To the virgins: to make most of time
well, not virgins, but musicians.
I often get asked how I find the time for my music. How is it possible that I am in a band and we were playing a 40+ song set after about four months? How can I be in another band that has covers and original material and - seriously - where do I find the time to launch a third band with only original material? After all, I’m not 25 anymore, have a grown-up job, family with two children and a spouse with a fulltime job which means the work day usually doesn’t end until 8 or 9pm at night. Let me explain.
My biggest time saver is this: I can practice guitar and compose in my head without being at the instrument. I visualize the motions and ‘hear/hum’ the sounds. Imagine John Bender singing Cocaine in Breakfast Club, just without making a sound but with decent guitar sound (or my voice when I am working on vocals). It may sound stupid but it works for me. I build muscle memory with my brain. While I fold the laundry. While I do grocery shopping. And – this is the big one – while I listen to music. I have a Spotify playlist with all the songs of our cover band and I listen to it visualizing my bass fingerings. While I fold the laundry. While I do grocery shopping. And what I also do is try to steal a moment at the guitar once or twice during the afternoon, just a minute, to either go through the motions of a complicated lick or sequence (and then let the head work on it some more), or see if that melody I worked on in my head actually works with the chord changes.
My second trick is not so much a trick but either blessing or curse. I answer Scott Britton’s question what would you do if money weren’t an issue with “I’d make music”. While I am not as committed as some of the crazy 16-hours-a-day start-up-types you read about I try to act out on my itch as much as I can. I try to dial down on watching TV shows and instead retreat to recording a song in Garage Band, practicing guitar or bass or watching music documentaries or tutorials. This passion helps me to fold the laundry quicker and it also motivates me after 10pm to literally get off the couch when the muse comes and not let it slip into the realm of “I’ll deal with it tomorrow”. Of course it doesn’t always work this way, I have to be a lazy couch potatoe too sometimes. And I do get frustrated by standstill too. But I die trying. (And you can read more about why I do it here.)
The last trick is not so much a trick, because you might have already guessed that there has to be more than tricks. (and you know there would be three tricks)
Two things: One, grasping new music comes very easy to me. I attribute this to my the way my first two guitar teachers taught me. Back then it was two guys with guitars face to face, one played a lick and the other had to repeat it. And that had to work well because we didn’t have a lot of money and there was a limit to the hours I could afford. Back then there was no azchords.com but you had to listen to the music to figure out how it was played. Back then we wore out tapes by constantly rewinding the same 5 seconds to figure out the notes. In turn this now means, on bass guitar, I look at the notes for a song in tabulature, listen to the song if I don’t know it yet and then I start playing along. It might not be picture perfect but if we talk about a regular pop song then it generally comes easy. Guitar involves a bit more work but if it’s not a Steve Vai solo the same principle applies.
But, this is number two, it doesn’t come easy because I am immensely talented or have good ears (although I think I do possess both): It comes easy because I have put in my 10.000 hours, on guitar at least. Although I was a fairly late starter when I got my first guitar at 14 I spent the next 6 years doing little more than playing guitar in my free time and even during the first two years of university I was more interested in my guitar than books. That’s a lot of quality time with a guitar. Girls – not so much.
I guess many people have passion for music, otherwise the instrument industry wouldn’t be as big as it is. And many people have practiced a lot to get as good as they are – aside from Yngwie who says he never practiced. But practicing an instrument in your head (though visualization surely isn’t new)– I am not quite sure who I stole that from. Let me know if you know.
Having said that and being generally curious, what are other factors to increase your music time or your musical output. The comments are open.
[The headline is a variation of the title of a Robert Herrick poem, To the virgins, to make much of time. I am pretty sure you know the poem and yes, I chose that title on purpose. It starts “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…”]