The 7 Best Ways To Succeed In Music

Everyone would like to know they are on the right path when pursuing something important. The following seven items are the most important things a guitar student can do to stay on the road to success.

1) Practice
This is not new information, but any successful musician will tell you that it is imperative to practice if you want to improve. Hopefully you have a love of music and practicing is a joy. Even if that is true, it is still hard to get started practicing some of the time. When working on dry technical skills, it is easy to lose motivation. Always keep the goal in mind. Whatever skill you are working on, try to think of a song that requires that skill and remind yourself how fun it will be to play that song on a concert. Learn to enjoy the small victories you will have during your practice sessions, and know that they add up over time to make you the performer you want to be.

2) Practice Correctly
You should always be keenly aware of what skills you are practicing, why you are practicing them, and what you are going to do to master them. Make sure you focus intently on each skill, one at a time. It is extremely difficult to develop several skills at once. Usually what happens is that none of the skills make much progress at all and frustration can set in. For example, if you are practicing a brand new song, be sure to practice in steps rather than trying to play the first measure as you imagine performing it in concert. Learn the notes slowly first, without allowing other things to get in the way. Work on other aspects of the song separately . . . later.

3) Be Patient
This goes along with the previous paragraphs, but deserves special attention. I believe that impatience is the source of most musicians’ problems. Often teachers are partly to blame as well. If a student has been struggling with a certain song for a long time, teachers will sometimes just call it done and move on to the next (usually harder) song. If a song is not being learned, the student and teacher must discover why. Sometimes the song is too difficult. If that is the case, they should find a new one that is a step down in difficulty or focuses on different skills. Often, the song is not improving simply because the student is not practicing enough, or not practicing correctly (see above.)

4) Listen to Music All the Time
Listening to great performers builds motivation to get in the practice room. Surrounding yourself with music helps you discover what you are passionate about and gives new ideas about your musical personality. Share ideas with your friends and teacher about what music to listen to for inspiration.

5) Be a Part of Something Social
It is very hard to be motivated in a room by yourself, living like a musical hermit. Get out there and play music with and for others. This is one of the main reasons for this website. We would love for everyone to be submitting videos to share with the community, displaying your creative ideas for musical projects, and discussing each others’ work.

6) Perform Frequently

Find lots of ways to get in front of an audience frequently. If you are only practicing by yourself, it will be difficult when you finally have the chance to play in front of an audience. Try to play a little bit in front of friends and family often so that it becomes natural to do that. It may be hard the first time, but it gets easier and easier over time. Before you know it, you will be comfortable playing for a large audience.

7) Find a Great Teacher(s)
A skilled teacher is vital to a student’s progress. Naturally a student doesn’t have the entire path to musical greatness laid out before him or her because he or she is new to music. A teacher can guide you to the next logical step to work on, observe your playing and diagnose minute technical details that need to be addressed, and help you come up with fun, exciting projects to work on. Ideally, your teacher should help you with all the other items on this list. They can help you get motivated to practice, and instruct you on how to practice correctly. They will help you be patient and enjoy every little improvement that you make. They can also lead you to great music on the instrument you are learning, help you find others who want to play together, and find events to perform at.

These seven items are what I consider to be the most important things to become a successful guitarist. Please feel free to add your thoughts. What do you think is the most important? What have you found to be the best way to motivate yourself? Let the community know!

Why I Decided To Never Play Video Games Again

One of the constant challenges as a music student is to make sure to get enough practicing to keep moving toward your goals. Even those who are truly passionate about music can fall short on practicing for a large variety of reasons. Being busy with other things like homework, jobs, and other worthwhile activities can cut into time you have earmarked for practice. Fatigue, boredom, and frustration can also sap someone’s enthusiasm from time to time. As a private lesson teacher, I deal with these problems frequently with students who have expressed certain goals but are not acting in ways that are likely to lead them to achieve those goals. I could very well follow the advice of Lou Holtz, famed college football coach who said, “Motivation is simple. You eliminate those who are not motivated” and simply kick out the students who aren’t practicing at the expected level. There are many teachers who do exactly this, and I don’t fault them for it at all. However, I would like to help that student discover why their behavior isn’t matching up with their stated goals. It turns out, some of the reasons are actually very easy to understand. So let me tell you a story from my days as a double bass masters degree student.

