Often you can find habits and skills from other walks of life that will help you in your pursuit of musicianship. Some little known trivia about me is that as I was practicing to become a musician I was also an athlete. I wrestled, played tennis, studied Washin Ru, was a body builder, and even can boast that I have a varsity letter in bowling. Along the way I had several serious back injuries that contributed to the degenerative disc disease I now suffer from, but without dedicating myself to those other interests I don’t think I would be the musician that I am today.
It is likely that you have a skill already that you needed dedication and discipline to develop. Its good to have a gift or genetic advantage for doing something but without developing that gift through discipline it is lost. One of my mentors once told me “Without action potential is shit.” and he was right. So take the same approach you used to develop other areas of your life and try applying them to developing musicianship. Here’s an example of how I did it.
Wrestling is what taught me my life’s lesson in discipline. Moves had to be practiced over and over to become second nature. The same was true of Washin Ru where punches and kicks needed to be delivered precisely every time. When I was only thirteen I got the bright idea that if I took the discipline principles I already had in those two areas and applied them to guitar that maybe I would get somewhere with it faster. So I practiced every finger move deliberately and precisely each time I sat down. It worked.
The concept of repetition was a concept I borrowed from body building. In order to build muscle you do endless sets and reps to shock the muscle into growth. I had this thought that if I repeated a lick or chord change repetitively that I would build the coordination needed to do it and my finger muscles at the same time. That one worked too. It was the beginning of the practice routine I show to my students to this day where you focus on a number of licks, each for a specific amount of time as a “finger workout”.
Getting the ability to stretch, and coordination within the stretch I borrowed from Wahin Ru. I did ridiculous amounts of stretching starting with larger muscle groups and working to smaller ones and along the way trying to coordinate my muscles to work well while being stretched. I took the exact concept and applied it on a micro-level for my fingers. I even invented a little rope mechanism to help my fingers stretch while playing similar to what you would use for assistance when learning to stretch your legs.
Tennis and bowling have a certain of randomness to them. You never know where an opponent is going to return the ball. You never know what pins you will be left with to pick up a spare. Often you just try to return the ball somewhere other than into the net or off the court but aren’t sure exactly where its going. Experiences like that can be good preparation for learning to improvise. This kind of success comes when you don’t really know what notes you are going to play next but need to avoid ones that will sound bad.
This is just an example of what worked for me. Everyone has different skills and backgrounds to draw from. So as you strive towards better musicianship take a minute and think about other areas of life that you have been successful with and how you got there. Then apply the same approach to learning your instrument. Hopefully it will work out for you.