Whether you’ve always dreamed of getting behind a drum kit, picking up an acoustic guitar, or — as our beloved Paul Rudd would say — slappa da bass, man, it’s never too late to make your rock star fantasies come true. And with the heat driving people indoors, summertime can be a great time to pick up a new skill. Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t fret. Here are our seven basic tips to learning a new instrument.
1. Choose an instrument, of course. This is a pretty simple step, but choosing the right instrument for you involves finding a balance between your time commitments (realistic) and what your heart really desires (dream big). If your favourite part of any song is the rhythm section, you might want to learn the drums. But if you have very little time to dedicate to it, you might want to start with a simpler instrument, like the ukulele.
2. Get an instrument of your own — but don’t go overboard. Daily practice is crucial. So being able to have your own instrument at home can make a huge difference. However, don’t go overboard and buy a high-end Fender right off the bat. Start with something inexpensive — you would never buy a Mercedes before you had your driver’s license. Also, second-hand markets and online classified sites such as Gulf News’ Get That can be great place for getting a pre-loved piano or guitar, so you can always check there.
3. Practice. Practice. Practice. This might feel like the most clichéd tip when picking up any novel skill, but it’s true. Putting in minutes every day — or practicing three to five days out of a week — is the difference between seeing progress and feeling stuck. Even 30 minutes a day is advisable. But practice can get addictive, and you might find yourself at it for hours. Embrace it like any new hobby.
4. But don’t exhaust your enthusiasm. Learning a new skill is as much physical as it is mental, and overextending yourself is risky. You don’t want to start associating your instrument with negativity. So, if you feel like you’re practicing past the point of exhaustion, or if you’re having a bad day and nothing is working out — breathe. Take a break. Come back to it the next day. Sometimes pushing through the frustration is necessary, but knowing your limits is important, too. A tired brain is not ideal for retaining or recalling information. So try again when you’re feeling fresh.
5. Pick the songs you love. You should always begin with songs that are good for beginners, of course, but a good tip is to forgo those generic recommended songs and instead, find the artists you love and search for their easiest tracks to learn. For instance, if your favourite band is the Black Keys and you’re learning guitar, you might try their song Lonely Boy, as it rotates between the same three chords: E, A and G. You will learn faster if you’re engaging with material you love and that makes you happy.
6. Take lessons or turn YouTube. Even better, do both. There are plenty of tutorials available online and YouTubers whose whole channels are dedicated to teaching you how to play. Plus, guitarists often upload videos where they are playing specific songs with a close-up of their hands to help you learn — so, you could search ‘[song name] on guitar’ and see what comes up. If you have the money and time to go out and learn from a professional, it can be extremely helpful to be around an expert tutor who can correct your mistakes, encourage your progress and answer all your questions in person. Plus, they can help you avoid bad habits and teach you the best practices of the craft.
7. Start a jam group. This is slightly advanced, but once you’re comfortable enough with your instrument, it’s a good idea to form an informal band. If you have any musician friends, or acquaintances who are also learning how to play instruments, a great way to stay motivated is to find a group that will jam with you on a weekly basis. That way, you are working towards something all week, like learning a new song you all agreed to play together. In addition, you will pick up the valuable skill of playing with other musicians.