You Need These Things to Become a Good Musician

So, you have started playing an instrument or studying voice, and you have decided that you want to be a good musician. What does it take to become a good musician? Do you have what it takes to get there, and do you have what you need? You need these things to become a good musician. Keep reading, and I will tell you seven essential things you need to become a good musician. (And one thing you don’t need!)

You Need a Decent Instrument

A decent instrument is a requirement for becoming a good musician. Now, I DO NOT advocate spending thousands of dollars on an instrument for a beginner or young player, but still, you need a decent instrument. What qualifies as a good instrument?

  • Your instrument must be in good working order – keys, pads, valves, triggers, slides, etc.
  • You need an instrument that can play in tune with itself, and that can be tuned.
  • Your instrument should be the right size for you (primarily for string instruments).

You Need a Reliable Music Stand

Unless you are a keyboard player, you need a reliable music stand. Why a music stand? You need somewhere to place your music to easily see and read that music while at the same time maintaining good posture. Putting your music on your bed and then turning sideways and bending over to read that music will not help you become a good musician!

A sturdy and adjustable music stand will help you position your music where you can easily read it and maintain a good playing position and posture. Nothing is more frustrating than having your music always falling off your stand! Here are a couple of tips to prevent that from happening:

  • Use clothespins (or long plastic clips) to clip your music to your stand
  • Place your music (or copies of it) in clear plastic sheet protectors and put them in a notebook.

You Need Light to See your Music

Good lighting is essential for many tasks, and practicing your music is no exception! Practice with plenty of good lighting to easily see and read the music on the page. And if you can see your music well, you can maintain a better posture for playing and breathing. Good lighting will also help you avoid mistakes in playing.

You Need a Good Instructor

I know you can find many “How to Play…” videos on YouTube today. And while those might get you started on an instrument or give you some ideas about playing, those videos can never take the place of a personal instructor! A video does not provide feedback about fingering, embouchure, articulation, tone production, posture, musicianship, etc. Even virtual lessons are better than video instruction! While in-person instruction is best, virtual lessons can be effective as well. (See here for information about the virtual lessons I offer.)

A good instructor will work with you to correct mistakes, be sure you understand technique and fingering, and perfect your posture. Your teacher should also work with you on musicianship and tone quality. And, perhaps most importantly, a quality instructor will teach you how to practice effectively!

See HERE for info on finding a good music teacher

You Need Music

It seems obvious that you need music to learn to play, right? Of course, you need music! And yes, you can go to the internet and print out all kinds of music. But you need music chosen to lead you through what you need to learn to progress to better musicianship. Your music should start where you are and gradually introduce you to new concepts and techniques as you learn and build your skills and abilities. Your music should be both enjoyable and challenging. If you only play easy music, you will never get better. If you choose “hard” music as a challenge, you may not have the skills necessary to learn that music. So, your instructor should lead you to and through music to help you grow your abilities.

You Need Dedication

Becoming a good musician does not happen overnight. Or even over a month or a year! If you want to be a good musician, you need to dedicate yourself to working on your music for a long time. Like, years! Just like anything else, becoming a good musician takes a long time. Think about your favorite athlete. When did that person start working on their sport? Consider all the after-school practices that athletes endured. How many sports camps or sports lessons did he attend? A musician is no different. It takes a long time to develop all the necessary skills and techniques to be a good musician. Please don’t give up on your music because it takes a long time!

You Need to Practice

Learning music does not just happen; you must practice! Anything worth doing takes practice to develop your skills! And don’t miss this: Practice is more than just playing things over again. Practicing means finding problems and working them out until they are no longer problems. Practicing also means looking for ways to play a piece or a passage better, make it sound better, and make it more beautiful. Never forget this – practice requires listening! If you don’t hear a problem, how will you correct it?

For more ideas about practicing, read this post.

And this post.

You need all these things to become a good musician. But, here is one thing you don’t need!

You DO NOT Need Natural Talent

Get this straight: Natural talent is the least important thing in becoming a good musician! Sure, you may not become the world’s best or most famous musician, but if you work hard, practice diligently, and keep at it, you can be a good musician. Hard work, practice time, effort, diligence, and even more practice time are the essential ingredients for becoming a good musician. Think about those amazing musicians you have heard perform. Most of what you hear is because of hard work and diligent practice! You can do that!

