As a musician, you may be familiar with the moments when you want to bang your head against the keys or throw your drumsticks across the room. Maybe you’re having difficulty finding the time to practice, which has hindered your ability to learn that new song you’ve been wanting to play. Or, maybe you’ve been trying to master a tune but the notes don’t seem to sound quite right.

We’ve all been there. Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned pro, there are a number of obstacles and destructive beliefs that all musicians need to overcome at one time or another in their musical journey. Here are four common roadblocks, and how to deftly swerve around them.

1. Finding the time to practice

“Practice makes perfect,” right? Well, yes. All musicians need to practice. It’s part of the trade and it’s how you improve your skill.

Making time for musicBut if you’re just starting out as a musician or simply playing as a hobby, it can be difficult to find the time to dedicate to your music. This can of course be frustrating – no practice, no progress! Here are a few tips that might help:

  • Book in practice ahead of time: Look at your calendar a week, a month, or several months in advance (depending on how organized you are) and book in time to practice. Be realistic with yourself. Carve out time that you know you can actually dedicate. When it is booked in, stick to it, prioritize it, and keep it up on a consistent basis.
  • Plan your practice: Now that these practices are booked in, take some time to think about what you want to accomplish at each session. Outline some goals for each session or map out the progress that you want to make from one practice to the next.
  • Change up how you practice: Do you normally practice alone? Next time, invite other musicians to join you. Do you normally practice “deliberately,” where you tackle one specific part or piece and repeat until it’s perfect? Next time try out “interleaved” tactics where you alternate between parts, achieving a more varied and holistic practice session.

2. Organizing your approach

It’s time to expand your repertoire. But learning a new song can be difficult and overwhelming. You may be asking yourself questions like: Where do I start? What song do I choose? How do I incorporate a part with an ensemble or band? How do I organize my practice?

These are great questions that all musicians are faced with at some point. Here are some tips to help you organize your approach:

  • Get focused: You’ve booked in your practice time – now make sure you use it wisely. Think about the type of song you want to learn and make a list of things that you’ll need to do to learn it.
  • Make notes: As you begin to read the music or play the song, make notes to yourself to help you remember specific things about it like keys, breaks, and time signatures. If this is an ensemble, assign codes to instruments and mark up your sheet music to remember where each plays in the piece.
  • Use tools to help: A tool like the Sheet Music Scanner app can help you hear the song before you’ve memorized your part, and you can play the parts and sounds of different instruments. It’s as simple as finding the sheet music and taking a photo to get started.

Once you upload the song, you can choose which instrument you want to hear and change the pitch and tempo. Sheet Music Scanner is a particularly handy tool for music teachers and band/choir directors to process sheet music and organize their musicians.

Sheet Music Scanner screenshots

3. Overcoming songwriter’s block

If you’re a more seasoned musician, you may want to try your hand at writing or arranging music. However, songwriting is more than scribbling down rhymes on the back of a napkin. It involves writing and arranging rich or catchy lyrics that can be set to an original melody. This is not an easy task and sometimes our creativity fails us. Here are some tips to break through that block:

  • Break down the isolation: Sometimes you need input from others to help spark some ideas. Speak with a mentor or a teacher to talk through some ideas or arrange a jam session to make your music come to life. If you can’t meet in person, you can even use tools like Sheet Music Scanner to export music to different files (PDF, MusicXML) and share it with fellow musicians anywhere.
  • Find ways to be inspired: As an artist, there are likely hundreds of things that inspire you to play and write music. Set aside time to go back to the basics, like listening to the music that you already know and love and reading interviews with your musical heroes. Think about something in your life that sparks emotion – either good or bad – that could inspire some lyrics or melodies.

Musician with sheet music

4. Getting discouraged – and getting past it

A mixture of any number of obstacles can start to strain one’s confidence. Maybe you are frustrated at your progress or at the difficulty in finding time to practice. Maybe it was a session that didn’t go quite right.

Don’t let external factors affect the passion you have for your music. Maintain your focus and use your artistic skills and the tools around you to help boost your confidence. Here are some tips to help you overcome frustration and discouragement:

  • Be “SMART”: In business, people talk about setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound). There’s no reason why you can’t apply this to your music, too. For example, maybe you want to learn a specific piece of music within one month, or you want to write and record two songs in three months. Whatever your target, setting and working toward SMART goals can give you a sense of purpose and a major sense of accomplishment once you achieve them.SMART goals on chalkboard
  • Join forces: If you’ve ever been on a diet or had a group project to complete, you know that sometimes being held accountable is the most compelling type of motivation and encouragement. Find online or in-person meet-up groups where you can chat to other musicians, exchange ideas, learn, and be encouraged. Online musical communities such as Musical U are a great way to get over any type of obstacles that are straining your confidence – you’ll be surprised at how much an encouraging word or two from someone else can have!

Navigating the rough patches

All musicians face challenges at some point. Whether you’re not finding the time to practice, unsure of how to get started, experiencing songwriter’s block, or feeling discouraged, you should remember that you’re never alone in these challenges –  it’s a journey, not a taxi ride where you’re dropped off at your final destination without effort!

With some effective time management and organization, deliberate goal-setting, and supportive peers, you’ll make it through that musical roadblock – and come out on top.

Take advantage of the tools and communities out there that can help you get on track with your musical passion – you’ll have more fun, create meaningful connections, and pick up some amazing musical ideas along the way!

Sheet Music Scanner is the perfect sidekick to help you hear what the music sounds like before you learn to play it – so you can play it as confidently and expressively as possible.

Software developer and classical guitarist David Zemsky is the creator of Sheet Music Scanner, a tool to help you sight read and learn the music you’ve always wished you could play.

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