Musicianship is not something that can be measured. Sure it means you can play your instrument well but in no way means you are a musician. A musician is someone who can not only play, but someone who can understand, write, perform, and feel music. Musicians also can play with other musicians due to their knowledge and ability. A musician must be well-rounded in every aspect of music.
But before we even think of great, how about we stop for a second and think why we need to upgrade our craftmanship and musical abilities – because quite frankly, there’s no such thing as being great or even perfect if you intend to remain Humble about it. now is it?.
Humble has alot to do with it you know (according to Ross) and why would you even consider the thought “to become a better musician?”. Is there anything wrong with your performances? Is there room for improvement? Is there something lacking in your musicality or have you come to a dead end with no room to improve?. Something is missing if you dont feel right.
I have followed Multi Award Winning Composer, Pianist and Music Producer Ross Ariffin for the last two decades and I have indeed been privileged to learn about his work ethics and mindset when it comes to lets say the piano or if youre that kinda posh old school boy, “Pianoforte“. I’ve studied in the United Kingdom myself but a different reason and in now way do I consider myself anything special, but when it comes to this man’s amazing command of his piano skills, piano mindset and thinking – then wow, he is indeed a cut above many! And I mean many!!!
And he tells me that ” he’s still learning.”?????? Actually, this is article isnt about him per say but more on what he thinks should be shared. His personal viewpoint who wants to find out how to improve their current state of musicianship and the pertinent points at which to focus on. The journey towards improving and upgrading ones craftmanship and musicianship is an ongoing journey, a learning curve – across the “board” so to speak and if this article or rather what he has shared helps you in any way, “then it’s been bloody well worth it” as Ross would say.
Some of the issues he shared with me are listed below and he said there are possibly other ways and other issues that apply to becoming a better musician whether youre a classical pianist, vocalist, composer, conductor or a jazz performer. These are his personal thoughts and things he has over 45 years learnt not only from his professors, from piano to violin to orchestration to conducting which he still applies in his journey to become a better musician, but from his Life experience. How about you all?
1. Know what to practice
A lot of time is wasted practicing things that you’ve either practiced already a million times or that you simply don’t need to practice. It’s easy to sit down and play the things you’re really good at because they make you sound good. If you want to improve though, it makes more sense to figure out your weaknesses and work on those. Another good idea is to practice difficult parts of some of your upcoming gigs. This will ensure that you practice relevant stuff.
2. Stop practicing
Yes, you’ve heard right. Stop practicing for a while. When you stop practicing for a while, you tend to “forget” those automatic licks we keep playing over and over again. Once you get back to practicing, you’ll have to work up new material which ads to your vocabulary and helps you develop your own sound.
3. Listen to what’s going on around you
Most music is played in a group. In order to be sensitive to the music around you so that you can respond to it, adjust your own playing to it, or be inspired by it, you have to ‘hear’ it. This can only happen if you shift your focus away from your own playing and make a conscious effort to listen to everyone else as you’re playing. I suggest you focus on a different instrument for a couple of bars as you’re playing with your band, ensemble or orchestra. Keep working at it until you can focus on two or more instruments at a time.
4. Put your ego aside – Accept criticism – Learn from your mistakes
Putting your ego aside will help you in more ways than one. For starters, musicians will enjoy working with you which is really important if you want repeat gigs. Letting go of your ego will let you accept criticism, even from musicians that you might consider less experienced. The latter may have learned a lesson that you haven’t yet learned. Also, rehearsal times can be cut dramatically if no egos get in the way of effective work.
5. Strive to be a complete musician
The more one knows about music, the more fun it is. And there is always something to learn about music. It would take you several lifetimes to get to know it all. There’s ear training, technique, sound, history, analysis, harmony, arranging, composition…The list is never ending. Knowledge gained in any area of music will make you a better musician.
7. Don’t assume that your education taught you everything you need to know
In other words, don’t underestimate experience. What works in a classroom with your teacher present may be very different from what works on the bandstand when you’re on your own. When you encounter a difficulty, don’t reply: “Well, that’s what my teacher taught me” but rather “I’m not familiar with this, can you help me out”. Remember that even the most prestigious college degree won’t get you any gigs if you can’t play.