Now that you know you need these things to become a good musician, what will you do about it? Go forth and practice! Put in some diligent practice time and effort on your instrument. Work at the skills that will make you a better musician. Always look for progress, and always strive to get better! You can do this!

Let me know in the comment section what music you are currently working on. I’d love to hear from you.

Looking for more info on music lessons? Check these out:

What to Expect from your first Music Lesson with a new Teacher

Music Lesson Survival Guide

Make Friends with your Metronome

Most music students seem to have a love-hate relationship with their metronomes. What about you? Do you have a metronome? Do you use your metronome? It’s time for you to make friends with your metronome!

What is a Metronome?

A metronome is a small device that produces a steady beat. Originally metronomes were similar to small pendulums with a way to adjust the speed of the pendulum. Today you can still purchase mechanical metronomes, but more likely, musicians will use digital metronomes or even metronome apps on their phones.

Metronomes have been around for centuries! I guess that means that musicians have had issues with tempo and rhythm for centuries as well! (You aren’t the only one!) Historical records exist for a device similar to a metronome as far back as the 800s. The first successful musical metronome appeared in 1696. By the early 1800s, metronomes similar to what we use today were developed and patented. Beethoven was probably the first famous composer to write metronome markings in his music.

Why Should I Use a Metronome?

Use a metronome to practice keeping a steady tempo throughout a piece.

Too often, it seems, students tend to play the easy parts of a piece of music at one speed but then slow down during the hard parts of the music. Are you one of those students? Do you even know if you tend to do that? A metronome will provide unbiased proof of whether you slow down the hard parts or speed up during the easy parts. It is important to keep a steady tempo throughout both the easy and more difficult passages of your music.

Use a metronome to play at the correct tempo.

What does it mean when your music’s tempo marking is adagio? Or allegretto? Or largo? What if your music says mm = 120? What does that mean? MM=120 written in your music means you are supposed to play 120 beats of music in one minute. Your quarter note (usually designated by a written quarter note with the mm marking) should beat 120 times a minute. That is equal to two beats per second. If your metronome marking is 60, that means one beat per second, so a marking of 120 equals two beats per second. A marking of 90 means to play 1-1/2 beats per second. Confusing? It’s all about the math! Set your metronome to the marking listed in your music, and you will know exactly how fast or slow you should play.

And if the markings use words instead of numbers, your metronome has you covered there as well. Most metronomes provide ranges of beats for each tempo word. Largo means about 45-50 beats per minute (BPM). Moderato is 86-97 BPM, and Presto is considered 168-177 BPM. I remember seeing a piece marked “As fast as you can play.” Metronome markings can go up to 208 BPM.

Use a metronome to practice hard passages with lots of notes.

One effective way to use a metronome is when practicing a passage of music with lots of notes – 16th notes, 32nd notes, etc. The tendency for students is to slow down to play all the notes. Another tendency is to “cheat” your way through the passage – play all the notes but unevenly, or play the notes that come out and skip the rest. However, a good musician will work until he can play every note evenly and up to tempo.

Use your metronome to help you accomplish this. Start slowly, setting your metronome to beat for every 16th note. Then, when you can play the passage well slowly, little by little, increase the tempo. Then set your metronome to beat 8th notes. Again, little by little, increase the tempo. Set your metronome to beat quarter notes, and again, gradually increase your tempo with your metronome settings. You will “soon” (or eventually) master the passage and be able to play it well and up to tempo – without any “cheating!”

Use a metronome to challenge yourself to practice some things faster.

Some things = scales and arpeggios, for starters. I hope you have figured out that much of your music comes from different scales and arpeggios. So, if you routinely practice those, when you come across them in your music, your fingers will know what to do! Playing scales and arpeggios should become almost automatic for you. Your director says to play a D Major scale – your brain and fingers should know exactly what to do without much thinking at all.