Among the bass students at the University of North Texas, I had a group of friends that hung out, talked about bass, listened to bass recordings and discussed them, and helped motivate each other to become better. Of course, some of our time together was just having fun away from our collegiate and musical pursuits. At some point, one of my friends bought a Nintendo 64 game console and we started playing various games on occasion. Suddenly we discovered the greatest game the universe had ever produced (or so we thought at the time) GoldenEye 007! Looking back at it now, its laughable how simplistic the game is, compared to what is available today. But we were absolutely hooked. After orchestra rehearsals, we would rush over to the apartment to play in order to clear the next level. It became an obsession. Each of the group of friends were assigned duties, certain levels we had to clear so we could continue on with the storyline of the game. We also played multi-player head to head matches to test our skills against each other. The game was addicting and before I knew it, I was finding myself unprepared for lessons and rehearsals because of lost practice time.

Video games are extremely fun and addicting. It’s now a standard thing to have behavioral scientists consulting on the design of the game in order to make it more addictive. Its very easy to get sucked into a world of sitting in front of a screen while your life goes by with nothing to show for it afterward. To be fair, I certainly do have some fond memories of that time with my friends and that should count at least a little bit as a positive thing in my life. However, I regret the time I lost from practicing and studying, as well as the other activities that we did before that had a more lasting value to us but were still fun and engaging activities.

After we finished all the levels in the game, some of them went on to new games, but others, including me, stopped playing. I decided that I would never play another video game and, some seventeen years later, I haven’t. I know its really easy to fall in love with these games, especially since the ones today are so much better. I don’t even want to know how fun and exciting they are because I’ve got some practicing to do! I value my musical skills and other activities way too much to get hooked into playing a pointless game for hours on end. The same could be said for other activities like watching sitcoms on t.v. or browsing mindlessly on social media sites. I strongly encourage my students to not get hooked on activities like these so they can have achievements in their lives they can be proud of and that lead to future success instead of just some empty entertainment.

Let me know your experience with gaming. Was there a game you got hooked into playing? Are you obsessively playing one even now? How does that affect what you are doing as a music student? Do you think I’m wrong and want to defend a gaming lifestyle? Please let me know!

Can Adults Learn to Play Guitar?

The Reality of Starting to Learn Guitar as an Adult

I have heard and read people claiming that adults struggle when they start learning guitar because children can learn faster and adults can’t learn new things as easily. I disagree with this based on my experiences with teaching both children and adults over the years. However, quite a few of the adults that start learning guitar end up quitting in the first year for many reasons. I want to support anyone who is learning guitar, so I want you to know about, and plan for some of the pitfalls that adult beginners face. Starting to learn guitar as an adult won't be a good choice for everyone, but the following considerations can help you to decide whether to begin and give you a much better chance for success.

Its About the Practice Time!

I believe adults can learn faster than children in general, but that’s not what matters most. It really comes down to practice. A child is often forced to practice regularly by the parents, and as a result they make fairly consistent progress. Parents who spent money on the instrument and lessons expect to see some progress for that hard-earned money. With studio recitals and concerts to prepare for, the student also has lots of short-term goals laid out for them and they practice to prepare for those events. This is not to say that forcing someone to practice is the best way to learn. I believe that having internal motivation and a passion for the art form results in the best outcomes, but just putting in practice time for whatever reason is going to get better results than not practicing.

Adults often don’t hold themselves to the same practicing standard that they demand of children. Even though they are spending their own money, they often let a few days of practicing slide here and there, which then becomes the norm. With too much time between practice sessions, the body doesn’t get the kind of repetitive training at frequent intervals that it needs to start to internalize the subtle motions needed for high quality music performance. Each practice session will feel like starting over again rather than building on the previous practice.

To have a legitimate chance at progressing sufficiently on guitar, you have to commit some time to practicing on a regular basis. If your life is so hectic that you will only be able to practice a little bit every three or four days, I would suggest not starting. Its going to be extremely hard to make progress that you will be happy with. At a bare minimum, you should be practicing every other day for about a half hour. Practicing every day is ideal, but it is often not possible given work and family obligations as well as other important activities you may have. If possible, pick up the instrument and play for even just ten minutes on a busy day to give the muscles that repetitive experience of the motions they need to make.