8. Pick your schools/teachers carefully – sometimes it aint easy
It’s hard for beginners to know where to look for the right teachers and/or schools, but it’s less difficult for musicians that are already moderately advanced. For the latter, I would suggest to identify exactly what it is that they would like to learn and ask around amongst your musician friends who would be best suited to teach you this very thing. Often, you’ll see that you won’t have to pay for a $******K-a-year education, where you’ll learn a lot of things you may not be interested in, when you could go get private lessons with a top notch player for a fraction of the amount of money and time.
9. Set yourself challenges to combat monotony
A lot of gigs are very repetitive. While the show you’re playing may have been a challenge at first, it can quickly become easy and monotonous. This presents a big danger to let your performance slip. One way to combat this very problem would be to set yourself personal challenges. I used to set myself the challenge of adding one small musical variation to what was written on the page, provided it fit in perfectly and the music benefitted from it (This works only if the style of music allows for creative variations). Or I would particularly focus on rhythmic precision. You may pay particular attention to intonation or stylistics. There are many ways to set yourself challenges to keep you on your toes. Try it.
10. Enjoy your gigs, performances
You may ask how this could possibly make you a better musician? Well, if you enjoy your gigs, you may feel a lot more comfortable with the situation you’re in and hence you may be inclined to go the extra mile to play extra well, to prepare better, to do extra research or to help out other musicians (which will make your band sound better). Also, a musician that enjoys himself on stage will help get the music across to the audience, which will result in a more enjoyable experience for the listeners, whose feedback will eventually come back to you, which in return may lead to more gigs/performances.
There are a few other basic elements that a musician should consider, always Ross said and they will always be:
Learn music theory or Improve on it. Music theory can change the way you write/play music. It opens up your mind to all the different possibilities and options you have. Music theory is also universal, most musicians should know it. It will make things easier to explain. For example telling someone to play a C major chord is easier than telling them where to put each finger.
Improve your rhythm. Keeping time is very important whether your playing with other people, or playing by yourself. Having bad rhythm will make the piece of music sound bad even if you are playing the right notes. You don’t have to be metronomic, but as long as you can keep a tempo without speeding up or slowing down that’s OK.
Play with other people. Playing with other people will force you to stay on time. It will also give you experience and make you more confident in your abilities. And above all playing with other people is a lot more fun then playing by yourself. Joining a band will also be very beneficial.
Learn more than one instrument. This will help broaden your horizons. If a guitar player was to start playing bass guitar, the guitarist would then start to realize the role of bass guitar. So the next time the guitarist has to write a bassline, the guitarist will have a better understanding of how to write a more effective one, for example.
Perform, whatever it is. Performing requires you to know the music that you are playing inside out in the event that something goes wrong. Most performances require you to memorize your pieces. Having a good memory will benefit you because you always know what to play. It will also allow you to have more confidence in your talents and music.
Be expressive. It’s one thing to learn the notes and rhythm, but it’s another to express the music. This is probably the hardest thing to do, because expression is different for everyone. Try picking a slow song; they tend to have a lot of hidden meaning within the notes. After you get used to slow songs, try faster ones; they’re a little harder because you need good speed, timing, and accurate articulation. But remember, too much expression will make you sound a little corny.
“Feel what you Play and Play what you Feel” – Ross Ariffin
I wont say anymore about this great musician (well, as far as I am concerned!!) and he has pretty much covered everything he wanted to cover. Ross did say on our parting that
” These thoughts of mine may NOT be the only ones “in the market” so to speak as some would think of others theyve been applying, so its an open field no matter what, but these are what I have learnt during the four decades of playing, composing, singing and performing in recording studios, onstage, in live shows whether it be classical, pop, jazz or as a violinist in a orchestra… around the world”
As Ross would calmly say ” Take it as you will” as it is an “Honest appraisal of what its all about“.
“What do you all think?” (At this precise moment I can’t coz my hands hurt from writing all this!!)
Let me leave you all with this – an “on the spot” improvisation by Ross Ariffin himself some weeks back. When I say “on the spot” it was “ad-hoc” and I find it amazing quite frankly!!! How does this bugger do it????