Becoming a musician can be overwhelming. Sometimes we look at the greats: Beethoven, Joplin, Hendrix, Florence—or whoever your idols may be—and we are so impressed it seems crazy, perhaps even arrogant, to imagine we could ever reach their heights. So should we even ￼bother to try?
Always aim for the Moon.
Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars
— W. Clement Stone
This quote perfectly illustrates the right attitude to music. It’s not an all-or-nothing game! Even if you don’t make it as a world-renowned artist, the process of trying will make you a far better musician than if you set your sights lower.
Or to put it another way, keep your goals ambitious (and making sure they’re MAGIC) and you greatly increase your speed towards becoming a stellar musician.
Never let the overwhelming world of music, music theory or aural skills stop you from getting started—or from keeping up your momentum!
There are no entry requirements in music
There are some subjects which require an absolute mastery before you can do anything at all. Neuro-surgeons must study for years before they ever take scalpel to brain. Formula One drivers have to be pretty incredible drivers before they’re given a multi-million pound car to take round the track.
Music isn’t like that. There is the same potential for mastery and reaching incredible ability. But from day one you have the tools and the freedom to perform and enjoy it!
It’s all down to you. That’s a powerful, scary, and wonderful fact.
With aural skills, every step you take makes you a better musician and lets you enjoy playing and hearing music more. Every step—no matter how small.
Every day you can pick up your instrument or lift your voice in song and be just a little bit better than the day before.
Forget exams, grading, other people’s judgement.
Music for you can be better and better each and every day.
Every step you take
Let’s take a simple example: learning to hear chord progressions.
This is an amazing skill when you master it.
If you’ve ever watched a guitar player play a song by ear, just from a memory of how the song goes you know how impressive this can be and how natural it can seem! If it’s not something you can do yourself right now, you might imagine it’s a skill that’s beyond your grasp.
But to paraphrase a famous quote:
Any sufficiently practiced musical skill is indistinguishable from magic.
Okay, you won’t obtain chordal mastery overnight. In fact it may take quite some time to achieve that ultimate ability. But here’s the good news: every step you take in pursuing that goal will be rewarding in itself.
Suppose you start just by learning to tell major from minor chords by ear. Not a massively impressive feat but you’d be surprised how much it enriches your listening experience and accelerates your transcription of songs.
Then maybe your next step is to do some ear training to recognize the I, IV and V chords in a particular key. Again, it doesn’t get you all the way to your goal but suddenly you find you can improvise freely over most pop songs because you understand the changes.
And maybe one day you realise that of course you can strum along with Amazing Grace by ear; because that’s just a I-IV-V progression… and you know about those!
Don’t sweat the small stuff—enjoy it!
The key to rapid and consistent progress in aural skills training is to pay attention to and enjoy these small steps, while remembering the big-picture goal you aspire to. This helps you stay motivated and excited, while ensuring the day-to-day training is practical and manageable.
Small steps in aural skills all lead you gradually to that mastery you aspire to. But perhaps more importantly they all enrich your musical life and musicianship along the way.
Tiny steps. Not only do they get you where you want to go, they can be richly rewarding in themselves.
Remember: Aim for the moon—and enjoy every tiny step towards becoming a stellar musician.
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