Use your metronome to help you get better and faster at playing scales and arpeggios. First, be sure you can play a scale correctly and evenly at a slow tempo, like a quarter note = mm 90. Then increase the tempo to 120. After mastering that, go back to a setting of 90 and practice your scale in 8th notes, then triplets, then 16th notes. Then increase the tempo settings again and go through the process once more. You get the idea. Gradually increase your tempo until you can play the scale well at increasing speed. Sound boring? Maybe so, but it will pay off in the long run. The better you can play all your scales and arpeggios, the better you will play your music.

But what if I want to play rubato, or take some liberties with the rhythm?

Remember this – Your metronome is a tool, not a master. Use this tool to practice steady rhythm, conquer tricky rhythm, to master even playing. And then, set your metronome aside and play with musicality and feeling, with musicianship. Your metronome is a training tool to master the rhythm technique. Remember when you learned to ride a bicycle? You probably started with training wheels on your bike. After you mastered riding with training wheels, someone took them off, and you learned to ride your bike on your own. Think of your metronome as like training wheels. You can remove the training tool and rely on the skills you already learned at a certain point.  

Where Do I Find a Metronome?

You can find metronomes at most music stores, or you can easily order them online. Pendulum-type metronomes can be cool to have sitting on your piano or in the room where you practice. Small digital metronomes are much easier to carry with you, however. Or you can skip the physical metronomes and get a digital one as an app on your phone. Which kind of metronome you have doesn’t matter much. What matters is that you use one!

So, make friends with your metronome. Your band or orchestra directors will thank you; your fellow musicians will be eternally grateful, and your accompanist will eternally bless you. Even your music teacher will be thrilled with your new rhythm capabilities. And your overall musicianship will improve, which should make even you happy!

Looking for more suggestions about practicing? Check out the following articles:

Practice Like a Pro

I Don’t Know What to Practice

I Don’t Know What to Practice!

I don’t know what to practice! How many times have you heard this phrase recently? Or maybe you are the one guilty of saying this. I get it – if you or your child hasn’t had a lesson in a while, you feel like you are sick of practicing everything your teacher assigned you. Here are some ideas for what your child can practice when he doesn’t know what to practice.


First and foremost – practice scales! I can’t emphasize this enough – practice scales! All you keyboard players, practice your scales hands apart and hands together. Make sure you use the correct fingering. Play scales in contrary motion and parallel motion. Other instrumentalists, you need to practice scales also! If you are going to continue in music, you must know your scales – major, minor (all three kinds!), chromatic scales. Scales in every key!

Past Pieces

Practice music you already learned, music from the past. How can you play it better? What can you do to make it more expressive and more musical? Learn to play something from memory. Go back and work on those tricky passages again to see if you can make them better, smoother, cleaner. Review pieces you played last month, or last year.

Something New

Try learning some new music on your own. Maybe you have a piece that you always wanted to learn but never got to it in lessons. Have you found an arrangement of your favorite song that you want to learn? Go for it! Approach this new piece the same way you would start new music from your teacher. Be sure to check the key signature, time signature, accidentals, tricky rhythms. Learn something new just for fun.


Do you know what an arpeggio is? Think of a chord but played just one note at a time. That’s the basic idea of an arpeggio. You find arpeggios all over your music, so practicing them in advance will give you a head start on future music. Keyboardists, you need to be sure you practice arpeggios with correct fingering!

Compose Some Music

Try composing some original music. Wouldn’t your teacher be surprised if you come to your next lesson with some original music to play for her? Think of a little theme or melody, play around with it, add some variety to it – see what you can do! And then, take the challenge further and try to write it out with the correct notes and rhythm. Who knows – you might discover a new passion!

Did I Mention Scales?

Let me reiterate – practice your scales! Scales are foundational to all music! Did you know that most of those long tricky passages you see in more difficult music come from scales? So work on those scales until you no longer need to think how to play them, and you will be ready to face those complicated passages head-on.

OK – Go practice! No more excuses! I’ve just given you lots of ideas of what to practice.

Need some more help or ideas with practicing? Check these posts.

How to Help Your Child Practice

When Your Child Doesn’t Want to Practice

Practice Like a Pro