What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Has to be asked I think, given the other thread.

For me, as a newbie going to the pub and having a pint or two at the slow session. Might be stretching it to say it improved my playing but it certainly made it a lot easier to learn tunes that were now in my head and definitely easier to pick a tune to learn as they kind of picked themselves bubbling up to the surface.

Again, a listening thing I suppose, is hearing good players and getting some clues as to how to improve.

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By far the easiest thing I ever did that made me better was constantly playing with people that were better than me. I was fortunate that I had a spouse and a couple friends that started playing a year or so before me. So they weren’t so far out of my league, but I was always feeling like I needed to catch up. That worked well until a point in time where I got to about the same level as them, and the pressure wasn’t there anymore.

Around then, I was starting to make friends in the music on my own, and I would glom onto players that I thought I could learn from. The downside to this was that I had a couple years where I felt like I could only play well when I was playing with certain other people. So I spent that time working on getting my inspiration from within, instead of relying on other players to inspire me. That was a painful time, where I felt like I had plateaued and no matter what I did, it wasn’t helping.

But it was a good lesson, and I still try to surround myself with musicians that inspire me! And nowadays, I’m sometimes the one inspiring others, paying it forward. Teaching others has also been instrumental in my progression as a player. This music is about sharing, and you don’t need to be an ‘authority’ to teach others, you just have to have something to share. (But I wouldn’t necessarily say that teaching is one of the ‘easier things’)

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throw money at the problem in the form of lessons…

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Spending years listening and dancing to live music before I even thought of playing a note. I ended up with lots of tunes "pre-loaded" into my head. I still don’t play a lot of them, but they’re in there.

Being a little pickier about the recorded music I listen to, now that I understand how intensely what goes into my ears affects what comes out of my fingers.

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The most obvious and maybe the only answer I can actually think of is ‘listening’. Listening to trad (which to me is Irish, Scottish and Cape Breton) is a great pleasure. It takes no effort and I can do it while I do other things, yet when it comes to my fiddle progress it pays off better than anything.

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Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Play.

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Stop practising a tune, sleep on it and see how it goes in the morning.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Definitely agree with David50. Also singing a tune when you’re away from your instrument can be great, especially for feeling out ornamentation.

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Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Learn how to relax - relax grip, relax brain - see Enda Scahill’s banjo book for advice on breathing, posture etc

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Drinking… 🙂

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Taking lessons. This isn’t sarcastic at all, it really was the easiest and best thing I have ever done for my playing.

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Focus on fixing and practicing only the difficult sections of a tune. This requires careful listening and being knowledgeable (and humble) enough to find your own flaws. Commit to improving your technique a wee bit each day.

When I’m learning a difficult tune, I work through it a few times, and listen to a couple of versions, and then I circle the hard parts that I CAN’T yet play well, and I practice ONLY that part until I get it right.

Sure, it’s more fun to play through tunes you know (or mostly know), but you will not advance unless you constantly challenge yourself. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn on your own if you slow down the tune and see where/how you could play it better. Really listen to yourself and you’ll know when something sounds off! You may notice you are rushing in parts, getting sloppy on hard parts, slurring over triplets, missing accented notes, ignoring symbols, bad pitch, etc. A shorter way of saying this is - Don’t try to speed up a tune until you can play it perfectly. Playing faster than your ability creates all kinds of mistakes you won’t even hear unless you slow it down and listen for them.

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Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Totally agree, Jim W. This was the hard old way I learned to learn on piano, and it has stood me in good stead learning other instruments since.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Play a tune in my head.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Napping.

When I come across a section in music that’s giving me a lot of trouble, or may even be above my level, I’ll have a napping practice session. It’s when I practice to a set time(15-30min) and then immediately take a nap for the same amount of time; then immediately return to practice. I do this repeatedly until the problem phrases are sorted out. The purpose is to simulate several standard days of regular practice into one day, the nap being the key that does all of the work by giving your brain time to forget mistakes and bad habits that are trying to form; The same thing it does during a regular night of sleep. If you use 15 minute increments as your standard practice time, a 2 hour session is 4 days worth of practice. I’ve been doing this for years now and I’ve never had to utilize it twice on a phrase, which is a big deal to me because I’m a Chopin player now! :D

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I just gave up on playing at "session speed" and settled instead for playing at a pace where I play reasonably well.

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None of it has been easy. I had been playing for ten years before I discovered Irish and every breakthrough has left me wondering why it took so long to get to it. Lessons (for irish) were not an option in 1983. But the easiest thing is to not try to sound like someone else.