Understand the Challenge

You also need to have reasonable expectations about your progress so you don’t get upset at how long it is taking. Developing skills on guitar is a very long process because a high level of precision and fine motor control is demanded even for fairly simple music. Understanding that it may take over a year before you are excited to show others what you have learned on the guitar can help you to enjoy the process and not feel like you are a failure or just don’t have the musical ability. This is totally normal. There are no short cuts to developing this sophistication of fine motor skills and if you try to short cut the process, you will actually harm your progress.

On the other hand, if you are practicing daily for an hour and you are taking hour-long lessons with a prestigious teacher, you should progress much faster than this. However, I haven’t found any adult students who have that kind of time and money to dedicate to their hobby, so I’m assuming most of the readers of this article are more like the half-hour-every-other-day type of student. Please keep in mind that the years it may take to build your skills are just an investment that should last a lifetime. Once you have the skill, you can play the instrument for the rest of your life, provided you keep playing and don’t let your instrument collect dust.

Get Started!

If you have the discipline to practice regularly, have reasonable expectations about your progress, and you have fun with the process of learning a great art form, then learning guitar as an adult can be an exciting and rewarding life-long experience. I encourage you to check your schedule to block out practice time, check your budget to get a good quality beginner instrument and good instruction, and get started!

Recommended Products Links

Many beginners and intermediate players have a hard time deciding which products to buy since, being a student, you don't have the experience to know which products will suit your needs.  There are a lot of companies that sell very bad equipment at low prices, and people buy them not knowing that these products will make it harder to learn and grow as a musician.  That $50 violin deal may seem to good to pass up, but it will be far worse for your playing in the long run.

So, I'm assembling a list of the products that I recommend so you can be sure that you are getting something worth what you are paying.  I have used all these products personally and stake my reputation on them being a good deal for you.  If you purchase things from these links, we will get a small payment, but it doesn't cost you anything extra, so by buying you are also helping The String Club to grow!

Make sure you read what I say about the levels (cheap options, upgrades, and high quality options) so you know what to expect.  I always recommend getting as high quality as you can afford, but I also understand the need to keep costs down, especially at the beginning.

The "Cheap Options" for each product is the item that costs the least that will still serve the needs of a beginner level student.  If you have been playing for a couple years, you should not be buying from my cheap recommendations because you will need something better to take you further in your playing.  However beginners can buy from this list and know that the equipment will not break right away or result in a lousy sound that makes it no fun to play.

I will be adding to this list regularly, so check back often.  If you have a recommendation for an item for me to add, please let me know in the Forum.  Just click the "Forum" button above!  Thanks!!

Violin Products

Violins - Cheap Option
Franz Hoffmann Full Size Violin (4/4)
Franz Hoffmann 3/4 Size Violin
Franz Hoffmann 1/2 Size Violin
Franz Hoffmann 1/4 Size Violin
Franz Hoffmann 1/16 Size Violin

Violins - Upgrade Quality
Franz Hoffmann Full Size Maestro Violin (4/4)
Franz Hoffmann 3/4 Maestro Violin
Franz Hoffmann 1/4 Maestro Violin

Violin Cases - Cheap Option
Full Size Violin Case
3/4 Size Violin Case
1/2 Size Violin Case
1/4 Size Violin Case
1/8 Size Violin Case

Rosin for Violin, Viola, and Cello - Cheap Option
D'Addario Dark Rosin

Violin Bows - Cheap Option
Glasser Fiberglass Bow (4/4 Violin)
Glasser Fiberglass Bow (3/4 Violin)
Glasser Fiberglass Bow (1/2 Violin)
Glasser Fiberglass Bow (1/4 Violin)
Glasser Fiberglass Bow  (1/8 Violin)

Shoulder Rests - Cheap Option
Everest 3/4 - 4/4 Violin
Everest 1/2 - 3/4 Violin
Everest 1/4 Violin

Shoulder Rests - High Quality
Wolf Secondo Violin Shoulder rest 3/4 - 4/4
Wolf Secondo Junior Violin 1/4 - 1/2 Size

Strings - Cheap Option
Red Label Violin Full Size (4/4)
Red Label Violin 3/4
Red Label Violin 1/2
Red Label Violin 1/4

