5 Signs You're Practicing Too Hard...

Courtesy of Anthony Cerullo... 

Everyone's heard  that old saying, "practice makes perfect," but too much practice will more often than not result in a decrease in your musical performance rather than any significant increase...

Ever heard of the saying "too much of a good thing"? Despite how much you enjoy eating chicken wings, relaxing in the sun, or even drinking water, doing any of those activities too much is unhealthy.

You're probably thinking that's different for practice. Practice won't cause you to gain weight, get a sunburn, or overdose on H2O. While that's true, overworking yourself is still is not healthy.

If you have ever felt irritable, tired, or unmotivated before playing music, you may have fallen victim to burnout syndrome. By taking part in repeated, high-intensity practice, you wear yourself out both mentally and physically. It may seem that practice makes perfect, but too much of it will actually lead to a decrease in overall performance.

Don't ignore the signs of burnout. It's easy to get caught up in the daily grind of practicing, playing gigs, and networking. Add the other aspects of life on top of that, and one can see why burnout is so common among musicians.

To help you spot these symptoms before they completely wear you down, here are five signs that you're practicing too hard...

1. You're feeling down
You love music. You've chosen to make a career out of it. Yet, lately, you aren't looking forward to the activities that once brought you joy. Practicing has become an intensifying battle with motivation, and just the thought of it surrounds you in a cloud of melancholy.

Perhaps your friends and family pick up on this and attempt to console you. Of course, you respond in an apathetic and snarky manner for reasons you're unsure of. Feelings of depression like this stem from a variety of sources, but if you can't figure it out, this negative demeanor could be a sign that you're pushing yourself too hard. Ease up on the practice intensity and see if you notice a change in mood.

2. It feels like you're trying harder than normal
Another sign of over-practice has to do with effort. You may think that trying hard is a good quality, and in one way, it is. That being said, if playing seems like a more difficult task than normal, that's a symptom of overworking yourself.

If this feeling just occurs once, it's not anything to worry about, but if it continues over a sustained period of time, you should ease up. In the words of Aldous Huxley, "It's dark because you are trying too hard.... Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them."

3. You're slow to bounce back
Usually, you're a machine of recovery. Perhaps you played poorly at last night's gig and you were feeling down about it. That's perfectly reasonable, but come morning, you're back in high spirits and ready to take on the next gig.

But nowadays, those feelings of depression linger further and further into the next day. You mentally beat yourself up as your brain fills with negative feelings of regret. Trying to suppress them only gets harder, and soon enough, you're hardly thinking about music at all.

You also may find yourself slow to bounce back physically. Perhaps it used to take just a night to recover from sore muscles or feeling lethargic. But now, you can't seem to freshen up from one day to the next.

From an athletic standpoint, the treatment for overtraining is rest. The longer and harder you push yourself, the more difficult it will be to recover. It's no coincidence that your body is responding the way it is to over-practice. Slow healing is a dead giveaway of burnout, and you need to cut back.

4. Quality of music declines
This particular symptom often goes unnoticed. After all, if you're not playing as well, it must mean you need to practice even more, right? It's easy to see why that would be a good solution, but it's quite the contrary.

A large side effect of burnout is stress. As exemplified by the stress response curve, as stress becomes overwhelming and excessive, performance starts to decline.

In small doses, stress can be a healthy and motivating factor. In fact, performance quality rises with stress until you reach a tipping point. It's this tipping point that you should really worry about. Of course, you should push yourself in life and practice, but keep it under control. It's all too easy for stress to get out of hand, and your playing will eventually suffer from it.

As a result of that, your already sour mood will not be helped by the fact that you're playing poorly. It's a dangerous effect that can set off more negative events. Just as someone in a marathon wouldn't dare sprint the whole way, you, too, need to pace yourself in practice to keep your quality consistent.

5. Coping mechanisms
Keeping on top of a strict practice regimen can be stressful. As a result of the stress, people develop coping mechanisms to get through the process.

Now, coping mechanisms are completely normal when dealing with stress, but some are more helpful than others. If you find yourself drinking more alcohol than usual, smoking more cigarettes, taking drugs, or generally just acting out to "help" you get through practice, then that's simply not healthy.

Practice is supposed to be hard work, but if you end up hating it so much that you need to turn to self-destructive ways to get through it, practice becomes counterproductive.

As long as you're a musician, practice will be there waiting for you. If you're feeling burnt out, then it's better to take a break and rest up. If that's not an option, try a number of positive coping mechanisms instead. Perhaps just a good walk, a relaxing bath, or a night out with friends is all you need to reinstate your motivation. From there, you can hit the practice room with more patience and enjoyment.