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Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Metronome. You’ll be forgiven many sins if your rhythm is rocksteady. All the techniques in the world are so much mess if you are out of time.

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Film meself playing regularly - audio recordings let you hear where you may be going astray but video lets you hear yourself and also see what your technique is like.

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Set the repeat button on a video of a tune I am trying to learn while I work away on the laptop. Self-hypnosis.

Also, after you think you know a tune well, particularly if you have lost the love for it, then play it really slowly and it flowers again.

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1. Record myself playing and listen to it.
2. Quit smoking (no seriously, that was probably the hardest thing but it did improve my flute playing)

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

I’m going to interpret the question as:

"the biggest improvement in the shortest time"

and it was taking ONE lesson with an experienced professional Boehm flute teacher, after I had a couple years under by belt on Irish flute.

I had practiced fanatically as an entirely self-taught fluteplayer and I spent daily time playing in front of a mirror experimenting with different embouchure formations trying to get the biggest possible sound.

But I was out somewhere and a woman who had never so much as picked up an Irish flute tried mine (an original c1830 Rudall & Rose) and I was amazed at the HUGE tone she got out of it! Turned out she was a professional orchestral flutist and highly regarded teacher. I was able to get a lesson with her.

Wow it was a revelation. The improvement of my tone was both immediate and permanent.

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> I was amazed at the HUGE tone she got out of it!

One thing that I’m sure most of us have experienced at some time or another is the sensation of shock at what is possible on your own personal instrument. You think you know what it can do then someone else takes it and finds another gear you didn’t know it had, that you weren’t even reaching for. That’s got to be one of the easiest ways to improvement.

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Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Well, interestingly, I took up the fiddle almost a decade ago, and my work on the fiddle dramatically improved my piping. Go figure. And the reverse is true. So now, I go back and forth between the two instruments every few weeks.

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Wow Jerone I am going to try your method out! At my age I’m all about the napping anyway.

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Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Easiest thing I ‘ve done to improve my playing? Get off the sh****n’ internet and PRACTICE!

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

For me, the easiest thing is to go into my room every evening and play. I just love it!

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Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Some of these things sound really hard! I’m going to try Jerone’s method.

Though I guess cutting the coffee [even more] for it could be hard.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

I was midway through posting an answer to this this last night on my ancient iPad when it decided to give up the ghost, shut down and tell me I’d have to activate it: so spending all day trying to get said iPad to function again has not improved either my playing or my temper!
If I can remember what I was trying to say about 22 hours ago, it was on the lines of going back to first principles when learning the piano: go over the tricky bits again and again, starting slow and gradually building it up to full speed.
So now I have a "factory re-set iPad" with loads of space but a lot of lost "stuff" and I’m typing this on my trusty ?PC.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

1) to play fast you have to learn to play SLOW and relaxed.
2) step out of your comfort zone - sometimes play (in your house) at full session speed (or faster) to get your fingers and your brain use to it.
3) use a metronome. Our natural tendency is to speed up easy parts and slow down hard parts.
4) practice parts of tunes that you find difficult

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I’m 100% w/Jerone’s post. Whether it’s learning in general, learning tunes, improving abilities, or finding a natural rhythm in life he’s following a basic concept.

Less about *easy vs difficult*. More yin/yang; balanced & in sync w/both perspectives informing each other.

Effort leads to rest. Rest replinishes effort.

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Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Easiest thing is to get your hands on a better sounding, more playable instrument. Remember the old proverb: "You can’t make a silke purse of a sowes eare." It is particularly apt for musical instruments.

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I’d have to say that nothing in life that was easy was worth the effort I had to put into it.

And Barry I agree that a better instrument will sound better in the right hands, but don’t you think that no instrument can sound any better than the one who plays it? I’ve never had an instrument that grew into me, but I’ve grown into every one I’ve ever had.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

More listening, as well as more focused practice on the critical muscle memory bits. It can seem tedious playing scales, repeating double stop combos, ornaments, bowing exercises etc., when you just want to (or only have time for) play some tunes, but it pays off.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

For me as a guitarist it was paying more attention to the shape and finish of my nails. I realized at some point that for my playing, a much shorter nail gave me better results both in technique and tone (and being shorter, they now break far less often, meaning I don’t have the "down time" I used to when I broke nails). I started filing them very short - way below the fingertip level - and also with a ramp shape rising from left to right. This gives the string a better exit from the nail and facilitates fluency and speed. I also started buffing them a lot more - I used to just file them and then use a fine grit sandpaper to finish them off, but now I buff them up with a multi-grade buffer, ending with a piece of cardboard to give them a glass shine. The difference in my technique and tone from all this is like night and day. Everything I play is cleaner, more accurate and has more fluency. I always knew nails were important but I guess I didn’t realize how dramatic the improvement would be from just paying a little more attention to them.

