The Creative Spark!—Practice Music like a Pro

Do you want to write music like a grade 2 piano pro?  Or do you want to practice music like a genius? If so, here are my song writing tips followed by practical advice from a musical-master.

First, listen to music for beats, lines, repetitions, variance—or a bell at the end of a chorus.  Study the structure of the song: the verses, the repeated chorus, and any instrumentals.  That’s how you gain the ear for music.

Better yet, learn an instrument and create your own ensemble: do as I did and sit in front of a piano.  Learn the basic notes of the key of C.  Next, grab sheet music.  Then, clunk out a chord from the sheet music.  Then clunk out the next chord.  And lastly, clunk both chords you’ve learned, one after the other.  After you’ve done this, start from the beginning, clunking a third chord, and so on.  Soon, you’ll play your first song.

But what’s a chord?  To put it crudely, it’s three or more notes clunked at the same time.  And these notes are often separated by at least one or two non-played notes.  It the notes in a chord were numbers, they’d often look like “1-3-5” or “1-3-6” and so on.

Next, you’re ready to write songs.  Yes, through my clunking method.  Clunk a chord in the key of C.  (The key of C contains everything but the black notes).  Then pick one of the notes in the chord to sing.  Then clunk another chord that has a note you’d like to sing next.   Play around until you find the right sound.  Simple.

After you’ve crafted your first song, buy music software.  Start by placing your drum track.   And then layer your instruments, where each instrument is like a note in a chord.

Now, that’s the grade two piano pro’s way to write songs.  And my songs made this way wound up recorded in studios.

And for those of you beyond grade two piano, author Jonathan Harnum gives tips on how to practice in his book The Practice of Practice:

  • The three parts to practice: “The warmup, exercises, and playing of the music all reinforce and reflect each other” (location 151, 54%).
  • When practicing, zero in on one key concept each session: “Keep it simple. There are probably thousands of things you need to practice, but you need to pick just one” (location 150, 54%).
  • Focus on the hard stuff: “Identify the most challenging parts of the music and focus only on those, not the whole song” (location 150, 54%).
  • Warm up with both the scales in the key and a slowed-down version of the ditty: “et’s say you’ve got a very fast passage in the key of D that needs work … In addition to warming up in the key of D, you can do double-duty by warming up with slow, deliberate focus on exactly the same … pick strokes, or fingerings … for the fast passage” (location 151, 54%).
  • But do better than my grade two piano pro’s way of practicing songs: “Inexperienced musicians tend to practice a piece by starting at the beginning, playing through until they have a major train wreck and everything crashes to a halt. A beginner goes back to start it all over again ….  The beginning of the tune gets way more attention and repetition than the rest of the piece” (location 177, 64%).
  • Instead, try something called chaining: “The concept is simple: play a short snippet until it’s polished, then play the next, with a bit of overlap between snippets” (location 177, 64%).
  • Better yet, try chaining and back-chaining: “There’s nothing tricky about back-chaining; it’s just chaining done backwards … by practicing your way backwards through the piece so the later stuff gets more repetition” (location 179, 65%).

A word of warning: once you write your first song, stay clear of the bar scene.  Bar musicians might urge you to smoke drugs and drink booze—you know, to fit in with the crowds.  But if you create your own music, you can submit it on Amazon’s marketplace: drug- and booze-free.