How to Keep Music Practice Fun and Progress at the Same Time
We’ve all seen ads for the latest new app or game that “keeps practice fun”, and if you’ve spent any time trying to progress at your instrument, then you know why. The truth is that practicing is not always fun. However, no one has ever picked up an instrument for any reason other than to have fun (except to get girls; I’m looking at you, guitarists). But as you start to play more and more, the fun can go away when you attempt to play something that is too difficult. That’s when most people turn to lessons thinking that once they’re good enough to do ______ they’ll finally be able have fun again. Here’s the thing…
There will always be another hurdle for you to jump over.
Let’s say speed is the issue and the song you want to learn is just too fast. What happens when you get to a new song that’s even faster? And the next one is faster than that? You get the idea. The problem is it’s so easy to get lost running drills and exercises in the name of progress that you eventually lose sight of what made you want to play to begin with. I’ve known so many people throughout the years (especially during my time in music school) that have stopped playing because they just get burnt out. So what’s the solution?
You simply have to delineate the difference between playing your instrument to practice and playing your instrument for fun.
For example, I picked up the guitar because of my love for Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, etc. During my time as a college jazz guitar student, there were so many scales to learn, concepts to understand, and new techniques to get under my fingers. All that time spent on my jazz stuff was practice. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy playing jazz, but the whole college music experience could be overwhelming at times. For me, it was as simple as working a little bit of rock ‘n roll into my practice routine.
Every time I went into the practice room, I turned the little school practice amp all the way up and played my favorite Zeppelin riffs. Then I worked on my jazz studies. When I was done, I turned the amp up again, this time learning a new Hendrix solo. Learning and playing my favorite songs was (and still is) pure fun for me, and was even therapeutic back when I was learning about altered dominant chords.
It’s so simple it’s stupid, but it’s helped me keep the joy in my own playing for years. When I discuss this with students, it’s always a “why didn’t I think of that” moment for them and successfully staves off frustration. It could be jamming over YouTube backing tracks, or messing with new gear. The point is to just work in time to do what’s fun for you. It might not seem as important as increasing your dexterity for instance, but in the long run it just might be more important.
So the next time you get burnt out, play some Led Zeppelin riffs!
-Michael Hilbun is a New Orleans based guitarist and educator. In addition to performing and recording with numerous acts, he maintains an active online Skype lesson studio and teaches students around the world. He has a Bachelor of Music from the University of Louisiana. You can find out more about him at his website www.michaelhilbun.com.