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Thanks everyone for responding.

@DonaldK - easy to say. 🙂

I could probably do with focusing more on the enjoyable aspect of playing/learning - I envy @Pi.

@Jerone - that’s a fascinating approach and I’m well impressed that you can have four naps in 2 hours.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

@Jerone - that’s a fascinating approach and I’m well impressed that you can have four naps in 2 hours.

When it’s just 15 minutes, it’s more of a meditation "lying down" than a "sleeping" nap. These sessions are always scheduled too, so I don’t have to worry about "sleeping in" on something important, and can devote that time and focus to the session.

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@Ross, I agree a better player will see the most benefit from a better sounding instrument. But a lot of first-instrument purchases are driven by economics. In the case of a fretted instrument, which is what I’ve mostly played, a cheap instrument may just be physically challenging to play.

A lot of times on a budget instrument the neck may have a slight bow that the truss rod cannot fix. So string action may be good and low at the first fret, but starting a third of the way up the neck it gets high. Farther top it gets low again. That makes playing difficult and throws intonation off. If you try to lower the action in the middle, other frets above and below start buzzing on the strings.

So maybe you switch to lighter gauge strings. So the neck straightens out a bit but you lose tone and volume, and lighter strings deflect more and your playing becomes less efficient.

Frets may not be set properly or polished and cut right on a budget instrument. That also creates unnecessary challenges.

Cheap materials may simply not be acoustically expressive.

I’m just trying to point out that a mediocre instrument really can make playing harder as well as less acoustically satisfying (and motivating), and that is true even for newer players, in my opinion.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

@artisanchipcrusher, just a suggestion: gel nails. I know James Taylor does his own, but I get mine done once a month at the local nail salon. Probably most important is coaching the artisan on the applying the right thickness so that attack is bright. I have a cordless Dremel grinder to maintain the length over the course of the month.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

I surely agree Barry. Never buy cheap, stringed or otherwise. In the flute world you can buy a stick with some holes for REALLY cheap. If even the best player can play it at all it will still sound horrible. At the other end, years ago I made a Grinter sound just awful. My first banjo was quite playable and, let’s say, not a bad sound. My next one was $2000 more but it took a while for me to get as good as it is (OK I admit it’s still a work in progress the banjo can still sound better than me). But did I need to spend "that" much more to sound "that" much better? The take-away is that at some point it makes sense to get good before you buy great.

I once had a girl-friend who spent a lot of money buying one guitar after another, looking for that truly fine sound. When I pointed out (and I regret it) that maybe she could learn to play she became my ex-girlfriend. To her credit she did grow into her fine guitars. Still yes, I agree. A bad instrument will never sound good and probably be so hard to play that a new player may likely leave it in a closet and take up, I dunno, fly fishing, or beer making. Avoid cheap, start with something at least adequate, and move up when you’ve done all you can on what you have. I think we agree.

Bu the way, as I write this, I’m thinking of my trumpet. I good player suggested I buy a plastic trumpet to start for about $125. He makes it sound pretty good when fitted with a real mouthpiece, to replace the plastic one. If I ever get good, I’ll buy better but that may take more years than I have. Wish me luck!

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Listen with purpose

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

@Barry Morse - I think any kind of fake nails whether they be gel nails or the old ping pong ball method would be way too long for me. I like to play with a combination of flesh and nail, so I’m really just using the edge of the nail. Here’s a photo of how I shape them these days - as you can see, there’s almost no length -https://imgur.com/balGkwW

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Slow down.
I remember a martial arts person once mentioning the concept of "slow is smooth; smooth is fast" and it really stuck with me. It can be easy to fudge a run of notes at speed and make it sound… ok, but practicing it slowly and focusing on putting each note where you really want it really makes a huge difference.

