Hey music lovers. Are you interested in learning how to play, improvise, and compose on an instrument? This guide will give you some pointers. A little background about me before we start, I have studied classical piano under two respected teachers and composed over 70 pieces of my own. With my piano background, this guide will be more biased towards the piano but I hope it is useful for all musicians regardless of instrument of choice.
So the first step is obviously to choose your instrument. If you plan on going super hard into music and plan on learning multiple instruments, I recommend the piano first and guitar second. These are the two most popular instruments (besides the human voice) which is helpful when you decide to seek a teacher to progress faster. If you want to be a singer, I had singing lessons at one point and the first thing my teacher had me do was to sing scales he played on the piano.
So you chose your instrument, this guide isn’t instrument focused as it’s mainly on theory and musicianship. Music Theory is the process of labeling sounds so musicians can communicate with each other. All instruments are built with music theory in mind. Now the first thing you should do, is develop the habit of practicing at a set time at the same time every day. For me personally I would practice in the beginning of my day or between classes when I was in college. Practice 7 days a week...it sounds like a lot but practice is actually really fun and rewarding if you let it be. The key is consistency and patience and if you master those skills you will master your instrument. 30minutes should be a good amount of practice time in the beginning, then feel free to extend it to 1 hour, 1.5 hour, or 2 hours when needed.
Okay, so you have created your practice schedule. What are you going to practice? Well scales are fundamental and the most important thing to learn first. Learning scales develops your muscle memory for the instrument, develops your ear, and builds confidence. There are many scales and the amount of them can be overwhelming for beginners, so for the first two years I would focus practicing on major scales everyday, then the next two years practice the minor scales. I would dedicate ~25% of your practice sessions playing scales.
There are 12 major scales if you disregard our enharmonic friends. Not all instruments have the same range so it is your job to find out exactly what your instrument can play. Piano and Guitar can play all 12 major scales. I would start learning the scales in order of 5ths: C Major, G Major, D Major, A Major, E Major, B major, F# Major, C# Major, Ab Major, Eb Major, Bb Major, F major, C major. After you get good at playing them in this order maybe try to play them chromatically (up a half step) like C Major then C# Major then D Major then Eb Major etc. Invest in a scale book specific for your instrument like the example below. These books will tell you the notes of the scales and fingerings so you develop good technique.
Okay so now you have been recommended to practice scales for part of every practice session. Learning musical pieces is also a great way to learn to play your instrument and will help develop your understanding of harmony. I recommend just following your inspiration when deciding which piece to play. Download sheet music for the piece you want to play (I use MuseScore.com frequently to find sheet music). Familiarize yourself with the notes of the piece you are workin on each day and practice measure by measure, practice phrases together and separate. Then you’ll want to learn how to use metronome. Practice your piece with a metronome so you can play the whole piece at the same tempo and it will start to sound great.
Now you may not be familiar with how to read sheet music, which is okay but something you will want to practice daily if you are a serious musician. My teacher recommended me to practice sight reading (which is playing while you read sheet music) by quickly practicing on large collections of pieces such as a church hymnal book. You will need to be able to read the musical clefs for your instrument so I’ll post a video tutorial below but you may need to do more research on your own.
Playing music is meant to be enjoyable and fun. I personally recommend letting yourself play. By play I mean improvise and exploring your instrument. Let your instrument become the playground for your brain. 25-45% of your practice should be spent improvising and exploring in my opinion. This could be practicing popular chord progressions and improvising on top of them such as a I-IV-V-I progression or a I-vi-IV-I progression. When you see Roman numerals like these, upper case ones (like I, IV, and V) are major chords, and lowercase ones (like ii, iii, and vi) are minor chords. Chords are built by stacking notes from scales, which I can’t go that into much detail in because you likely do not know the scales yet. I may write a separate post on chords for more experienced musicians. The picture below is of three different clefs. The clefs tell you which notes fall on which line.
In conclusion, let’s go over what I recommended. Practice consistently at the same time everyday for seven days a week. Buy the respective scale book for your instrument and spend 25% of practice time learning the major scales. Print sheet music that inspires you and spend 25%-45% of practice time on the piece of your choice. Learn how to read the musical clefs for your instrument so you can read your scale book and sheet music. Spend 25-45% of your practice session improvising, exploring, and having fun!