Musician, Co-Founder and CEO of Ninebuzz Music Tech
Feb 4, 2016 | 7 MIN READ
Despite all the great toys and tech out there for musicians, we still struggle with the chore of daily practice. Sometimes it feels like we’re not making progress, and it can be tempting to quit.
I think musicians can benefit from thinking a little differently.
School taught me mostly facts. But there was a huge gap in my problem-solving abilities. By striving to ask better and better questions, you can unlock the real stumbling blocks to your progress. You can find out-of-the-box solutions to problems. Elon Musk refers to this as solving for ‘first principles’.
Many of the following productivity “tricks” are not tricks at all. They are simple solutions to common problems. Entrepreneurs focus on questions more than answers. And so should musicians!
Entrepreneurial thinking has been invaluable for turning my one little guitar app into a successful software business. For practicing music and writing songs, it turns out entrepreneurial thinking works pretty well there too. And you can use it to make great progress for yourself.
Here are 5 productivity tricks and how I apply them to music.
1) The “80/20” Focus Rule
The Pareto principle states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the effects. Focus first on the things that will have the biggest impact to your goal.
Want to sing like a pro? The 20% practice program looks like this: focus on training your ear. That’s it. It makes the absolute biggest impact to singing. Buy a cheap keyboard and practice singing the tones every day (machine-made tones are more precise than string instruments and will train your ear faster). Use ear-training apps.
After, learn how to produce tone from your mouth in a way that doesn’t damage your vocal cords. All of this comes before actually “singing”. The fancy, bluesy, soulful, melodic stuff is all in the 80% box. Don’t even go there until you’ve got the 20% boring mechanical stuff down.
For my musical goals, I think about what is the biggest threat to me succeeding at a certain thing. Soloing like SRV, playing drums like Jimmy Chamberlain, writing songs – they all have a ‘most important’ area. You have to find these for your goals.
Which activities would give you the biggest impact on your musical goals?
Which activities can wait until later?
2) Build A Sustainable Routine
“Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.” – Benjamin Franklin
Ben Franklin swore by being organized and leveraging a daily routine. Here is a photo of his actual schedule:
When our routine is not sustainable, we can’t make continual progress – and we have to figure out why.
On my bathroom mirror I wrote a question in a black marker, “What will happen if I keep going in this direction?” Asking the question in that way helps me find bumps in my daily routine. It forces me to consider the consequences of falling off track. Sometimes it’s the tiny snags.
Ask yourself the question, “How can I make my music practice more sustainable”? What stops me from practicing every day?
Tiny Snags Add Up
Sometimes it’s as simple as not having your instrument in plain sight. I solved this in a simple but unorthodox way. I bought guitars for every room in my home. I leave them lying out so I can grab them quickly.
Another thing that was holding me back from sustainable guitar practice was my chair. It was uncomfortable; I really needed something without arms. Buying a comfortable stool made a huge difference in making my guitar practice routine sustainable.
Other things. Having many guitar picks lying around. Having a space where you can sing loudly. Bringing enough water to practice. Having a music stand that’s always at the right height. In my cases, the keys to building a sustainable practice routine are very small tweaks.
What roadblocks are stopping you from building a sustainable music practice routine?
3) Delegate Extra Steps
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what do do” – Jessica JACKLEy
Top entrepreneurs save time through leverage. They know when it’s better to ‘hire out’ a task instead of doing it themselves. Musicians can benefit from this thinking.
For example, I wanted to practice guitar to inspiring drum beats instead of a metronome. My routine was 1) sit at my computer, 2) launch FruityLoops program, 3) program a fresh, inspiring beat, 4) practice. I spent more time making beats than practicing guitar.
Keep Your Goal Top Of Mind
My goal was to practice guitar, not program beats. And I didn’t want to sit in front of my computer either. I wanted to play guitar with fresh realistic drum beats wherever I wanted to!
The solution was to delegate these unnecessary tasks to a tool that already had fresh drum beats in it. I couldn’t find one that I was happy with, so I created my own. Musicians all over the world now use it as a replacement metronome app!
Now when I want to jam, I just launch the app and press play. I’ve delegated the redundant tasks to an app. It save me time, I stay inspired, and I’m not tied to my computer. My routine is smoothed out because there’s very little wasted time. I practice more now.
Which redundant tasks with your music practice routine could you delegate?
4) “Batch” Tasks
Batching is often confused with multitasking, but it’s different. It combines complimentary tasks and helps you reach goals faster.
As a musician, there are many things we can work on at the same time. Timing, rhythm, dynamics, ear, memorization, etc. And they are very simple to do. Here are some ideas:
- Tapping your foot while playing scales
- Using a metronome / beat machine while singing
- Singing the notes of the scale while playing them
- Time-drills while working dynamics (soft to loud)
Playing music with friends can help with this. Improve your musicianship, listening abilities, timing, groove – all in one jam. You’ll make faster progress than practicing alone (assuming you’re playing with good musicians!).
What are your specific musical goals?
What environment can you create to improve several skills at once?
5) Set Up Feedback Loops
“You want to be extra rigorous about making the best possible thing you can. Find everything that’s wrong with it and fix it. Seek negative feedback, particularly from friends.” – Elon Musk
Practicing an instrument, like building a product, is goal-oriented. But how do we know if we’re making any progress?
A feedback loop takes input and gives us feedback on it. It is critical for helping us improve.
Many of us simply use our own ears to judge our progress. Sometimes our ears are not completely honest.
You need to set up feedback loops. I’ve set up a few for my musical goals. I have a trusted songwriting partner who tells me when I’m really off the mark. I have a music teacher who listens to my recordings and can pinpoint where I’m going wrong. I also use apps that detect when I’m singing off key.
Are you willing to receive honest feedback on your musical progress?
What tools can you use to set up a feedback loop?
Productivity tricks teach us a bigger lesson about how to get the most out of our lives. Studying successful people is a great way to “stand on the shoulders of giants” and shorten our learning curves.
In summary, focus on the important stuff first. Build a practice routine that can be sustained long enough for you to reach your goal. Have specific goals to reach! Save-time by delegating unnecessary tasks to helpful apps or other musicians. Deliberately practice multiple skills at one time. Chase critical feedback.
And finally, don’t give up. The world is waiting for you to create beautiful music.Rick Belluso is the co-founder and CEO of Ninebuzz Music Tech. He is an award-winning drummer and creator of several top-rated mobile apps. Rick blogs about music practice, songwriting, productivity, audio gear, and more.