The other one I like, though it’s not necessarily "easy" is spending some time in another musical role or on another instrument. For example, if you’re a rhythm player, spend some time playing melody, or vice-versa. (Admittedly, since my main solo instrument these days is harp, the idea of playing both melody and accompaniment is pretty important, but I think getting a feel for the different parts of the music helps you really understand how it all goes together and makes you a better player in a group)

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

On the topic of fingernails … are we talking about the left hand, which would have something to do with the placement of the finger on the fingerboard, or on the right where the shape and density of the nail would be important? Picks seem to be a constant source of discussion to most plectrum instrument players. In the classical guitarist world both are important. Many believe that one of the reasons Andre Segovia had such a great sound was due to his nails. I believe that early guitarists, like Fernando Sor advocated using the fleshy fingertip. Personally the shape of one important nail on my right hand often got in my way. I used Revlon Hard As Nails and it helped. I have a story to tell about that but it’s a bit blue. If we ever meet ask me in person.

And, really, what is the "old ping pong ball method". I’ve never heard of it.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Ping pong balls can be cut and glued-on to repair a broken nail - a method of last resort in the event of catastrophe before a performance.

Most classical and flamenco guitarists are fastidious about their nails. If one isn’t already OCD they may well turn out to be after a lifetime of playing guitar.

Then along came wire harp and nails on the OTHER hand too, which of course is anathema to fiddle playing and fretting of plucked instruments.

My solution - which I could classify as an "easy" one: when my nails are too long or one breaks or tears I file them all down and play fiddle for a while; when they start getting longer I play harp 🙂 I think I heard Paul Dooley say he does as much.
There’s really no other solution for fiddling harpers - other than a prosthetic (which i could never countenance - I don’t think it would work for flamenco, where both sides of the nail are employed, without an undue amount of work to get them right.) Overall, nail care is one of the more challenging things about playing guitar and wire harp, in my experience.

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Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

"Slow down." I find that the hardest thing to do. That and relaxing.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

This is going to sound crazy. Definitely the easiest thing I have ever done which improved my playing is to play with people who are better than myself. I should mention this doesn’t mean the improvement is always immediate, nor does it mean I don’t (in several cases) actually stop playing to better listen.
Having said that my best session/learning experiences are when I can play with players who are
comfortable in their playing, comfortable in the company, wonderful to listen to & often encouraging
with other musicians. I may not play every tune when it comes though I often join in because
a better musician looks my direction in a way which indicates it’s okay for me to play.
Won’t say I’ve always played well, certainly not as well as everyone else, but it always makes me
keen to be a better player & moves me to practice well. I improve mostly by practicing.
Session playing is also an important part of getting better because practice is not performance;
practice is not sessioning. But practice helps; especially if I record myself.

Sorry, I’m rambling on. I just want to encourage others if you want to improve your playing
find a player who is better than yourself to play some tunes with & who wants to play with you.
It does not need to be a known musician; just a good, willing player. I have done this with a handful of trad musicians which some of you may recognise; players who are indeed encouraging with eager players
regardless of their skill (that’s me ;) I’ll mention one ~ John Skelton @ Lark Music Camp 2 decades ago.
I learnt so much that week & am eternally grateful for his enthusiasm.

I’ll shut it, now.

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Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

Play lots of different tunes rather than trying to perfect one or two. Each tune brings different patterns and techniques which you then bring back to the things you already know (or half know)

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No harm on working on a particular tune but, I agree, it’s often better to leave it for a while and return later with a fresh outlook.

There have been many tunes which I found difficult but became much easier to tackle the second or third time around once I had picked up a few "tricks" on the way.

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RE: Nails

Ping pong balls are used by quite a lot of players on a permanent basis, i.e. not just as a repair. John Renbourn used them, and Clive Carroll does as well. In fact there’s a video of Clive Carroll talking about them - how he cuts and shapes them, the kind of glue he uses etc. I have heard some classical guitarists advocate using flesh only. Personally I’ve never gotten truly satisfactory results from using either nails only or flesh only. Nails on their own sound a little weak and brittle to me (at least my nails do), and flesh on its own doesn’t have enough bite to bring out the attack when required. A combination of both - which you get from using short nails - gives me that "holy grail" tone of warm body and bright attack.

