Quick Resolutions To Improve Your Musical Life
By learning new songs, maintaining your gear, and watching Wu-Tang, you can become a better, more well-rounded musician.
One of the best parts of being a musician is being around other musicians, but that can also be the worst thing about it. If you want proof, consider the glut of musician jokes. My favorite is about how to get a bandmate to the gig on time, which involves lying about the time of the gig. I’m not always punctual, so it’s no surprise that by the time you read this, the window for New Year’s resolutions may be closed. So, in the spirit of being behind the band by an entire measure, here are my resolution picks for you to add to the existing pile.
Learn the intro and solo to Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing.”
Guitarists and civilians alike revere Mark Knopfler. In a world of dweedley, un-hummable solos, Knopfler’s semi-chicken picking is so identifiable that decoding and memorizing this song will be sure to break that faux-Metallica thing you’ve been doing since middle school.
Restring all your guitars.
I’m just as tardy as you are when it comes to changing strings—maybe worse. It’s really not so hard once you’ve done it 15 times in a row, assuming you only have 15 guitars. By then it shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes each. Just for fun, buy a 10-pack of high E strings and break a few on purpose by over-tightening. This will teach you that it’s not going to poke your eye out after all. Life-changing.
Learn to intonate, while you’re at it.
This is another chore whose complexity is exaggerated beyond all reality. Compare an open string note to its octave at the 12th fret. If the octave is sharp, move the saddle away from the nut; if flat, go the other direction. This takes 5 minutes, and anyone who tells you different is a serious underachiever.
Reacquaint yourself with the actual sound of guitar.
This is scary, but you have to face your worst fears. Use the most powerful amp you have—hopefully 100 watts. Remove all effects pedals from the signal chain and turn the amp’s master volume all the way up. Lower the gain until there is zero distortion, and then play to a click track for four days. At your next band rehearsal, use this same setup and try to make it work. This is the equivalent of running with weights or banging your head against a wall because it will feel great when you stop. Don’t cheat by claiming a compressor isn’t really an effect.
Your style of music may not require the use of the major VII#11, but sometimes cool chords can spark new ideas for songs.
Let others take more solos.
Undoubtedly, you are the superior soloist in your circle of friends, but as a role model, you must do your bit to let others shine. This involves backing off on volume and supporting the soloist. Just pretend that you’re only doing what you wish the other players would do for you. Resist the temptation to jump in at all costs. This will go a long way to cementing your place as a benevolent dictator.
Learn to play the drums.
This may be biting off more than you can chew, but if pandemic lockdowns have taught us something, it’s that anything is possible. You don’t have to be Neil Peart; just learn rudiments and work on some good beats. This is really important if you are a bassist, but it will really strengthen your rhythm guitar chops, too. You can get a practice pad and sticks for about $25, so even if you bail on improving your timing and newfound appreciation for drummers, it’s not the end of the world.
Watch the Wu-Tang Clan documentary, Of Mics and Men.
It’s hard to break out of your own little bubble, but understanding the greater world of music is essential. Even if you’re already a fan, it’s good to know how genres evolve and influence other musicians. Bonus points if you watch with a guitar and play along.
Get that amp in the corner fixed.
Once consigned to the hinterlands of your music room, noisy or intermittent amplifiers just get worse. Bite the bullet and bring it to a good amp tech before things really deteriorate. It might just be something simple, and you’ll be happy you’ve supported a small music-related business too.
Learn some college chords.
This is important for your overall human development. You may have quit medical school, but you can still be a lifetime learner. Your style of music may not require the use of the major 7#11, but sometimes cool chords can spark new ideas for songs. And while you’re trying to get your fingers to obey, you might discover some other interesting chords, too.I hope you take these resolutions to heart, and that they make you a better, wiser musician. Oh yeah … and try to be on time.