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Don’t Get Stuck Playing Boring Music Exercises

March 19, 2024

It was February someteenth, Nineteen-Ninety-something.

I was 13 years old, hanging out at my friend Travis’ house. He brought out his guitar. I asked him to show me something. He taught me Nirvana’s Come As You Are and my life was forever changed.

I was playing a real song Day 1!

I decided right then and there that I was going to become a professional musician.

I started learning as many songs as I could. I began writing music based on the songs I was learning. I eventually began learning music theory and proper technique so I could play at a higher level and enjoy playing music even more. Eventually, I started getting paid for performing and teaching music and still love both to this day.

And it all started with playing someone else’s songs.

However, I once had a teacher/business mentor who convinced me (and many others) that we educators should not be teaching songs at all. We should only focus on teaching concepts and techniques.


Fortunately, I quickly realized his entire teaching philosophy was flawed.

While I agree with the importance of teaching technique and concepts, it’s meaningless without the single most important thing most students should be focused on from the start: learning to play actual music.

Here’s an example: a new student arrives for their first lesson with us (kid or adult) and says they love the song Seven Nation Army. We can begin to help them learn a simplified version of this song right away on their instrument of choice.

Will they be great at it?

No.

But who cares?

They are already having fun as they begin to eek out a few notes of a song they love, which will inspire them to keep playing.

🚫 However, if instead we tell the student, “Before you can even think about learning this song, you need to understand proper picking technique, fret-hand muting, correct fingerings/hand positions, and the music theory behind why this song works,” that student will likely give up before they even get started 🚫

They don’t want to start learning this song in 6-12 months. They want to play it now!

And while becoming a great musician takes a lot of time and a whole heck of a lot of effort, beginning to play your favorite riffs, melodies, and songs can (and should) begin Day 1 🎯

I do not know a single great musician that only practiced exercises, note reading, and theory for months on end without learning a single song in the beginning.

Even if your playing is not great, your technique is not ironed out, and you have no idea why this song is in the key of E minor, you are experiencing the joy of playing music.

The whole point of playing an instrument is to make music.

So let’s make some music!

And let’s have fun with it. 😀 We don’t want to get lost in the weeds of proper form at the expense of losing our love for playing music.

It’s both/and. Start working on a song you love today. Let it sound bad… for now.

And let’s work on a few exercises and fundamentals along the way.

I know one thing for sure: if I hadn’t learned Nirvana’s Come As You Are that pivotal day 25 years ago, I wouldn’t have hung in there long enough to go to music school, play in a band, or start a music school where we help students become great musicians themselves every day.

So come as you are 😉

Do your best. Have fun with it. Don’t be too hard on yourself. And we’ll be right there alongside you every step of the way here at Fort Worth Music Academy.

EPILOGUE
Quick sports analogy: soccer ⚽️

When my kids each joined a soccer team, they had a single practice before their very first game.

And at that first practice, guess what they did near the end? A soccer scrimmage!

They spent about half the practice running drills, learning the fundamentals. Then, on Day 1, THEY DID THE THING. They played soccer.

And they were bad at it.

But they didn’t spend months and months running drills before their first match. Their coach (sometimes me) knew that the single best way for these players to improve was to actually play the game.

That’s how they improved most quickly while still having fun in the process.

You see where I’m going with this.

Music students starting at any age will need to learn some basics in their first lesson. But they must also start playing real music as soon as possible.

That means their first day.

And guess what?

As they improve, they will need to continue to learn increasingly difficult pieces of music. But they are still learning real music and/or creating their own music forever.

Soccer players never stop playing the game. They just progress to higher levels of skill and more advanced opponents.

I’ve been a musician for 25 years and still challenge myself with new pieces of music. I still like running a few warm-up exercises and drills, but mostly any new technique I need to develop I take from an existing piece of music. I turn real-world music into exercises I can practice.

And then I play as many live shows as possible, write and record as many of my own songs as I can, and share that music with the world.

When you’re a student with us at Fort Worth Music Academy, exercises are only a means to the end: we want you to make as much actual music as possible.

Because that’s where the true joy of playing is found. Making music 😉

New to Fort Worth Music Academy? Schedule your trial lesson today and see if us working together is right for you!


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