Necrox

A question for multi-instrumentalists (and multi-skilled people in general)

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Lately, I've been working hard at drumming as well as learning piano and composing, and I'm starting to feel a bit overwhelmed doing it all in a day. For people who have learned multiple skills, how do you go about it? Do you divide it up into blocks of time in a current day or do you immerse yourself in one thing for a day, another the next, etc? Are there any other strategies?

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I usually do different things on different days. I tend to get sucked into whatever I'm doing, so I don't want to have to stop immediately and do something else I'm not interested in at the moment.

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I develop one skill at time, doing a bit of it every day to make it more natural, like muscle memory, but I only try when I feel the need to learn it. I don't really play the drums, but I can imagine someone playing drums and that's good enough for me. Similarly, I no longer play the guitar, but I still can imagine an expert guitarist and sequence a realistic electric guitar as if that person was playing it.

If I do something with an instrument in a day, I usually end up aiming to recreate something I hear.

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For me, things came about as I needed to learn them.  Honestly, it may help to put yourself in uncomfortable situations.  For example: while in school (studying percussion), we were playing a piece where I needed to learn a very difficult steel drum part.  Now, steel drums are technically percussion, but the technique and note layout of the instruments are completely different than anything I've ever done before.  Normally I would say "no, I don't play those", but in this situation, I actually HAD to--so I busted my ass to meet the deadline of the performance.  The result?  I play steel pans now!

 

As a kid, I took piano and drum lessons at the same time, but stopped studying piano when percussion became more important.  I think I should also emphasize that those few years of piano lessons, which I haven't studied in a long time, really stayed with me.  Don't worry about studying everything a ton--focus on what you enjoy the most, and work on the other things when you have time.  Learning an instrument takes a long time, but it's a gradual process with a lot of cross-pollination.  You never know what opportunities will arise that will allow you to continue to hone those skills.

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My experience is similar to DrumUltimA's - I built a lot of my skills out of necessity, and I think it's been very productive for me. Due to my distance from good teachers and not a lot of money to throw around, I haven't been able to get lessons for the cello I got a fair while back, and so I didn't practice it much. But in the latest band I'm playing in, a few tunes have wonderful spaces for it, so I've been nicely motivated to work on it at last - even though my self-taught/Youtube technique is probably going to make any proper classical players in our audience cringe.

 

I'm guessing you're asking your question as somebody who wants to be ready to offer these skills at a moment's notice when a sweet job opportunity comes up for you. My advice would be to pick up the basics of the things you think will come in handy, at a pace that doesn't make you hate it. When something comes up that calls for one of those skills, then you'll be ready to offer it and build on what you know to suit it. Sometimes the most productive practice - and the choice of what to practice - comes from a good incentive.

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Do you find that you're a 'rewards-based' learner or incremental? I've been the former until recently, and we tend to be encouraged by demonstrable results and discouraged by not seeing immediate progress; it was a tough mental habit for me to break, and one that I still have to work on regularly. Easily caught up in 'broad strokes' learning, where you're getting a little bit of everything instead of perfecting the rudiments in each skill set. Not a seemingly direct answer to your question, but check out Josh Waitzkin's "The Art of Learning"; it definitely took away much of the anxiety/overwhelm I was experiencing trying to learn multiple new skills, especially while balancing work and personal life.

Since time (and how much of it I needed to be spending on any given task) is what seemed to be stressing me out the most, I started using a Pomodoro Timer app, and would break my skill building and all tasks into (up to 4) 25 minute chunks, punctuated by 5 minute breaks. So say I didn't want to go down the scale warmup rabbithole, I'd give myself maybe just one pomodoro on scales, then break the remaining 3 in to other things (one on jazz standards, one on shedding sixteenth notes, etc) still in the wheelhouse of improving that instrument/overall skill. And then maybe my next Pomodoro set will be tackling something in my DAW that I need to fix/figure out, or getting through a chapter in a composition workbook, or watching a tutorial video and taking notes, etc. Giving myself a limited time on this stuff made me get to the crux of techniques much quicker. I don't usually like time restrictions competing against creativity, but since it's more about developing vocabulary and efficiency in order to be able to express yourself to your fullest potential, thus contributing to your creative output, they go hand in hand I think. That said, I agree that if you're really engrossed in something and making progress, you don't have to cut yourself off...see it through and dig in.

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Similar to DrumUltimA,

 

I tell my students all the time to focus on one instrument for awhile and then branch out. Pick a main instrument that you can't live without. Treat the rest as secondaries. If you play drums, do you play keyboard percussion? That might help you a bit with the piano skills. If you have to do both, prioritize.

 

I've also found that in the tonal instruments, there are principles that carry over between them. For instance, my main instrument is violin, but violin technique is very useful on all strings. (also guitar hero and rock band) Further, Piano helped me understand the basic structure in music, which lends toward composition. Learning to improve on any instrument helps in composition skills as well.

 

Bottom line, look for those connections and similarities. You are not just learning an instrument, but music.

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In my opinion its a mix between two things: 1st - You must be doing something that you don't usually do (Like DrumUltimA said) to learn faster and (maybe) better

2nd - You should try to do one thing at the time, and don't trying to do everything at the moment, first you must assimilate the things you learn.

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I tend to travel quite a lot, which restricts practising multiple instruments. It's possible to pack my flute in my bag, but if I have to take my singing books, piccolo and trumpet with me as well than it gets harder. And then I'm not even mentioning the impossibility to pack a grand piano... So I mostly break up my practice sessions on conveniability. Which results in some pretty desastrous situations. Since I've been in Oslo for almost two weeks now I haven't touched a single instrument except a crappy recorder I tried out at some marketplace! And because before I went to Oslo I was in Malmö (Sweden), and also had exams in Leiden (The Netherlands) I haven't touched my trumpet for over 2 months. My advice for other people with similar problems as me is to practise music that doesn't require any physical instrument efficiently. I train my transcribingskills while listening to music in the train or plane. By combining absolute pitch, intervals, recognising chordprogressions and an iPod you can get pretty far. And if you don't have absolute pitch you can at least practise your intervals and such. With knowledge like that I just do the arranging in my head and work it out on actual instruments when its possible. And of course, you can sing scales and such wherever you are. And then, when I'm back at home I can do some hardcore trumpet playing, spent at least an hour a day on the piano and still have time left for some actual recording because I already did all of the arranging in my head. It's perhaps not the best way from a schedular perspective, but it works for me and it's better than trying to pack your piano.

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I started doing what I needed and got better at it with time, never really practiced as much as just recording stuff and thinking it was great then having it actually be somewhat good eventually. It's nice to think something is great when you're starting out even if it sucks donkey udders :D

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