Practice Mutes
Violin Practice Mute

StringClub Fingerboard Tapes

Books for Beginners
Essential Elements Violin Book 1

Wall Hanger for Violin
Light Color
Dark Color

Sheet Music for Violin
Lindsey Stirling Violin Playalong (8 Pop Favorites)
Lindsey Stirling "Hits - Violin Playalong"
Lindsey Stirling Phantom of the Opera Medley
Lindsey Stirling Les Miserables Medley

Viola Products

Violas - Cheap Option
Franz Hoffmann 16.5" Viola
Franz Hoffmann 16" Viola
Franz Hoffmann 15.5" Viola
Franz Hoffmann 15" Viola
Franz Hoffmann 14" Viola
Franz Hoffmann 13" Viola
Franz Hoffmann 12" Viola

Viola Bows - Cheap Option
Glasser Fiberglass Bow (4/4 Viola)
Glasser Fiberglass Bow (13'-14" or 3/4 Viola)
Glasser Fiberglass Bow (Junior or 1/2 Viola)

Rosin for Viola - Cheap Option
D'Addario Dark Rosin

Shoulder Rests - Cheap Option
Everest 13" - 14" Viola

Shoulder Rests - High Quality
Wolf Secondo Viola 15" & larger
Wolf Secondo Viola Shoulder rest 13" - 14"

Practice Mutes
Viola Practice Mute

StringClub Fingerboard Tapes

Books for Beginners
Essential Elements Viola Book 1

Wall Hanger for Viola
Light Color
Dark Color

Cello Products

Cello Bows - Cheap Option
Glasser Fiberglass Bow Full Size 4/4 Cello
Glasser Fiberglass Bow Full Size 4/4 Cello
Glasser Fiberglass Bow (3/4 Cello)
Glasser Fiberglass Bow (3/4 Cello)
Glasser Fiberglass Bow (1/4 Cello)

Rosin for Cello - Cheap Option
D'Addario Dark Rosin

Cello End Pin Anchor
Xeros EndPin Anchor for Cello

Practice Mutes
Cello Practice Mute

StringClub Fingerboard Tapes

Books for Beginners
Essential Elements Cello Book 1

Double Bass Products

Bass Bows - Cheap Option
Glasser Fiberglass Bow with French Grip (3/4 Bass)

StringClub Fingerboard Tapes

Pop's Bass Rosin

Bass End Pin Anchor
Xeros Endpin Anchor for Bass

Books for Beginners
Essential Elements Bass Book 1

All Instruments

Music Stands - Cheap Option
Hamilton Folding Wire Stand

Music Stands - High Quality

Jazz Violin Without the Sliding

Here's a video of a Russian (I think) jazz combo with a great violinist. I like his style because he uses the violin much like other jazz instrumentalists and doesn't overdo the vibrato and sliding around that so many jazz violinists do. So often, the violinist in a jazz group sticks out too much due to the excessive sliding that has become an accepted part of the jazz violin sound. Notice how clean and well matched the articulations are among the instruments in this compilation video. Check out the rest of the videos on their channel if you like what you hear!

What Disc Golf Taught Me About Success

First of all, let me express to you how much I hate waking up early. Apparently this is something in my genes, because I’ve always been this way and whenever I try to fight it and get up early, I simply can’t sustain it and revert back to my late night ways. When I was an infant and toddler, my parents called me the “third shift baby” because I wanted to sleep all day and party all night. (Sorry, Mom and Dad!!!) If I don’t set an alarm for myself, I naturally wake up around noon.

I’m writing all this to emphasize how significant a sacrifice it is to me to get up early for something. To be successful at something worthwhile, we have to make sacrifices and changes to our behavior, and I’d like to tell you a story from my life regarding that.

Back in graduate school at The University of North Texas, some friends and I discovered a cheap, fun game that we could play to get away from our music studies for a while and get some exercise outdoors as well. We started playing disc golf at a few nearby parks. Disc golf is a game where you throw a “frisbee” into a metal basket from long distances.

Like many who play regular golf, I became hooked on this game. I found myself practicing my throw often to try to shave a point or two off my score, learning the various ways of getting the disc to curve right or left, and perfecting my putting technique.
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My friends and I played on weekends since we didn’t have time during the busy weekday schedule of lessons, rehearsals, and classes. Soon I i found myself wanting to play a lot more than that. I realized that I couldn’t build my skills consistently just playing a couple times on the weekend. Unfortunately, my schedule didn’t allow games in the afternoons or evenings. I could only play very early in the morning because I had to drive out to the park, play 9 or 18 holes, drive home, shower, and get ready to go to my first class in the morning.

