6 Sneaky Little Ways to Become a Better Musician (That Don't Involve Picking Up Your Instrument)
If you're only working on music when you're in the studio or in your band rehearsal space, you're missing out on tons of opportunities to become a better musician. Sneaking in little moments throughout the day really add up and make a difference over time. But how and when can you take advantage of those opportunities? Try incorporating these six little hacks in the pockets of time you have, and watch yourself gradually become a better musician.
1. Make use of commutes, lunch breaks, and waiting in line
Whether you're waiting for the train or stuck in traffic, commuting probably takes more hours of your life than you care to acknowledge. Use moments like this to rehearse music you're learning in your head. It doesn't have to be transportation-related either; maybe on your lunch break at your day job, you can devote 15 to 20 minutes to mentally practicing. If you're looking to learn a new piece of music, download the sheet music onto your phone or take a picture of it, read it in your head, and softly hum it out.
[How to Practice Without Even Picking Up Your Instrument: A 5-Step Guide]
Besides scanning the technical aspects of your music, there's the performance itself that also needs mental attention. When you have downtime away from your instrument, start planning out what your next show will look like. What will you wear? What will you say between songs? How do you want to represent yourself? Do you have a setlist ready? Don't leave these questions for the last minute.
Envision yourself walking onstage, talking to the audience, and performing song by song. Run through the songs' changes – do you switch guitars between certain songs? Next time you're in that ridiculously long Chipotle line or waiting at the doctor's office, catch up on rehearsing your performances.
2. Analyze music as you listen to it
As trained musicians, it's nearly impossible to just listen to music without thinking about it from a technical perspective ("That key change saved the song," "This rhythm is off," "The singer is great, but his technique is going to ruin his voice"). You know how it goes. But beyond just listening with a musician's ear, really dissect what you're listening to.
Carry a pair of headphones on you so you're always ready to analyze and learn from new music. If you're a producer, ask yourself about the mix: What's in the left ear? Why is it there? What's the bass doing? Or maybe if you're a drummer, listen to the placements of each kick throughout the song: How do they build dynamically? Are they corresponding with the bass? Take notes while you listen, and really dig deep into what it is you like about the music or what makes it sound professional so that you can apply it to your own music.
3. Turn concerts into a learning experience
When you're seeing live music, you can't practice – but you can still become a better musician. As fun as it can be to hit the bars and dance to your favorite band with your friends, there's also a ton you can learn while you do that.
Try to get a close spot so you can really see how the band is performing. What is it about those certain performances that make the audience (that includes you!) the most excited and engaged? Which songs have people staring down at their phones or heading to the bar? What's their banter like in between songs? What visual elements make a huge impact on the experience? By paying attention to live shows as both a fan and a musician, you'll take away so much more from it. Take notes on how the band commands the stage and what specifically made the show great so that you can try to incorporate those elements into your next show.
4. Wake up just 30 minutes earlier
Set your alarm for half an hour early and wake up with one goal in mind: music. Stay completely focused for just 30 minutes in the morning on what you can do to be a better musician.
If you're a drummer living with roommates, this might not be the best time to practice your full kit, but that doesn't mean you can't rehearse on a practice drum pad with an in-ear metronome. If you're a singer, you can focus on breathing exercises as opposed to full-blown belting. For producers, work on your mixes. For songwriters, write stream-of-consciousness lyrics or clean up drafts.
By giving yourself just that small extra cushion of time first thing in the morning, you'll feel amazing knowing that before your day has even started, you've already made progress on your musical goals.
5. Watch footage of your practice sessions
Beyond just recording your practices to listen back to where you need improvement, it's also helpful to film them. Prop your phone up, film your practice, and when you have downtime, watch it. You'll be able to analyze the audio and takes notes on where you need to improve, but you'll also be able to see the way you perform. Maybe you’re too stiff and you want to loosen up, or you jump around just a little too much and need to relax a bit. Look back and see what you like best and where you can make improvements in order to deliver the best performance you can at your next gig.
6. Download music-related smartphone apps
The next time you're bored and find your finger hovering over the Candy Crush icon, remember that there are so many more productive (and still fun!) ways to use your smartphone as a musician. Download instrument apps to aid in writing music, or keep your skills and knowledge sharp by downloading a music theory app and quizzing yourself on intervals and chord voicings. If you don't have a smartphone, you can use a computer for these exercises – you just won't be as… well, mobile.