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Musical Proficiency:
You Can Get There
From Here...


With the busy schedules that most of us have, it can be a challenge to find the time to gain proficiency on a musical instrument. It can be done, but you have to make the time to do it.

Iíve spent most of my adult life trying to balance family, work, and other commitments to try and gain proficiency on an instrument (in my case; the banjo). Although my kids are now grown and in spite of the fact that I have a very understanding wife, I find that I am still faced with the same obstacle in becoming a better banjo player: me.

In hopes of keeping myself moving forward, here are a few things I keep in mind whenever I get lazy or feel Iím in a musical rut. Iíd like to share them with you...

Turn off the T.V. and pick up your instrument

This is a big step most of us can take in creating more time to spend playing music. Donít get me wrong: I l-o-v-e T.V., but it can become a time-vacuum. If you donít practice you donít improve; itís that simple. Most of the accomplished musicians I know canít wait to pick up their instrument; itís the highlight of their day. (Why do you think they call it "playing"?)

Play music with other people as much as possible

Nothing lets you know how proficient you are and where you need to improve like playing with other musicians in a group or in a jam, especially if the other musicians are better than you. If they are, try not to get discouraged; get inspired to play more like them (or maybe even better than them).

LISTEN to recorded music

You can buy CDs, you can download, you can listen to www.bluegrasscountry.org (if youíre into bluegrass), and so on, but keep listening! Recording artists are creating phenomenal music; donít miss out. Oh yeah, be sure to listen to "classic" recordings too. They let you know when the music came from. Listen and learn to pick out the "good stuff" and try to figure out why it sounds so good.

Attend live music performances

Easy to do: get off yer duff and go to a concert, club, or an event that features live music. It doesnít even have to be the kind of music that constitutes your primary musical interest. Good music is good music, and good musicianship transcends genre. (Yeah, I know you may have to stay up late to go listen to live music in a club, but what the heck--support the arts!)

Buy a good instrument

Having a good sounding instrument with the volume, tone, playability, and quality that makes you want to pick it up will inspire you to play more often. It will help you to produce the sounds you "hear in your head". (Donít know what that means? You may need to buy a good instrumentÖ)

Take lessons

Good teachers may be hard to find, but theyíre worth the effort. They can help you get to the next level of musicianship and clear hurdles or obstacles that might be hindering your progress. If you arenít inclined to or canít take regular lessons; even an occasional lesson can be enough to keep you moving in the right direction.

Sometimes getting advice and constructive feedback from an accomplished musician who may not play your instrument--but knows what it's supposed to sound like--can be a big help in the manner in which your playing interacts with that of other musicians.

If you canít find a teacher, or if you arenít interested in taking lessons, there are many incredible DVDs, CDs, and books available today that can help you with just about any instrument in any genre of music.

Does this sound like it's going to cost you money and time? You bet, but every good musician I know has spent that money and time because it was important to their musical development. In other words, their enjoyment in creating the music was worth more to them than the money and time being spent.

I hope that the information that Iíve outlined here will help someone along their musical journey; keep playing and keep supporting live music!

Paul Sato


Paul Sato plays banjo in all kinds of places with all kinds of folks. Click here to see the next installment of his series on musical proficiency.

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