Ten Ways to Become a Better Musician



Have a read of these tips on how to become a better musician from our professional musicians and music educators at Leeds College of Music’s Saturday Music School. We asked our tutors for their personal recommendations as to what really works in developing musical skill and talent. Do let us know what your top tips would be.

1) The only way to make it as a professional musician is to love what you do – to make the practice, the travel, the financial costs worthwhile. Therefore it’s worth spending time working out exactly what aspect of music you enjoy the most.

2) Surround yourself with musicians who are better than you are – it’s the quickest way to improve.

Ben Gaunt (Composition Tutor)  www.bengaunt.com

3) My top tip would be to enjoy plenty of playing away from your instrument. Whether you’re standing at a bus stop or cleaning your room, you can be going through the motions of your music in your mind, vividly seeing and feeling your way around the notes in your imagination and hearing the sound you want clearly in your head.

I find this technique helpful when preparing for a performance too. I close my eyes and see myself going into the room, sitting at the piano, feeling the lights on my head, hearing the quiet rustling anticipation from the audience and so on, then go on to play every note of the piece in my imagination ‘seeing’, ‘hearing’ and ‘feeling’ every moment of it as if it were real. This helps a lot with accuracy, musicality and also nerves too as by the time the performance comes, as far as my brain is concerned, it has already done it lots of times before.

Catherine Cowan (Piano Ensemble, Keyboard Skills and Musicianship Tutor) www.pianoteacheryork.co.uk

4) Listen, listen, listen, as often as you can to musical genres that you are less familiar or uncomfortable with. Challenge yourself to listen to classical, blues, hip-hop, electronica, folk, rock and everything in between, and always try to discuss your opinions with others. Ask friends, family and teachers for ideas of what you might listen to and find out a bit about the pieces/artists/composers you listen to so that they make more sense.

Sarah Evans (Cello Tutor, Workshop Leader and Ensemble Coach)

5) I’ve always found that the greatest skill of all to develop regardless of instrument is the ability to truly listen and understand what you are hearing. So much can be learnt just by listening to a recording.

It is not just passively enjoying listening to music but being able to see under the bonnet into the depths of what’s really going on.

This can be on so many different levels, from production values to song mechanics. Once you have the ability to dissect a song, you can begin to take inspiration to try new ideas in your own performance and songwriting.

Chris Quick (Ensemble Tutor)

6) Listen to lots of different music and decide what kind of sound you want to make, then always have it in your head when you’re practising or performing.

7) Always make your practice sessions a musical experience, even if you’re just doing scales. Think about dynamics, phrasing and articulation and above all make a beautiful sound.

8) If you are in an ensemble, learn your part really well, then you can listen to what everyone else is doing and be an even better musician.

Jonny Enright (Ensemble Tutor)

9) Go to as many live concerts as you can, really analyse and dissect what the performers do. Ask yourself lots of questions about their performance such as: Do I like what they’re doing? Why are they doing it the way they’re doing it? Do they look like they love what they’re doing? What can I do to sound/perform like that?  

If you can’t go to many live concerts, listen to and watch performers as often as you can - YouTube is great for this. Developing your “intelligent ear” is key.

Sam Brough (Bassoon Tutor and Ensemble Coach)

10) Use technology – there are lots of apps to help improve your playing. Use a metronome, use loops, record yourself, challenge yourself with a scale app, improve your reading of rhythms, work on your music reading skills, practise sight-reading, revise theory, improve your intonation, create music and have fun! For a list of my favourite apps visit http://digitaltoolkit.karengourlay.co.uk/apps.html

Karen Gourlay (Head of Saturday Music School and Short Courses)

Saturday Music School is the Junior department of Leeds College of Music. We run courses for young musicians between the ages of 9 and 18 who would like to develop their skills in a supportive and nurturing environment. Join us on a free open day to see what it is like to study with us and take your music making to the next level.


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