“FEEL” & How to Play a Musical Instrument:

Hi There,

     I know most, if not all, of the artists reading this are well beyond much of the advice I’ve written below, but I thought as musicians you might appreciate & enjoy reading about the concepts I’ve tried to outline here & perhaps share them with younger players or maybe even find something applicable to your own joy of making music.  Do not be offended as this is intended neither to suggest that anyone in particular needs this advice, nor that I know it all, because I certainly don’t!

That said, I believe a musician must learn their instrument in the following order:

1) How to hold it & position their body & hands correctly.


2) How to tune & maintain it to reliably produce a single in-tune sustained pitch while developing an ear for timbre: does the tone I’m producing sound pleasing to the ear &, if not, why & how do I correct it?  Is the issue technique, a mechanical problem with the instrument, or both?

3) Build the required muscles while learning the note names &/or locations while practicing scales(trying to imitate recordings is good ear training here, too).

4) Learn to play these exercises in strict time with a steady beat reference (or the recording you wish to emulate) without ignoring the timing reference(beatbox, metronome, drummer, etc) in favor of focusing on & hearing only your own instrument.  This is the number one mistake I hear, even in semi-pro bands, where the group is all playing simultaneously, but not locked to the drummer who must be the “master time keeper”(though there are many situations in which some instruments may play ahead of or behind the beat to add either a sense of urgency or mellowness …but this leads us to the next step).

5) After steps 1-4, one must develop the concept, understanding, & application of “feel”.  Feel can not be notated on a piece of sheet music because the elements from which it is comprised are far too many & subtle to be accommodated by standard musical notation.  It can only come from the human mind, “heart”, & soul. As an exercise, take any simple musical phrase & see how many extremely subtle variations of each note’s volume, timing, tone, shifting/sliding between notes, vibrato, bending, etc with which you can play it(there should be nearly infinite combinations).  Soon you’ll begin to understand “feel” & be able to recognize when a piece is performed technically “correctly” as written yet doesn’t sound quite “right”.  With time & the required aptitude you’ll be able to pick out which element of feel is incorrect in any given performance.  Of course, due to the subtleties involved, opinions on what is the correct feel for any given piece may vary widely, but when it sounds “right” to you, makes you smile, &/or gives you chills, you’ll know you have begun to master the concept of feel.

P.S.  Many famous musicians were born blessed with an innate sense of musical timing, feel, & creativity, but even they had to master steps 1)2), & 3) before rising to greatness.

P.S.S.  Any thoughts on these subjects?  Feel free to leave a comment & share!

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