Learning to play a musical instrument is sadly often portrayed as anything but fun - perhaps you grew up like me seeing other kids spending hours and hours of music practice on a piano or other instrument.
Learning to read musical notation and repetitive exercises that took away the enjoyment of playing and the accessibility of being able to play a musical instrument. Maybe it turned you off the whole idea - not because you didn’t want to pick up a guitar or create a tune on a keyboard - but because it seemed too hard.
The key to playing a musical instrument is simply enjoying it and making your learning experience fun - sure there are the technical things - like how to hold your instrument, what keys or strings do what and running through exercises to improve coordination and so on (and yes it is helpful to be able to play in tune). Ultimately it is about enjoying what you do (there is no point doing something you hate - that is the quickest way to end up with your instrument in the garage gathering dust and your musical aspirations there as well). Below are some tips and ideas to help you get started.
Choosing your Instrument.
Choose an instrument you love the sound of – Is there a piece of music you really like that has a nice piece of guitar or piano in it? or maybe a soulful harmonica solo or maybe even something you are not sure what it is but you would love to play it (find out what that instrument is and how you can get one). I remember hearing the harmonica for the first time played in a bluesy style and it “grabbed' me. If there is something that does that for you then you can be certain that that sound will probably stay with you and help to become the motivation that will inspire you to learn. Don't buy a poorly made musical instrument - get something well made (it needn't be the most expensive unit on the rack but it has to be good enough to not fall apart after a few months).
Next you need to get yourself a sanctuary:
A spot where you can play without distraction (a spare room, your bedroom, basement, garage, closet)- ideally somewhere as quiet as possible and soundproof if you are playing bagpipes. Make sure you have air and light (in that order of priority) a comfortable stool and a stand for your music books plus a pen and paper for writing notes if you need to. Another handy tool is one of those simple voice recorders or note-takers for when you are experimenting – you can just click it on and capture anything you are playing so you don't forget next time.
Thanks to the digital age we now have access to lessons on CD and DVD and online tutorials which makes learning much easier- if you miss something it is easy to review and watch again. The thing I love about the internet is that it is possible to find lessons on just about any instrument. For example Guitar, Violin, Bass and Piano or Keyboard.
Here are some ideas that will help you in learning your musical instrument –
Begin by just doing a few minutes a day (every day) and progress from there. I found this far more effective than having a longer sessions less often because it helps you to stay in the habit and mindset of being a musician. Shorter sessions more frequently (every day) when you first start out will also help your fingers get used to new positions (such as holding down the strings of a guitar) and will allow them to recover quickly and build up a memory of how to create the notes as you play.
If one lesson becomes boring then don't torture yourself – pick out something that really interests you – is it a bass line from a song? A melody? or perhaps a certain style? then mix it into what you are learning.
Get to know your instrument- spend time studying and experimenting with your instrument and how you can create different sounds, where the notes are, what is most comfortable and so on – the better you understand your instrument the easier it is play and relax as you won't have to think about how to play but you will begin to instinctively know where to put your fingers to get the notes you need.
Listen to music featuring the instrument you are learning – try to work out how they fit in the music and even the notes they might be playing and see if you can learn some of their technique. Get some backing tracks to play along with. This will introduce you to playing in time, improvisation and how to accompany other musicians (it's also a great way to warm up).
If you have an understanding friend who has some musical skills perhaps you can get together and work on some simple tunes. If you struggle with learning music notation don't let that discourage or limit you, there are other ways to get started with playing without knowing a single page of musical notation (that can come later as you develop your playing skills).