25 great music-making tips from musicians

UPDATE 2014: Advice From Musicians is now a thing - click here to see the best tips submitted by Music Thing readers
In the results of the Music to make you happy survey in February, the things that impressed me most were the answers to the question "What's the best piece of advice about making music that you've ever heard?" Within the 1,100+ responses are hundreds of great tips - some old, some new, some obvious, some arcane. Like these, for starters...
  1. Like Kraftwerk, have a non-music day every week or so (Anonymous computer musician)
  2. If things go wrong, just maintain that you were playing jazz (Max/MSP enthusiast)
  3. Play less (Guitarist, and lots of other people)
  4. When learning to play a piece of music, play it first so slowly that you don't get a single note wrong. Then slowly increase the speed. Then, play louder than normal at the proper speed and you'll play more confidently (A bass player and a synth tweaker)
  5. When editing, don't cut the breath off before someone starts talking or singing (Guitarist)
  6. Finish the first draft (Bass plyer)
  7. It's essential to begin every recording by asking 'Are we Recording?' (Guitarist - is that you, Peter?)
  8. Before you start for the day, go for a long walk (Computer musician)
  9. Listen. Listen very carefully. No. REALLY listen. (A guitarist, although 115 people used the word 'listen' in their tips)
  10. Wear earplugs (Drummer)
  11. Hit it hard, ye massive ponce (Drummer)
  12. Grab some string and bend it. If it doesn't sound right move up a fret and try again. (Guitarist)
  13. Start now, don't wait (Keyboard player)
  14. Get into the groove / Boy, you've got to prove / Your love to me (Guitarist)
  15. Retune your guitar, so you don't know the notes, then try making music with only your ears as guides (Keyboard player)
  16. Tune your guitar, play in time (Guitarist)
  17. Do it in triplets! (Programmer)
  18. Make, go sleep and check again tomorrow... (Synth tweaker)
  19. You may think you're playing your instrument, but what you're really playing is the audience (Studio engineer)
  20. Keep your cigarette lighter away from my drummer - He'll set fire to anything that burns (Nord Modular enthusiast)
  21. Do something every day. Even if all you do is make a beat or write some lyrics or a bassline or whatever, do something. Even if you just have a few minutes a day to spare, the material you have quickly builds up (Field recordist)
  22. "Play more things that make me dance around and less things that make me sit and look miserable in a plastic chair" - Brian Eno (Guitarist)
  23. Learning any instrument is about scales. Scales. Scales. Scales. The trick is to make learning the scales interesting. Which is hard. And I've never done it. Which is a shame (Studio engineer)
  24. Never listen to the same loop for longer than 10 minutes (Beat maker)
  25. Write as many songs as you can and pick the best (Guitarist)
To be continued...

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Which musical instrument will make me happiest?

Now it starts to get interesting (thank you for your patience). In the survey, I asked which instruments you can play "well enough to enjoy it", and which one of those instruments makes you happiest right now.
The most popular instrument was synth, followed by guitar. The graph above shows which instruments make people the happiest*. And the winner, overwhelmingly, is the humble guitar.
Is that surprising? I'm slightly surprised, but also comforted, that a geeky, gadget obsessed, synth-twiddling group like us still really, really, like playing guitars. I also feel really sorry for all you dissatisfied singers...
*It's the percentage of people who said they play a particular instrument, who then went on to say it made them happiest. So, if only one person played bass, and it made them happiest, it would score 100%. If you're better at stats than me and would like to see the raw data, get in touch and I'll pass it along.


Which instruments do Music Thing readers play?

No huge surprises here. Everyone's a synth twiddler, not that many are high-end musical programming language fans. I wonder if 'recording studio' and 'low geek' should be merged - they're both really just general recording.
'Something else' bought a few surprises: The most popular choices were, in order: Saxophone, banjo, mandolin, flute, harmonica, trombone, clarinet, violin, theremin, cello, melodica, accordion, ukelele, recorder, lap/pedal steel, circuit bending, kazoo, tuba, didgeridoo, turntable, Gameboy. Less popular suggestions included "Amiga 500 Protracker", "ebowed toaster oven rack", "Fart hands", "Mechanical monk", and two LOLlers suggested "Skin flute".


Can Music Thing readers read music?

So, the survey was a big success - 2,200 replies in a week. Thank you very much.
There are a few really interesting results which I'm checking at the moment, but first of all... Can you read music? 578 of you can, 1,124 of you can 'sort of', and 419 can't at all.
The results for individual instruments are interesting. These results are based on answers to the question: "Which 'instrument' makes you happiest right now?"


The Music Thing 'Which instruments can you play?' survey of 2008

I've been playing piano a bit recently, and thinking about how bad I am at it. Using the wondrous new Google Forms system, I thought I'd find out how you feel. I'm off to Cornwall for a week, so results and hopefully many graphs next week.
UPDATE: Sunday 24th January - thank you for the 2,200 replies. The survey is now closed. Results soon.


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