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4 Tips to Nail Your New Year's Resolution to Learn A Musical Instrument

1. Don‘t Be a Parrot

You can train a parrot to say “two plus two is four- squawk.” That doesn’t mean the parrot is doing math. In fact that parrot has no idea how to do math at all, even though the equation it spouted was correct.

Everybody knows, Polly only wants a cracker. Developing skills or intelligence is not on the menu.

Mimicry is one tool in the music education tool box, but learning to play music well is not like becoming a trained parrot. It takes critical thought, patience, time, and money. Skilled players don't merely regurgitate memorized patterns. It's more complicated than pushing the right key at the right time- although that may be how we begin.

The "cracker," represents something that is nice to have, but unhelpful in terms of maintaining your goal to learn. Maybe the cracker is instant gratification, to appear smart, or to play that one cool piece. Parrots eventually lose interest, balk at challenges, and find their lessons unfulfilling because they haven’t adopted a useful mind frame.

[In my best Morpheus from the Matrix voice] What if I told you, you could have a cracker and grow as a musician?

Approach lessons with the intention to grow your musical skills and intelligence, and enjoyment of playing over time with practice. Then, you can even have the "cracker" too.

2. Buy A Good Instrument

Purchase the most expensive instrument you can afford within reason. Here’s how you’ll benefit:

  • If you spend real money, you’ll be motivated to stick to your resolution

  • Take advantage of a nice instrument’s Siren call. Alluring visually and pleasing to the ear, great instruments are just more enjoyable to play

  • Expensive instruments have resale value. Many people acquire a crumbling spinet piano with the intention of reselling only to find it costs $250 to have the thing hauled away to the piano graveyard.

  • You’ll only be able to practice the techniques you learn on a good instrument with keys that provide you with necessary sensory feedback. The best instruments allow you to practice using a diversity of sounds needed to interpret a variety music.

3. Make Time for Practice

Make practice part of a daily routine like putting on shoes. We don’t find time to put on shoes before going out the door. We make time. Don’t expect practice to come to you like pizza delivery. You have to go get it.

This part of taking lessons is commonly overlooked- probably because of how hard it is.

If you cannot make time to practice, you don’t have time for lessons.

4. Take A Weekly Lesson

Music is not a language, but there are many similarities. Imagine trying to learn Mandarin, but only listening to the language spoken infrequently. You need to hear the language spoken correctly. Playing with a musician who is ”fluent” is important too. As you learn vocabulary and grammar, the prosody of language becomes extremely complicated. Music literacy is like this.

Your skilled teacher can demonstrate how to inflect music and provide live feedback on your playing. As your skill develops, new issues always arise which will require you to return to your lesson.

Moreover, weekly lessons keep us accountable to a live person and therefore help with motivation to practice.

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