How To Not Suck When Starting Out In Music

Piano Playing
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So you want to play music and even do some home producing, huh? Are you sure? You know that making music yields no money for most artists, right? Are you ready for a life of poverty that might or might not lead to gigs at dingy bars? Really?

Well, you’re still here, so we’ll give you some pointers to get you started. Forget about “Big Pimpin’” yacht parties and wearing clothes you laughed at when you were broke; you have to get your skills down before thinking about anything close to the big time.

1. Spend a little dough on equipment

As you’ll quickly realize, music’s not a cheap hobby, from buying equipment to going all-in with a DAW. Spend time researching items you’ll need, and try them out at a music shop before you commit. A combination of local Guitar Centers, Sam Ashes and mom-and-pop shops probably have what you need on display.

Online customer reviews and other secondhand accounts are helpful, but if you don’t feel comfortable with whatever you’re using, you’re only playing yourself.

2. Seriously, get lessons

Let’s move right along with the theme of music running your wallet dry. Lessons are expensive but essential towards your development, even if you can play by ear. You’ll develop sound fundamentals, such as sight-reading and improvisation, much faster than you would teaching yourself.

Lessons, especially piano lessons, even help in understanding sample-based music like rap, house or whatever else you kids like these days. Comprehension of melodies and chord progression add to your ability to sequence and make your own songs from scratch.

3. Practice as much as you can

Newcomers think learning musicianship or songwriting is a quick, painless process, but–unless you’re naturally inclined–it WILL be filled with frustration. Regular practice (ideally every day) is necessary to improve; if you’re serious about it, you’ll get out of the awkward phase much sooner. Eventually you’ll spend less time guessing which notes or chords to play…and more time being creative and having fun.

Get your fundamentals down before you start producing, then try to make a few short songs per month. Just don’t fall into a habit of doing it “when you feel like it,” i.e. once every few months.

4. Don’t just listen to music…study it

Learn to tune your ear to different aspects of songs and listen to genres outside of your usual rotation. You’ll pick up some gems from all over, and then you can add your own twist. You’ll be surprised at what you pick up by listening to everything from Johann Sebastian Bach‘s finger-twisting compositions to Flying Lotus‘s drum programming.

Reading up on music theory (and producing tips) also pays off huge dividends in the long run. There’s a good chance you’re tapped for cash at this point, but musictheory.net is a GREAT free resource for everything from sight-reading to pitch and interval exercises that will keep you sharp between lessons.

5. Get feedback from people you trust

A “yes man” is the WORST kind of person musicians/producers can have around them. You definitely need confidence for your abilities to flourish, but you also need honesty. If instructors, friends and family lie to you because you can’t take constructive criticism, you’ll embarrass yourself in front of folks outside of your circle. Don’t be that guy.

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Sam Cadet is a semi-pro writer and one of the Gen-Y kids not on Twitter.