With established musical curriculums, standardized tests, and one-size-fits-all online courses, it can be easy to forget that every musical learning journey should be unique, with material and coaching customized to fit the student’s learning style and goals.

This week, we explore the ways in which music education can be tailored in such a way that the student reaps maximum benefit from their practice. We interview a Musical U member on how she renewed her passion for music by learning on her own terms, and speak to a music educator who has successfully cracked the code for tailoring online music lessons to a student’s needs.

However, we also recognize that musicians will have a slew of shared experiences during their journey. A guest expert discusses four commonly-encountered hurdles in learning music, and how to get past them – chances are, you’ll be able to relate to at least one of them! Finally, we look at the coveted skill of playing by ear… and though there are multiple ways to approach this, our “trial-and-improvement” method will yield the best, fastest results – whether you’re just starting out or already have a chunk of experience.

Let’s dive in…

Beyond Classical Training

Music education is not a one-size-fits-all.

While classical training is perfect for those looking for rigorous discipline, success in the conservatory, and a specific kind of mastery, it fails many of its students – for example, those who would benefit from a different style of teaching, or those seeking to write music, improvise, and collaborate with others.

VeeraL Musical UMusician and music teacher VeeraL’s experience in the world of classical music almost made her quit music for good – until she discovered a new approach to learning that emphasized musicality over hitting all the right notes, improvising over playing strictly from sheet music, and analyzing melodies and rhythms over learning the piece note-by-note.

Read our fascinating interview with Veera over at Musical U Member Spotlight: VeeraL to discover how she took her musical journey into her own hands to make learning as fun, relevant, and rewarding as possible – and how Musical U helped her along the way.

As musicians, we are constantly feeling stress and uncertainty about our abilities when performing, especially with all the competition out there. While it’s fine to be competitive, we could all benefit by learning to be more cooperative. Smart Music explores cooperative learning in the large ensemble.

VeeraL touched upon how she is able to use the modules from Musical U in her own teaching. We learned about another method, Gordon’s Music Learning Theory, a couple of weeks ago in our interview with Donna Schwartz. The Improving Musician talks about how this method can also help to teach musical understanding.

Playing by rote is a great way to use your ear when learning a piece of music. 88 Piano Keys explored how rote methods can also be used to ignite creativity. Get those creative juices flowing with this fantastic musical method!

On and Off the Page

Though playing by ear and playing from sheet music are often placed at two opposing ends of a spectrum, they needn’t be!

As we learned in Off the page and back again, with Chris Owenby, combining both these methods in musical learning yields extremely positive results – it makes you a more versatile, expressive, and “natural” musician.

Chris Owenby interviewChris’s insights as a musician and music educator don’t end there. Check out the full interview for his take on online learning, sheet music vs. playing by ear, and the benefits of finding patterns in the music you’re playing.

It was fascinating to hear the story of how Chris’s grandmother first introduced him to stride piano. While this method is typically associated with jazz, you will also find it being used in Gospel music – Jonny May shows us how.

Learning to play by ear had some lasting benefits to Chris’s development as a musician. He is able to play with more confidence and experiment in ways that would not be possible without this foundation. Digital Piano Review Guide gives an introduction on how to play the piano by ear to get your journey started.

Chris has amazing diversity in his musical background and experiences, and it was such a pleasure to get to know more about his methods and musical journey. Learning how others approach music learning is very important – particularly how music education is approached in other cultures. Beyond the Music Lesson explores this topic on their podcast.

Conquering Musical Roadblocks

While every musical journey is unique, there are certainly shared experiences – and with that come shared frustrations and roadblocks!

In 4 Common Musical Hurdles – and how to Overcome Them, Sheet Music Scanner’s David Zemsky discusses some barriers to musical success, how to maneuver past them, and an incredibly useful tool that will help you make sense of that tricky piece you’re trying to learn.

Musical obstaclesIf you’ve ever felt like you don’t have the time to practice, don’t know where to start, are suffering from writer’s block, or feel just plain discouraged – this is an absolute must-read!

“How many hours a day should I practice?” is a common question among many musicians. While there is no definitive answer, you should consider how much you can realistically dedicate to your musical instrument. Noa from Bulletproof Musician explores this topic.

Though your musical journey will be filled with accomplishment, pleasant surprises, and countless hours of fun, there will always be moments of frustration and difficulty along the way. Performer Mag touches upon some techniques to break songwriting block – break through your plateau and get some great music made!

When working through these rough patches, it’s important to remember that there are thousands of musicians online waiting to help you find your way through, with lessons and experiences that can make the difference in finding the solution. For example, while learning to sing rock may sound easy, there are some common mistakes that singers make along the way – The Naked Vocalist details some pitfalls and how to avoid them.

Trial and… Improvement

Playing by ear is one of the most sought-after musical skills out there, and it can be hard to know how to approach it.

The truth is, playing by ear is something that you must practice, practice, and practice some more – making plenty of mistakes along the way, and using them as a basis to improve.

Learning to play by earHowever, this should not be random, brute-force practice – certain training and tools exist to accelerate this learning process, fundamentals and skills that will help you master this skill faster, and with minimal frustration.

Tune your ears into About Playing By Ear with Trial and Error to learn how you can develop this skill in a guided way that will minimize frustration and maximize results.

Trial and error is a fun part of learning to play by ear – and one that is necessary even for experienced musicians! Finding ways to make this into a game can take some of the stress out of the task. Lessons in your Home shares some fun games to get you started.

The most difficult part of any journey is getting started. This holds true for musicians that want to go down the path of playing by ear. Fire Inside Music has a step-by-step guide to get you started with playing the piano by ear – if you are a beginner, you won’t want to miss this!

We’ve talked in-depth on the Musicality Podcast about the benefits of ear training, but there are plenty that we haven’t covered… yet. Justin from Justin Guitar is no stranger to playing by ear, and shares 7 benefits that he has enjoyed through learning this powerful skill.

A Shared Musical Experience

A fascinating paradox of learning music is that while everyone will learn best under different conditions, there are countless experiences that so many musicians share – perhaps it’s nailing that tricky chord progression, or playing your first gig, or learning a second instrument.

Your musical journey is sure to entangle with others’ – whether they’re your teachers, students, or collaborators.

This shared musical experience is what takes music to a whole new level of enjoyment. Take advantage of that – if you usually play solo, branch out and ask a friend if they’d like to jam. Post your music online, and ask for feedback. Do a music lesson swap with someone who plays a different instrument than you.

Joining a community of musicians will give you access to advice, support, feedback, and help when you get stuck – plus, you get to share what you’ve learned with others, and be a part of their journey too!