How can I improve my musical ability and expression?

#playwithexpression Feb 05, 2020

Improving your musical ability is just a matter of practice but this needs to be a practice method that works for you. For me it was about playing songs to the best of my ability, not how many scales can I remember or how many notes I can play in a second.

When practicing I tend to follow and therefore recommend the steps below as learning to play a song well keeps me motivated and makes the whole experience more enjoyable. Please bear in mind that lots of songs have the same or similar chords, solo structure which is worth understanding as you can leverage the skills and disciplines learned in one song into many songs which again lifts the spirits and keeps you motivated

Feel and expression can’t really blossom or be appreciated by you as a player until you have mastered the skills and disciplines to play those songs. As you become more familiar with those skills then the feel and expression will come quicker and almost instantly as you learn new songs.

Feel and Expression are not, to my mind, something you learn from a text book but something that evolves as your skills improve. You haven’t got the physical or mental space to consider feel and expression when you are struggling to remember chords and change smoothly.

A simple analogy to me is like those dot to dot books as a kid or painting by numbers where you are forced to follow certain guidelines to create the shapes of image that is required but once that is mastered then you will draw or colour your images from your own imagination rather than being guided by someone else and those interpretations will be unique to you.

The same applies to learning a song or piece on the guitar, learning the chords, strum, pick and other skills required is your dot to dot process but then feeling how you want the song to be expressed is your freeform image and colouring.

Also remember that especially when learning an already known piece that the feel and expression you give it will be yours and only yours, you will certainly have been inspired by the artist who played the original piece but you will never make a perfect copy and nor should you want to as everyone's feel and expression is unique to them, like your DNA.

5 Tips to make your guitar practice more productive and enjoyable

Motivating yourself to practice your guitar can really be a struggle sometimes so I have a few Tips that can help make it a more positive and enjoyable experience

  1. Keep your guitar to hand

Try to make it easily accessible at all times like on a stand in the room or maybe a wall bracket if you need to keep it out of reach of small children etc. 

Doing this keeps it visible which will also act as a constant reminder and means that it is easy to pick up if you only have a few minutes. If it is locked in a case under the bed you are far less likely to go to all the trouble of getting it out so consequently your practicing and progression will suffer.

  1. Get to know the components of your piece

Make sure you know all your chords, the count and the strum you are going to use. Practice your chord changes and if any are challenging then "Think One Finger" when changing between them, maybe you can leave a finger on like C to D7 or move a finger up or down a fret whilst staying on the same string like G to D7 but even if you have a completely new shape to go to then choose 1 finger that works for you to get in place first (e.g. Finger 1 for G to C). Any chord changes that are more difficult than others then practice them more than the easier ones. 

Make sure you understand the count of the song and you are comfortable with the strum or fingerstyle you are going to use to fit the count.

  1. Practice the piece in bit-size chunks

Dividing the song up into smaller sections then working on those smaller sections like a verse or chorus makes learning the song much easier as you may only need some of the components and it is easier to remember smaller sections. Once you have made good progress with that section the satisfaction gained will motivate you for the next part. Also remember that the format or pattern for verses and choruses is often the same so learn a verse and you have learnt ALL the verses. The same applies to the choruses.

  1. Single out the more on the more difficult elements for extra attention.

Imagine rubbing down a bumpy piece of wood, you would rub harder on the bumps first before smoothing over the whole piece. Take the same approach when learning a piece on the guitar.

  1. Practice little and often

It is far better to practice 5 minutes a day than 35 minutes on a Sunday then nothing all week. This helps to keep everything fresh plus most of us when starting out are not always in a place that allows us to spend hours practicing be it school, homework, work, raising a family and socialising. Finding time for a few minutes a day is a good habit to get into.

Having your instrument available (1), Getting to know the components of the song (2), Practicing in bite-sized chunks (3) and focusing more on the difficult elements (4) will make Practicing little and often (5) much easier to implement.

I hope this helps

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