Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about practising and progression. I’ve not been too happy with my progression over the past few weeks – sometimes it feels like I’m not really learning much or it’s just not sinking in.
I started to wonder why some people are able to progress more rapidly than others and so I looked into learning in general. I spend quite a lot of time reading up on learning methods anyway as teaching is one of my other jobs (not related to music). What I really wanted to find out was what the proven methods of fast progression were and how I might be able to apply them to become a better player.
Right now, I think I’m a decent player, probably about average. I know plenty of chords and can strum along to most songs, I can get by on more complex fingerpicked songs too. That said, I don’t really want to just be an average player. I’d like to be a good player, maybe even a great one eventually.
As the ukulele isn’t as vastly covered as guitar, I took guitar as a start point for my search but I quickly opened this up to just learning in general. For every proven method out there, there seemed to be another proven method that went completely against it and my search wasn’t as fruitful as I’d hoped. That said, there were a couple of things I picked up and I’ve revised how I’m practising from this point onwards. Probably one of the most influential things that I found was the concept of playing very slowly and without mistakes to aid rapid progress, obviously then speeding up as the playing becomes second nature.
Cut the tab
I’ve wanted to move away from using tab for quite a while now and I also found evidence to suggest that this is a good idea. The connections made in your brain when working out a song for yourself seem so much stronger than when playing from tab. I’ve seen this in myself before where I can play a song from the tab but then have no idea how to play it when the tab isn’t there. My fingers are currently way better than my ears!
I’m not planning on completely dropping tab out of the equation. In fact, part of what I found when doing a bit of digging is a learning technique called active recall, which is essentially making your brain work for the information. So if you’re looked at the tab a few times for a song, the next time you come to play it try and remember it rather than just going for the tab again.
Ultimately I think the main reason that I’m not really developing as a player as quickly as I’d like is that I tend to lose focus on my practise sessions and I’ll end up just strumming songs I know. My new routine is quite varied but also quite focussed. I have a list of areas that I want to improve and these range from things like chord inversions to clawhammer picking. I’ll be working on these in 5-10 minute bursts on a daily basis. Some of the research into learning that I found supported the idea of working on different things together rather than just sticking to a single area at a time.
I found a great post on Jon Thysell’s blog where he uses a system based on cards and a tally is kept for every practice session. It’s a system that I really like and I’ll be using something similar.
Here’s a rundown of things that I’m doing with my new practice sessions…
- Timing practice and keeping a record
- Killing all distractions – mostly the laptop for me
- Playing much slower
- Spending much more time on new techniques
- Cutting down on using tab
- Working more on transcribing
I don’t think there’s anything hugely groundbreaking in my list but I do think it’s a good idea to stop and take a look at how you’re practising once in every while.