As you progress, you feel more confident. You have more language. You can play well over more and more tunes. And you can approach different types of tunes with ease. Still, no matter how much you improve, you will always feel like you’re trying to reach the next level. This is just how it goes…
To me, that’s the best part though. That you get to keep improving. That there is more to learn and explore. That’s the fun of it. It’s like the best novel you ever read that keeps growing in length as you’re reading it. You read the first ten chapters, now there’s twenty, you read twenty, now there’s forty.
It’s the gift that keeps on giving. For many people, this is not so much a gift but a curse. They want to reach a point of closure. A point of termination??? Unfortunately, no matter where you are in your development, you ultimately will always end up at a place where you think to yourself, “Gosh, I’m really bored with everything I’m playing.” The important thing to realize is that this doesn’t just happen to beginner and intermediate players. It happens to everybody, even great players.
We receive countless emails from readers saying that they do transcribe, and they do learn tunes…but that they are bored with what they are currently playing.
Knowing full-well that you’ll be encountering this situation countless times among your journey regardless of your skill level, you need to be ready to handle it.
At the first sign of boredom, stop
When you start to become bored with your playing, stop. Take the horn out of your mouth, or get up from the piano bench, and walk away.
This is difficult to do. Why, when it’s seemingly so easy to stop playing, is it difficult?
There exists this notion that if you’re not “doing” the thing you’re trying to get better at, then you’re not working toward your goal. This is a complete fallacy. “Doing” something with a poor attitude and little understanding makes you worse off than when you started.
Get in the habit of thinking before doing. Don’t beat yourself up for not putting in the necessary time on your instrument when you’re in the wrong mindset. You need to think about what your practice time will entail before you do the time.
Getting away from your instrument gives you the necessary time to think through your troubles, whereas continuing to practice in this half-dedicated way yields mediocre results and ingrains poor mental images of what you’re trying to learn.
Remember: think, then do. Thinking is planning. Thinking is structuring. And in music, much of your thinking time has to do with listening.
Listen and noting
This is the simplest and most effective way to discover new ideas and concepts, eradicating boredom in your playing. Yet for some reason, many people do not implement it. The process of listening and noting is just this: Turn on a recording of someone you love listening to, and anytime you hear something that interests you, jot down the time mark, the artist, record, and tune in a text file
That’s it. Simple, right? Now, what you’ll end up with is a text file full of exact time-marks of phrases that caught your attention. You can probably see where this is going…
Anytime you’re bored with your playing, you dig into your time-mark text file and pick one to pull apart. Throw it into Transcribe and you’re on your way.
Don’t let the simplistic nature of this fool you. Just like the concept of “Thinking before doing” is simple and straightforward, the concept of “Listening and noting” is too. Do not overlook the power of these subtle tactics. Rid yourself of the notion that everything must be a mysterious and complex process. Notice I didn’t say difficult, I said complex. In terms of conceptual thinking, simple does not equal easy. Yes, jotting down places in a tune is fairly easy, but learning the inner workings of how a musical idea works is not necessarily easy.
For example, the statement “Just transcribe five solos,” sounds very simple, but is not easy.
In learning jazz it’s: Simple processes and the hard work and dedication needed to complete them.
Conquering being bored with your playing
If you’re bored with your playing, it’s up to you to change it. This is a conscious decision where real action is necessary. More time on the same stuff will not equate to better results. You must take a step back. Be objective. Prune out the lines and concepts that no longer grab you, or modify them in a way that gives them new life.
If most of your lines need to be revamped, then maybe it’s not the lines that need work, but your selection process. Some lines I learned over a year ago still sound as fresh to me today as they did back then. Those are the keepers. Those are the kinds of lines and concepts you want to be able to hear upon first listening. Those are the ones that you jot down in your time-mark file and those are the ones you pull apart.
When you first start getting language, you’re in a mode of “anything is better than nothing,” but as you grow, you’ll naturally become more selective. Use this greater hearing power to zero in on the material that you want to make your own. Only then will you take out the trash and fill your own personal music concept with ideas and concepts that are a natural extension of your being.