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While putting off filing my tax return (one of my favourite January activities) I did a few calculations:

  • Over the course of 2015, I taught roughly 1200 one-to-one music lessons.
  • That’s in excess of 600 hours spent telling other people what I think that they should do to improve their playing.
  • That’s the equivalent of 25 whole days of dispensing advice about music.

Why is this important? It shows that the amount of time I spend giving advice is wildly disproportionate to that which I allocate to receiving advice from others about my own playing (or teaching).

This got me thinking about important lessons that I’ve taken in the 15 years since I first picked up the bass and reflecting on the pearls of wisdom that have had the most significant impact on my musical development.

The most worrying fact is that the most valuable pieces of advice are the ones that I’ve actually paid the least attention to.

The 3 pieces of advice I should have taken on board

“Don’t party until you’re 25”

If (like me) you’re over 25, don’t panic – this can still be applied to a degree. Some readers will see this as a rather hardline approach, but for aspiring professionals it’s worth thinking about.

The source: This nugget came courtesy of the owner of the only live music venue in the small town where I grew up. I was 18, and on the night in question I was helping out my teacher at the time as guitar tech for his band. I got chatting with the venue’s owner after the gig, and mentioned that I was getting ready to go to music college and wanted to make a career from music. The above was his only piece of advice on how to succeed.

The meaning: Your teens and early 20s are when you will form the foundations of your musical identity. They are also the years in which you will (most probably) have more free time and fewer responsibilities than at any other age – devoting this free time to working on your musicianship will pay huge dividends later when ‘real life’ starts to eat into your practice time.

Why it didn’t stick: I deluded myself into thinking that I was working hard enough and let other areas take equal priority over playing – the fact that the music college I went to was above a pub didn’t help matters… In short, I partied.

What you can do about it: Sleep less. Watch less TV. Spend less time on social media. Have two drinks at the pub rather than seven. Stop wasting time reading blogs like this one and do some practice. This article by pianist James Rhodes is a wonderfully savage introduction to cutting out the rubbish in your life and getting back to what you love.

“Go after the sound you love”

The source: The venerable Richard Niles, award winning producer, arranger, guitarist and all-round musical übermensch. The quote itself is actually attributed to Pat Metheny, with whom Richard has worked with on frequent occasions.

The meaning: Make the distinction between what you want to learn and what other people tell you that you should be learning. Embrace the music that you are passionate about and steal as much as you can from it – don’t shy away from your musical heritage. Don’t get distracted by people telling you that you should really listen to Miles Davis if the sound you’re after is bluegrass-meets-Squarepusher (I’d love to hear from anyone who is actually after that particular sonic equation).

Why it didn’t stick: The short answer here is decision paralysis: presenting myself with too many options and failing to pursue any one of them to the level required to really absorb the sound into my playing.

What you can do about it: Adopt the Helsinki Bus Station Theory (yes, really).

“If you have to practise* for the gig, you shouldn’t be on the gig”

*It’s important to note that I mean practise in the sense of developing mastery of a musical concept through persistent effort, rather than playing through new material that you might have to memorise for a gig.

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