3 'Bonus Tip's' for better practice:
- When feeling practice burnt-out, Spend Less Time Practicing Your Instrument

- Create a comfortable yet Productive Practice Space

- Get the Most Out of Your Band Rehearsal by limiting it to 3 Hours (or Less)

Anthony Cerullo is a nomadic freelance writer and keyboard player. In his spare time, he can be found reading, hiking mountains, and lying in hammocks for extended periods of time.

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VIDEO: How Playing an Instrument Benefits Our State and Mind...

Courtesy of TED-ed... 

Even though many people listen and perform to music to relax, the brain is doing a lot of work to break apart and understand the music before putting it all together again. 

Humans love music, especially when there’s repetition that catches the attention. Brain scans of people listening to music show many different parts of the brain firing at once, but that’s nothing compared to what’s going on inside the brains of musicians themselves.

Playing music is the brain’s equivalent of a full body workout,” says educator Anita Collins in a TED-Ed video on how playing music benefits the brain.

Playing music requires the visual, auditory, and motor cortices all at once and since fine motor skills require both hemispheres of the brain, the act of playing music may strengthen the bridge between the two sides. In studies comparing playing music to other activities, including other forms of art, playing an instrument is uniquely powerful for the brain.

Watch the video to learn all about the benefits of learning to play an instrument.


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IMPROVISATION: Developing Patterns (Rock, Pop, Blues, Jazz)

GuitarBlog: IMPROVISATION: Developing Patterns (Rock, Pop, Blues, Jazz)...

Improvisation across different styles can be a difficult task. However, when small scale segments are used with different scale types, more than one style of music can be covered successfully...  

This episode of the GuitarBlog works through several scale types applied using small neck patterns for easier scale development. These scale-chunks, (referred to in the lesson as, "Developing Patterns"), are used to outline the scale in a fingerboard region. Then licks are constructed within those areas that will stylistically lean toward a particular musical genre.

PART ONE: In the first section, we look into scale segments used as developing patterns for, Rock and Pop music. The scales of Natural Minor and Mixolydian mode are applied. 

PART TWO: In the second half of the lesson, (available with the lesson handout in the members area), we incorporate Blues Scale and the Major Scale for use in the styles of Blues and traditional Jazz. Enjoy the lesson!

Developing Patterns (Rock, Pop, Blues, Jazz)

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Songwriting Wisdom from Ten Great Musicians...

Courtesy of Max Monahan... 

Historical progression comes from taking what has been learned from the greats... and building from there... 

Check out these bits of wisdom from 10 songwriting giants.

1. Bob Dylan
“It is only natural to pattern yourself after someone. If I wanted to be a painter, I might think about trying to be like Van Gogh, or if I was an actor, act like Laurence Olivier. If I was an architect, there’s Frank Gehry. But you can’t just copy someone. If you like someone’s work, the important thing is to be exposed to everything that person has been exposed to. Anyone who wants to be a songwriter should listen to as much folk music as they can, study the form and structure of stuff that has been around for 100 years.”

2. David Bowie
“You write down a paragraph or two describing several different subjects creating a kind of story ingredients list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four- or five-word sections; mix ’em up and reconnect them. You can get some pretty interesting idea combinations like this. You can use them as is or, if you have a craven need to not lose control, bounce off these ideas and write whole new sections.”

3. Charles Mingus
“Making the simple complicated is commonplace. Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

4. Sam Beam (Iron and Wine)
“Do I start with the lyrics? No. Quite honestly, it’s the opposite. I generally get the melody first – I kinda fiddle around on the guitar and work out a melody. The lyrics are there to flesh out the tone of the music. I’ve tried before to do things the other way around, but it never seems to work. Obviously, I spend a lot of time on my lyrics, I take them very seriously, but they’re kinda secondary. Well, equal, maybe. I think sometimes that if you write a poem, it should remain as just a poem, just words.”

5. John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival)
“I got this cheap little empty plastic notebook at my local drugstore, and bought a little slab of filler paper and the very first title I wrote in it was 'Proud Mary.' I had no idea what that title meant. I work hard at that, but the fact that there are a lot of good songs means there are also a lot of really bad songs I’ve written that you never hear.”

6. Alicia Keys
“For me, writing comes directly from a specific source. Like something that just happened to me, a conversation, a strong emotion, a line in a book, a word…. Usually I seize that exact moment to write down what I felt, even if it makes no sense or it doesn’t rhyme…. Or I will call my [voicemail] and leave myself a message if I have no pen, or only a melody.

"Later, when I have time alone, I like to sit quietly, most times at my piano…and I revisit what I felt. I allow myself to say everything that my heart feels about it with no judgment, [until] I get all I need out… and I feel the spirit in the song. Then I begin to arrange it, or share it, or get feedback. The most important thing for me when I write is that I properly express that emotion that struck me so deeply.”