It was only because I really enjoyed the game and realized I needed daily practice to improve that made me willing to make sacrifices I normally wouldn’t do. I woke up excited and energized because I wanted to get out to the course in time. It was shocking to me that I would be so willing to get up early and have that kind of energy. But when you become passionate about something, it can do that for you.

We played for quite a while before losing interest in the game and moving on to other things, but I learned a valuable lesson from the experience. When you are excited about something, you will happily make sacrifices and changes in your life to get to do that activity.

I want violin, viola, cello, or double bass to be that passion for you and The String Club can be a daily part of it. Too often musicians start with a sense of excitement and join the orchestra or start private lessons, but soon lose that initial motivation. Sometimes we have to study music that isn’t fun or exciting to us, and its nearly impossible to keep that fire going to get us up early in the morning. The String Club can help you bring that fire back! We make it easy to learn fun music that you love and share it with others.

I want you to think, “I really want to learn that piece and make a recording I can show to my friends. I won’t be able to get it done unless I wake up early, stay up late, skip that TV show, or skip browsing Facebook posts.” If you have that attitude over a long period of time, you will be successful and become a great performer.

What songs are you excited to play? What pieces would you be really proud to show your friends and family? With a paid account at The String Club, you can learn it by starting slowly, making sure you match the pitch and rhythms accurately and gradually speed up to performance tempo. Please do a search for any music that you are excited about and let me know if you would like me to add something. Make the sacrifice for something you are passionate about and keep that fire alive in you!

Sometimes You Should Stop Thinking

How Playing an Instrument is Like Sports Training

In my lessons, I'm often pointing out to students that some elements of playing an instrument are an artistic pursuit, but others are more like a sport. We need to be creative and in touch with emotion as music performers, but we also need to train our bodies to make incredibly precise motions with incredibly precise timing. There isn't much creativity in the learning process for those skills.

If you have ever been on a sports team, you've certainly done drills over and over that are designed to get the team to react immediately and without thinking when a certain scenario comes up in a game. For instance, in baseball, you may run a drill where there is a runner on 2nd and the batter hits a ground ball to one of the infielders. The coach expects the fielder to field the ball, briefly glance at the runner on 2nd (in order to keep him from running to 3rd) and then make the throw to 1st base for the out. The players have to repeat this procedure dozens or hundreds of times in practice so that when game time comes around (along with the excitement and nerves of a game) and a ball is grounded to them, they will glance at the runner and then make the throw without any thinking whatsoever. It is merely a reaction to a stimulus.

Some may feel that purposely trying to make your athletes not think must be a bad thing. After all, rational thought is what separates humans from mere animals. Its what creates all the incredible innovations around us in civilization. However, thinking is absolutely your worst enemy in some elements of both athletics and music. Assuming that sufficient creative thought has been put into how to play a piece before a performance, there is still a necessity that the specific motions be repeated over and over, hundreds of times, so that when that difficult section comes up in the piece, the performer can react unhesitatingly and merely react without thought.

In our practice time, we need to incorporate plenty of this kind of learning. Some students don’t like doing this work because it isn’t as fun as the expressive part of playing. While I certainly agree, every ambitious musician must become comfortable with repetitive practice to build all the fundamentals or their playing will always be sloppy and imprecise, leading to unsatisfying performances.

So, don’t be surprised if your teacher urges you to do more reacting and less thinking in the learning process. Like an athlete, music performers need to train very precise motions, and that happens best when you don’t think, but instead simply react based on hundreds or thousands of previous repetitions. How can you get motivated to do this kind of practicing? Easy, just find your favorite movie “sports training montage” and get pumped for some technique exercises!!

Cello Ensembles – Fire and Ice

Resolved: Cello ensembles are the most beautiful thing in the world. Do you disagree? Please post video links in the comments to prove me wrong. Here are two pieces of evidence supporting my position:

First the Ice:
You have to wear headphones and turn the volume way up for this.
Cellomania Croata, directed by Valter Dešpalj

Now the Fire:
Luka Šulić plays de Falla Ritual Fire Dance with CELLOMANIA CROATA directed by Valter Dešpalj