It might seem a little silly to generalise some tips for people looking to learn an instrument, as every one is so different from the other. Even two different saxophones require slightly different styles to leverage the best sound, but there are a lot of mental and physical practices that transcend instruments and musical styles. Having the right frame-of-mind and practising some general habits can make the learning experience more rewarding, more satisfying and a lot quicker than you would expect. If you’re looking to learn an instrument, or are thinking of brushing up on some rusty skills, then the tips below might go some way to helping you improve.
Choosing the correct size, weight and shape
You’d be surprised at how much of a difference the make-up of your instrument can make to your skill with it. There are half size instruments, there are oversized instruments and there are left-handed instruments. Music has developed so quickly in the 20th and 21st centuries that instruments have become much more highly personalised and the first thing you want to do is find one that feels naturally comfortable to play and to hold. With saxophones, weight will make a huge different as you want to support the majority of the instrument’s mass using a neck strap. Too heavy and you’ll find yourself using your hands to take the strain, slowing your ability to move between the keys. The same applies for other instruments; finding the perfect composition leaves your faculties free to do the hard work of playing.
Train your ear, play by ear
Learning to read sheet music is something that every aspiring musician should do, but modern ways around this complicated tradition have made it less and less important. Guitar tabs are far simply and offer a more gentle learning curve, but the most valuable method of playing to the true musician is by ear. To hear a tune and be able to replicate it through your knowledge of notes and scales is something that a lot of artists aspire to. Music should be a passion and a hobby before anything else, so being able to jam with a friend to a song that comes on the radio is a pleasure that many people don’t ever get to experience. Train your ear to identify the different elements and instruments of a piece of music and learn what each note that you play sounds like, not looks like.
Know the basics and build
Take some time to familiarise yourself with the history of your chosen instrument and how it’s made. Know the framework of your keys, exactly how to tune it and how to maintain it correctly. Taking good care of your instrument means that your sound will be perfect, making it much easier to pick up and improve on faults that you are making.
Along with the basics of the instrument itself, learn the basics of music. Take some time to understand the most common notes, combinations and chords associated with your instrument. Don’t launch straight into trying to learn Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ intro if you’ve just purchased your first Fender, or Clarence Clemons’ ‘Jungleland’ solo on your new Yamaha. Know and master the basics, as frustrating as it can be, then slowly build upon them.
Motivation, practice and practice
Keep yourself motivated and remember that not all of your favourite musicians were child prodigies. Learning an instrument takes hard graft and passionate practice, but the reward at the end will be a exhilarating skill that will never leave you. Stay in good spirits by continuing to grow your knowledge of your instrument and the music it’s involved in, listen to some of the greatest examples of your instrument in action and build some aspirations that you can aim for. The best, most common and unfortunately hardest advice thing to do; is to practice until you can practice no more. Once you’re all played out, play some more and keep playing.
Every minute you spend experimenting is another minute of practice and there’s nothing more valuable in music.