Smart resolutions for musicians and soon-to-be musicians

Mastering a Hendrix solo by the end of January probably isn’t a realistic goal, unless you’re Clapton. However, there are lots of smart resolutions you can make.

Learn to play

Did Santa bring you a new instrument? After you kiss him or her, it’s time to get down to business. Don’t expect to play like Segovia right off the bat. Get yourself a book for beginners (I like the Mel Bay books), a DVD from Homespun Tapes or take lessons. If you’re in the Ottawa area, I’d love to be your teacher. Contact me.

Be patient and remember, it takes adults longer to learn than kids. It’s not impossible, you just need to stick with it and don’t try to do too much at one time.

Practice more

We all say that, right? Studies have shown that practicing on a regular basis, even if it’s a short session, is more beneficial than a marathon four hour practice just before your lesson or gig. I tell my students that even fifteen minutes a day can help. More is better, of course, but if you can commit to only fifteen minutes a day, it’ll help you. It’s also good to make it a regular part of your day – always after work or before dinner or after the kids go to bed.

Get a better instrument

Okay, this one involves some money and after playing Santa, maybe you don’t have so much.  Start saving. Like practice, if you can put away a little at a time, it’ll make a difference.

I don’t mean that you have to go out and buy that vintage Fender. Buy an instrument that sounds better and is easier to play. Back when I was a beginner, I struggled with a guitar that had terrible action. (The strings were hard to press down.) There was no way to fix it. I thought I had to muscle through and just deal with it. Wrong. I finally broke down and bought a better guitar – still an inexpensive one but much easier to play and voila! I could play barre chords. Fortunately, my old guitar was pretty – all blond maple – so it was easy to sell. Internal beauty is more important, boys and girls.

Jam more

Playing with other musicians will always make you a better player plus it’s damn fun. Back in the days before TV and radio, that’s what folks often did at the end of the day. You can too. Go to Google and enter “music jam, your city” and see what comes up. You can get more specific and enter the type of music, like “blues jam.”

Call your friends who play. Even if it seems like you’ve got disparate tastes, give it a shot. Who says your polka playing accordion buddy wouldn’t be fun to jam with? It might do your heavy metal brain some good to get out of your box and who knows, maybe it is possible to play “Smoke on the Water” on the accordion.

Nervous about jamming? Worried you’re not good enough? Just jump in. Every jam I’ve ever been to has people of every musical level. If you’re not sure, hang out in the outer circle and play softly. Some jams have a structure – more experienced players in one room and beginners in another. Or it’s more time oriented – beginners at the start of the evening and professionals toward the end.

Learn to play ________

Whether you fill in the blank with “Blackbird” or “Highway to Hell,” take it slow. Break it down by lines or by measure. Don’t expect to get it in a day. Use a reputable tab site (I like Heartwood Guitar) or get a clear video from YouTube. While a video of the original artist is good, don’t overlook other people playing the song, especially if you can hear and clearly see their fingers. It might be a little different than the original though.

Record a song

There’s plenty of programs that’ll help you record on your computer. Or check out a local studio. Technology and me don’t mix so I hate doing that stuff myself. I usually find a nice garage studio. Ask your musician friends or just search for one. It’s extremely gratifying to hear yourself on a recording. It can make a great gift or maybe it’ll be the start of your new album.

Start a band

My old band, Broad Street.

I started another one about a year ago and I’m having an absolute blast. I found them all on Kijiji (used more in Canada than Craigs List). When writing your ad be honest about your playing ability and musical tastes. Remember that you need time to practice so if you just got a new job or had twins, you might want to wait awhile. Your future band mates will thank me.

Write a song

Never done it before? Use existing songs as a guideline. Borrow their rhyme scheme, topic and/or chords. (You can’t copyright a chord progression. Otherwise, blues music would be in Big Trouble.) Just like learning a sport you need to exercise that writing muscle so your first effort may not be something you want to sell to Beyonce but it’s a start.

If you need some help, consider a class. If you’re in Ottawa, contact me. I’ve got a class starting soon.

If you’re an experienced writer, I highly recommend 1000 Songwriting Ideas by Lisa Aschmann. A songwriting circle will also help you get your arse in gear. Don’t have one in your city? Start one. Put an ad online and go for it.

Learn a new instrument

A few years ago a friend showed me her new mandolin. She didn’t get it back for a few days. It opened up a whole new world for me and now I play it in a bluegrass band. You can do what I did and choose a related instrument – I was already a guitar player – or something completely different. If you want something that isn’t a huge challenge, try the mountain dulcimer, ukulele, hand percussion or harmonica.


What are your resolutions for the new year?


About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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7 Responses to Smart resolutions for musicians and soon-to-be musicians

  1. mefoley says:

    Great post! This may indeed be the Year of the Mountain Dulcimer for me…it could happen…

    • jamiebobamie says:

      I hope it does! You’ve got a good ear for music already and with only 3 or 4 strings, the mountain dulcimer isn’t hard. Homespun Tapes has some great instructional material:

      • mefoley says:

        They were always around when I was growing up in Kentucky, but I had no money. I used to play one that my neighbor had bought for a nephew and didn’t get around to sending for–oh, must’ve been about a year!

        It’s funny how you tell yourself “I can’t have that” and then you wake up decades later and think “well, heck — of *course* I can have that”. But they don’t sell ’em around here! I’m hoping to be in the US in March and pick one up then.

      • jamiebobamie says:

        I found this list of dulcimer makers in the UK and Scotland:

        Buying one in the states might not be so bad since they fit in the overhead of a plane.

  2. Terri says:

    Hey, Jamie! I got all fired up a few years ago after a great music conference (Great Lakes Unity Regional) and bought a mountain dulcimer at Kara’s store. I still haven’t learned to play it. Maybe this is the year!

  3. Pingback: Great New Year resolutions for music fans and musicians | Jamiebobamie

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