7. Tom Waits
“For a songwriter, you don’t really go to songwriting school; you learn by listening to tunes. And you try to understand them and take them apart and see what they’re made of, and wonder if you can make one, too.”

8. John Legend
“I have a structured songwriting process. I start with the music and try to come up with musical ideas, then the melody, then the hook, and the lyrics come last. Some people start with the lyrics first because they know what they want to talk about and they just write a whole bunch of lyrical ideas, but for me, the music tells me what to talk about.”

9. Jimi Hendrix
“Imagination is the key to my lyrics. The rest is painted with a little science fiction.”

10. Prince
“Attention to detail makes the difference between a good song and a great song. And I meticulously try to put the right sound in the right place, even sounds that you would only notice if I left them out. Sometimes I hear a melody in my head, and it seems like the first color in a painting. And then you can build the rest of the song with other added sounds.

You just have to try to be with that first color, like a baby yearns to come to its parents. That’s why creating music is really like giving birth. Music is like the universe: The sounds are like the planets, the air and the light fitting together."

Max Monahan is a bassist and a writer living in Los Angeles. He spends his time working for an audio licensing website and shredding sweet bass riffs.

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Can Drugs Help You Be a Better Musician?


Can Drugs Help You Be a Better Musician?

Whether it's amphetamines or smoking pot, a lot of musicians have chosen a "favorite drug of choice" to flood their brain with dopamine...

It's all in an attempt to increase feelings in some way; energy, focus, create a euphoria, or for just getting a sense of being "more" than who they feel or believe they are. 

This week on the, "Guitar Blog Insider," we're going to discuss whether doing drugs will help you with your musical ability and creativity.

Can Drugs Help You Be a Better Musician?

How to Challenge Your Guitar Style...

Courtesy of Casey van Wensem... 

Finding your sound can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing...

Whether you’re a singer, an instrumentalist, a producer, or an engineer, chances are you’ve spent a lot of time trying to “find your sound.”

Having your own signature sound can help you define yourself as an artist, but it can also make you feel trapped.

Do you really want to spend the rest of your career being known as “that alt-country band” or “that singer/songwriter with the ukulele?” 

If you want to keep pushing the boundaries as an artist, (and don’t want to be defined by simple genre descriptions for the rest of your career), then sometimes knowing how to lose your sound is just as important as knowing how to find it.

So if you don’t want to become a musical one-trick pony, here are some methods you can use to “lose your sound.”

Collaborate with as many people as possible
In the world of contemporary classical music, there is no composer with a more easily recognizable style than Philip Glass. Perhaps that’s why he’s spent so much time trying to redefine himself. “Getting [your] voice isn’t hard,” Glass told NPR, “it’s getting rid of the darn thing [that’s hard], because once you’ve got the voice then you’re stuck with it.”

Not wanting to be defined by a single style, Glass has found a simple formula that helps him whenever he needs to push his boundaries: collaborate with as many people as possible.

“The only hope of shaking free of your own description of music [is] to place yourself in such an untenable position that you [have] to figure out something new,” he said. “That means constantly finding new people to work with.”

These frequent collaborations have helped move him away from the trademark brand of minimalism he developed in the 1960s and '70s to the more eclectic style that he’s well known for today.

Create limitations for yourself
It’s the definition of insanity to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results, but that’s exactly what songwriters do all the time. If you start every song by strumming some chords on your guitar, then a lot of your songs will end up sounding pretty similar. Sometimes, simply switching up your songwriting routine can be enough to set you off in a new musical direction.

Instead of humming a melody first, start by writing down lyrics; instead of starting with a guitar riff, start with a drum beat instead. 

If that’s not enough to help you stir up new ideas, then you may have to limit yourself even further. Maybe there are certain chord progressions that you always turn to that you need to ban from your tool kit, or maybe there are certain lyrical themes you need to swear off of for a while.

As the great composer Igor Stravinsky said: “My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self of the chains that shackle the spirit.”

Listen better than you play
Guitarist Bill Frisell may have a recognizable sound to those who know his work, but he’s also known for the extreme diversity and flexibility of his playing style.

Frisell seems just as comfortable playing jazz standards as he does playing American roots music, Malian folk tunes, or Brazilian bossa novas. This relentless eclecticism is perhaps due to the fact that Frisell has never actually found his own sound, at least not according to his own description.

When asked about his musical voice for his “Solos” project in 2010, he said, “I’m not even sure if I know if I have [my own voice] or not.” That’s because his ears are always ahead of his fingers. “Every time I pick up the instrument it’s a struggle to try to get the sound [I want]…. I’m always hearing something just a little bit beyond my grasp. So there’s always this struggle going on.”

