Every skill requires practice. No matter what it is you do – composing, performing, producing, engineering… you need to practice in order to get better at it. Whether you’re learning how to play an instrument or learning how to use reverb, there are four things that you must do in order to practice effectively:
- Practice regularly. It’s important to put in regular practice – not just ad-hoc. And it has to be frequent too. It might be ok to practice for half an hour once a week when you’re just starting, but if you want to take your craft seriously, you’ll have to quickly move to three times (and then five times) a week. Without setting aside regular time each week, you won’t be able to consistently put in the hours required to improve your skills and progress.
- Progress slowly. In other words, don’t try to take on too much all at once. When learning to play a new song for the first time, practice playing it slowly so you can really feel your way around the notes before you play it at full speed. If you’re working with artists, try just one song at a time before attempting a whole album. If you’re engineering, learn how to get the best out of your basic compressor before starting to collect many different varieties.
- Focus on trouble areas. Don’t just gloss over them. It can be fun to avoid the aspects of your craft that you find difficult, but this avoidance will let you down in the future. Many songs have a difficult section or two – focus on those difficult parts to really bring them up to standard. If your’re having creative differences with your artist or collaborator, don’t skirt around the issue – address it head on. If you don’t really understand the theory behind headroom and dynamic range, read up!
- Build your capabilities. This means doing exercises that aren’t directly related to any projects or songs you have in progress. Instead of full-length songs or projects, exercises are short and intense and focussed. For musicians and composers, this means working on short pieces of music that are specifically designed to develop a certain area of your craft. For producers, this means taking on smaller side projects to explore certain aspects of music production. For engineers, this might mean mixing a particular song using only one kind of tool to really learn the ins and outs of it.
Whatever you do – don’t assume that talent will get you by, or that a lack of talent will hold you back. A natural aptitude or enjoyment will motivate you to work harder, but it’s the hard work that will really push you forward.