure they’re at the route of your songs. But at the same time, don’t be afraid to explore new and more complex ideas, because that’s also a great way to make amazing music. 

Get into a routine that suits you…

Some people find that working in short snappy periods of 30-40 minutes is the best way for them to learn or create music. I personally found that sticking to something in one sitting and playing it until I reached perfection was the best way for me to get better at guitar. But it’s different for everyone. Get into a routine that suits you. 

Work in an environment that suits you…


This is one of the most important things to remember as a musician. Personally, I am not able to work properly if there are any potential distractions in the same room as me. I find that closing my door and turning my phone off is the best way for me to concentrate on what I’m working on. I also find that looking out my window whilst playing guitar will suddenly spark my imagination and I’ll create something that sounds quite good.

 

Play music with other people...

You’ll find that when you start playing music with friends you will suddenly come up with something amazing. Not always, but most of the time. It’s unlikely that you’ll go through an entire session without making at least some cool sounding guitar licks.

On a slightly different topic, if you’re trying to write lyrics for a song, then you can try the same thing. Ask someone to read your lyrics and get them to give you feedback. Allow them to be critical of your work. The worst thing is when your friends tell you that all your work is perfect, when maybe in reality it isn’t. So tell them before they read your lyrics to be positively critical of your work. 
 

Set yourself goals…

Set yourself goals and make sure that when you’ve reached them, you set yourself new goals that are tougher to reach. It may be frustrating at times as you may not be able to play a certain guitar riff or think of the right lyrics for a song. But it will make it all the more rewarding when you achieve the goal that you’ve set yourself. Never give up on your goals. The worst thing you can do is give up entirely on what you’re working on. However this is counter intuitive as you may feel like a particular song isn’t going anywhere, but in that case you can just start to create new material which may suddenly spark your imagination.

Even though I mentioned you should set yourself big goals and put yourself out of your comfort zone, don’t be unrealistic with your expectations. Do what you know best and then gradually push yourself and you will become better and more resilient as a musician.
 

Tuition books...

Personally, I hate these. More often than not, great musicians come from natural talent. However, some people who have gone to university to study music performance or music production, have become the most amazing musicians the world has ever known. Once again I go back to Myles Kennedy. He studied contemporary music at University and in an interview he mentions that the skills he acquired from this course really helped him to become the musician he is today. If you like the idea of using music theory books to improve as a musician then that’s perfectly fine. No one is going to tell you that that’s the wrong way to go. But In my personal experience I found it easier to watch other people play (watching YouTube tutorials) and learning how to read TAB for guitar.

 
Learn your favourite songs…
 
You may find it incredibly difficult to write your own material straight away. Perhaps a good way to start off would be to learn your favourite songs. Learning them note for note is a great way to learn how songs are made. If you do this, you’ll be able to strip down a song to its core and see every detail of it. While doing this, don’t be put off by not being able to play the song exactly how it sounds on the record. Start off by playing very slowly. If you’re learning a fast riff on a guitar, split it up into sections. Take one section, and play it at ¼ of the speed it should be played. When you’ve mastered the riff at this speed, go to ½ speed and then ¾ and then when you feel really confident, you can play along with the song. And trust me, there is no better feeling than learning a song for a long time and then finally being able to play along with it a full speed. This is one of the most valuable tips my guitar teacher ever taught me and I still stick to it to this day. 
 
Inspiration Blues? 
 
If you’re struggling to find inspiration, don’t dwell on the fact that you’re not able to write anything. Go out for a walk and get some fresh air to clear your mind, and then come back to it and you will most likely find that you have new found inspiration. If you’re trying to write lyrics for a song, maybe try to write about something that you saw on your walk.

On a completely different note, if you’re trying to write lyrics for a song, it can often be easier to write about past experiences or events. Some of the best songs have come from artists who write about things that have happened to them in the past. A song from Alter Bridge called ‘In Loving Memory’ was written by lead guitarist Mark Tremonti. His mother died two years before he wrote this song, so he found it easy to write lyrics for the song as it was very personal.

Yes it sounds cheesy, but move out of your comfort zone, and never give up. Sticking with the norm can often lead you to dead ends in terms of creativity, so try and write music that you’re not used to.

Play standing up…

Ultimately, every musician wants to get the opportunity to play live concerts. When you play sitting down, you naturally play instruments in a different position to how you would when you play live. So if you’re used to playing while sitting down, the transition from playing whilst sitting to playing whilst standing will be quite tricky and unusual. However some people have a natural talent for both.

 
Final top tips for becoming a better musician/songwriter:

Don’t put pressure on yourself with regards to how long it takes you to learn or write something. It may take you ten minutes or 2 weeks to write a great song. Either way, it’s going to be a great song. So never give up on your work, because giving up will lead you nowhere.

Prepare for the tough road ahead. It’s not going to be an easy ride, but it will be worth it. Don’t be disheartened if you make mistakes. In fact the more mistakes you make the better.

Know the direction you’re going in. Everyone has their personal music preferences. So it’s a good idea to start off by following this lead. But don’t forget that it’s also a good idea to try things that are out of your comfort zone. Always try to improve your music skills and expand your bank of music knowledge.

 

A teacher can be great, but also terrible. It’s down to personal preference. Take a few lessons and if it goes well then keep taking lessons. However if you do take lessons don’t just rely on the teacher to tell you things. Go to each lesson knowing what you want to learn or have a song in mind that you want to learn. If your teacher is good, then they will break down each song and show you the skills that have been put into it. Not only does this help you learn the song, but it also helps you learn the skills that are at the routes of every song you learn. However, if you don’t feel like a teacher is getting you anywhere, don’t take them. But follow the path that you know you love, don’t give up, and you will eventually reach your ultimate goal.

 
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