Getting Better Every Day (Are You Doing That?)
If you’ve read the other posts on this page you might have noticed a trend in my advice. I base it on my own experiences, so don’t be shocked that this article follows suit.
I know attention spans are short, so let’s get right into the subject matter. Are you, as a musician, getting better every day? Do you even think that you need to or do you really believe that you’re at the best you can ever be as a musician? If you answer yes to that, I’m here to tell you that you are wrong, you are not, and really you never will be. Now, don’t go away mad right now, I’m not being mean or even insulting, just keep reading and you’ll see what I’m getting at.
I would consider myself a very good singer, not the best in the world, but definitely one of the best out there. I have spent years studying voice, various techniques, had different coaches, lessons and hours upon hours of practice. It is my passion and I dutifully pursue and craft it daily. Cool, you think, why do I care? Well, that little personal back-patting leads me to this: I am not a very good piano/keyboard player. That’s right I can say it with confidence, I’m really not very good,at least I don’t think I am, but I am getting better every day.
Full disclaimer, I took piano for about 8 years. When I was younger I practiced regularly and was pretty good. I could sight read and was able to read most advanced music. When I got a little older I moved often and no longer had a piano, or access to one, and was no longer able to practice, so my skill set stunted at that last year of having a piano. Cut to some (hmm…) years later and I found myself back in the possession of my childhood piano (thanks grandparents) and in a band that needed a keyboard player. Well, hire a keyboard player you are probably thinking, and sometimes we did and still do, but the thing is it’s more financially beneficial to the band for me to wear multiple music hats ( I wear a lot of others but this is strictly musically speaking) and play the keyboard as well as sing, yikes! That was 5 years ago. I would love to tell you that I play like a Stevie Wonder protege, but I’d be lying to you and this article really wouldn’t make sense. I don’t even play like Big Bird’s protege but I am doing my best to get better.
I play a small mini keyboard made by Korg because the original intent was that I would just play fills and some rhythm during guitar solos and other times when it was necessary. As with all things though, I had to adapt my mind and skill set because we ended up needing more and more from the keyboard player, aka, me. In order to add more songs to our repertoire, be able to play as a duo and really fill out our sound when doing hip-hop, R&B, funk and other styles that require more than just one guitar, I had to get better at playing the keyboard, I had and have no choice but to get better every day and that’s what I’ve done.
In the beginning it was learning chords that I wasn’t familiar with, C#9 and the like (hello jazz I pray thee a curse!) Then it was learning better rhythm and timing as it is not always the same as what you are singing, and then the hardest part for me, playing and singing at the same time, on time. Oh boy what a learning curve I and the band have gone through. When I started I was a solid D+ on the skill level, today I’d say I am between a C- and B given the song, day and mood. I tend to get “fat fingered” at times and even play the odd wrong note still, but…I am getting better every day.
I am graduating soon to two keyboards on stage at a time as once again our band has moved to a level where upping my skill level on an instrument will only benefit us, and really it will benefit me too. It’s short sided to think that because I am very good at one thing, that’s the only thing I need to be good at in this business. I know there are several people that just do one thing and do it well, but… that hasn’t been enough to get me where I need to be, so I have to keep at it and keep getting better every day.
This is something all artists have to do. That’s why you see duets between Opera singers and rockers and why people like Rush’s drummer Neil Pert went back and relearned the drums after playing with Buddy Rich. When I watch performers (truly great ones) I dissect the performance and study what they are doing. I watch several different performances of the same show and try to notice changes, because they are always there. Elvis did it, Kiss does it and so does Beyonce. They adapt and make small or big changes to their skill and musicianship to keep getting better every day so that they can give you something better with every performance.
Are you surprised when you see an artist whip out an instrument at a concert when you’ve been fan for 15 years and had no idea they played? Good, you should be, because they probably didn’t play it 15 years ago, but time has taught them they have to keep adding, keep learning and (say it with me now) keep getting better every day.
This is where I leave you, if you only sing, pick and instrument and learn to play it. I don’t care if it’s the tambourine, start somewhere. If you only play an instrument, dust off those YouTube vocal lessons and start learning to sing, at least a little. If you already do both, add another instrument, go back and learn to play different styles of music, big or small, doesn’t really matter, just add a little something to your craft and keep getting better every day.
P.S. After you’ve mastered your first talent and learned more and mastered those go back and get a little better at your first talent and so forth. I promise you can never be good too good at something!
Love and Light,