@ross faison, yeah I’m talking about the right hand (picking) nails exclusively. The left ones, I just hack those down to as short as I can get them. Nothing worse than feeling nails against the fingerboard.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

@AB, playing with better players than yourself is definitely a catalyst for improvement. By the same token, tackling material that is outside of your comfort zone when playing alone has similar benefits. I’m always working on an arrangement of something, and usually it’s something that was played on another instrument (I transcribe & adapt for guitar by ear). This usually results in some challenging fingerings that feel awkward or even impossible at first. But I stick with them, and practice them super slowly, and eventually they start to feel less awkward, and eventually something clicks and I get them and wonder why I ever found them difficult. Each time I overcome a fingering challenge like this, I feel like I’ve been working out in a musical gym and that I’ve gained something which will benefit my whole playing. I’ve always seen my biggest technique improvements when I’ve been working on difficult pieces outside of my comfort zone. It just seems to trigger something which brings your entire technique into focus, and the more you do it, the fewer "difficult" sections you come across going forward. This is why I’ve never played set exercises for technique development, at least not for 20+ years. Working on pieces, and overcoming the challenges within, is the only "exercise" that I need, and it improves my technique in an organic, efficient and relevant way.

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Ah, I’d forgotten reading about players who do ping pong balls. Many moons ago (IIRC) I think I read that Michael Hedges used this method - i loved aerial boundaries and set about learning those tunes and deconstructing his technique. If one plays like Hedges I suppose it WOULD require hard plastic reinforcement.

Nail/flesh combo works best for me too - on wire harp too - nothing like that sweet spot. But being lazy I often let them grow long and put off filing as long as I can (after a lifetime I loathe nail filing). The accounts of (the "last" of the trad harpers) Denis Hempson’s "long, crooked nails" inspires me to let ‘em grow and become a recluse 🙂

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Yeah I hate filing them too, for the simple reason that it’s an extra step between me and playing. I grab my guitar off the wall, sit down with it, strum a chord and think "crap, nails." And it’s not just the filing and shaping, it’s the buffing and shining as well. Those extra buffing steps, starting with a cheap drugstore buffer and ending with a piece of card to get a glass like surface, make all the difference to my technique and tone so I gotta do them….

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Get hold of a good bow

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Long tones on the flute, listening and playing with recordings. All of these have improved my ear and sound.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

@Barry, @FiddleTramp, Having picked up a mandolin a year ago, for something to do at the beginning of the Great Pause, and more recently, a fiddle, I was very interested in the collective wisdom of this thread. I’ve got no new ideas just "Amens" to other posts.

I found that getting a quality mando immediately improved my playing and made me much more interested in playing then hearing the frustrating, annoying sound of the cheap one. I also decided to break out the fiddle that had been sitting in a case for 10 years. That taught two lessons, playing each instrument created rapid improvement on the other. However, I also experienced the same frustration at annoying sound, this time coming from the fiddle, that I just couldn’t overcome. It was bad enough that it made me not want to practice. I was trying to decide if I was just hopeless or whether it was the violin itself. So I trialed a highly recommended violin and found my own fiddle sounded better. I thought I would try one last "Hail Mary" before calling it quits on the whole violin endeavor. I trialed five different Coda bows and almost instantly I was getting sound that I could live with. Now I’m going to use other suggestions from this thread and see if I can make more progress - play slower, use a metronome and get a teacher.

Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

There are a few things in life you can throw money at, like a good instrument or good sound-system.

In music, mostly, you have to throw time at it.

There is efficient learning, but that is a slightly different topic.

The easiest thing I found was to listen to a solid-trad playlist on long-repeat. Commuting, walking, late-night drive back from a session - well, usually in that case it’s BeBop jazz or something to clear the brain, but you know what I mean.

That’s easy because I don’t have to do anything - just enjoy and absorb. Not growing up with this music in the kitchen, the "feel" of the music is not innate, and needs to be nurtured.

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Play with other musicians…a lot…but particularly with people you just enjoy being around.

If every session you choose to join is—at its root—more social gathering than musical pissing contest you’ll be surprised how far and how fast your playing will advance.

To some extent the style of music being played isn’t even that important. You can learn a ton in a hurry about the nature of ALL musics simply by diving into strange waters and challenging yourself to play things you might not typically attempt.

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> I trialed five different Coda bows and almost instantly I was getting sound that I could live with.

I have a very rough rule of thumb that switching to an instrument that’s twice as expensive will result in roughly a ~10% improvement in your playing. Very hand-wavey of course, and it has its limitations, but sometimes when you’ve done all you can do, it’s good not to forget the instrument can be a limiting factor.

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Re: What’s the easiest thing you have done to improve your playing?

The easiest thing I ever did to improve my playing in the immediate short term, was to say ‘okay if that’s what you want then’, and break up with my girlfriend.
Next easiest is to get a more playable instrument or just improve the set up.