This struggle is what keeps Frisell learning, and by constantly learning, he has managed to keep his sound fresh after more than 40 years of playing music. Likewise, if you can learn to be a better listener than performer, your playing style will naturally continue to change as you consistently strive to close the gap between what you hear and what you play.

The artists mentioned above aren’t the only ones who have sought to constantly redefine their sound. From Miles Davis to Bob Dylan to Radiohead to Kanye West, many great artists have gone through a constant cycle of finding their sound and then losing it again, and this cycle has contributed to long and successful careers in the music industry. So if you feel like you’ve finally found your own unique sound, perhaps the best thing you can do for your music career is to lose it and find a new one.

Casey van Wensem is a freelance composer, musician, and writer living in Kelowna, B.C., Canada

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5 Ways to Jumpstart Musical Creativity...

Courtesy of Hugh McIntyre... 

Creating music is difficult, and nobody said that it was going to be easy... 

If you want to be a musician you need to learn to play an instrument, and that means practice every day, and on top of that, you’re expected to share your innermost feelings and emotions, and doing so eloquently is nothing short of a daunting task.In fact the whole idea of being a musician is a daunting task...

Sometimes it’s not just the beauty that isn’t immediate, it’s anything. Everybody hits snags when they’re involved in something creative, and music is notorious for catching people in spells of indecision, doubt, and pure nothingness.

If you’re having a hard time getting over the blank space in your mind, here are a few tips that can help get the ball rolling.

1. Just start
The hardest part sometimes can be just getting started, so one of the best pieces of advice I can offer is, well... just get started. I know that sounds like a very "not-helpful" comment, but it actually can be the best way to kick things off.

Putting pen to paper can help get your creative juices flowing, and though it may take a while, you need to keep at it, and eventually you’ll see your words start improving, and true themes and ideas may come to life.

It can be the most helpful if you start out with some really vague ideas, words, or even a line or two you’ve had laying around that sound like they might be useful, but this tip can be applied to almost any time when the lyrics or music just aren’t coming. You may find that what you first come up with is completely terrible, or perhaps it doesn’t even make sense, but that's all part of being creative.

2. Forget perfection
Many songwriters have a hard time not being critical of their own work, and that’s usually a good thing. What artist wants to spend time creating something that, in the end, isn’t actually all that good? I’d never suggest that a musician write terrible music and share it, but making bad things is a great way to eventually make good things. You need to stumble, fall, and completely mess up in order to find out how to create truly wonderful tunes.

Your music will never be “perfect,” but it should be the best it can be for you – though, that’s not something you should concern yourself with at all times. If you’re having an especially difficult time working out the words or melodies of a song, try to get something down and finish it. The track doesn't need to be finalized just yet; that can come later.

Editing is important, but before that, you need to have an actual song to rework, so forget about getting it exactly right the first time and just get it done. I'm not a songwriter, but this practice has helped me when trying to get through phrasing and wording on tough articles, and I’ve heard it works well for almost anything involving writing.

3. Get moving
Sitting in the same spot isn’t a great way to feel energized and excited about writing something, so why would you do it? To get things flowing, try doing almost anything physical, be it walking around, a few exercises, or even just changing where you’re sitting. Go to a coffee shop, stand up, lay upside down, or drive around.

It doesn't matter what works for you, or even if you aren’t sure what that is just yet. Trying things is the only way to figure that out, and none of these options will hurt your writing, that’s for sure.

4. Try something new
Seeing that you’re a musician, you probably already listen to a lot of music. That’s great, as it likely inspires you, and there are influences of some of your favorite artists, songs, and albums in your own music. If you're finding it difficult to craft that next tune, try playing something completely different from what you're used to and letting it soak in.

If you’re a rock guy, turn on some hip-hop. Working on a pop song? Think about electronic melodies. Sample styles of music only popular in remote parts of the world, and try to hear what makes them so special. Again, even if this tip doesn’t come in handy at the moment, you won’t be hurt by exposing yourself to new music, and you never know when something will pop up later on in your songwriting endeavors.

5. Avoid distractions
It’s tough in our increasingly connected world, but sometimes you just need to turn everything off and focus on one thing. Yes, that’s right, I said focus on one thing. If you're trying to write a song while the TV is on, you’re answering emails, and you’re browsing Twitter on your phone, you aren’t giving your art the attention it deserves.

Even if you’re not actively doing all of these things (or the million other distractions available to you at all times), you should put away your devices, turn off your internet, or remove yourself from certain locations. Do whatever it takes to ensure that you are 100 percent focused on the blank page in front of you.

Hugh McIntyre is a freelance pop music journalist in NYC by way of Boston. He has written for Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, and MTV, as well as various magazines and blogs around the world. He is also the founder and editor-in-chief of the blog Pop! Bang! Boom! which is dedicated to the genre of pop in all of its glory.

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