10 Lifestyle Habits of Successful Musicians

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Bobby McFerrin - Successful musicians
Photo of Bobby McFerrin courtesy of Creative Commons
It is said you can tell a musician by the way he or she walks. To successful musicians, music is a lifestyle. These 10 lifestyle habits are some of the keys shared by the great ones.

 

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1. Exercise daily

Keeping your body in shape is the key to a creative mind. Some of the most successful musicians attribute their musicality to their health. Many find running, going to the gym, yoga and sports to be a wonderful complement to their careers in music. Make sure that the exercise you choose will not have any negative effects on your instrument of choice (i.e. making your hands or throat sore).

2. Eat Healthy

In Three Wishes: An Intimite Look At Jazz Greats, legends of the 1960’s jazz scene (including John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and many more) were asked “what are your highest values?” The most common reply: “health is wealth.” A proper diet will support a clear mind and a responsive body. To make sure you are working at your full potential, be sure that you are eating a balanced diet rich with whole foods. Try to limit processed foods where you can. Most importantly, test what works for you. For some people, no added sugar is a mantra. For others, being salt free is the way. Try omitting certain things from your diet for a day or two and see what works for you.

3. Practice daily

This one is obvious to any musician who has achieved a high level of playing. Even 15 minutes of practice time on a busy day can be extremely valuable. Go for quality over quantity and make sure you have a clear head when you go into your practice space.

4. Seek out a teacher

While it may be tempting to learn everything you can from YouTube tutorials, invaluable knowledge comes from study with an experienced teacher. Find a teacher whose playing you admire and who you find a good rapport with. It is guaranteed that a good teacher can give you materials that will push your playing continuously to a higher level and faster than you can do on your own.

5. Develop your sense of rhythm

As Victor Wooten says in his book The Music Lesson the key is to find the groove. Mr. Wooten is one of the finest bassists in the world and he cites this as one of his greatest lessons. By learning to stay with the groove and not falter because of playing the wrong note, he learned to keep the band moving along instead of having to stop every time a blunder was heard. Keeping the band together is an invaluable skill and developing your sense of rhythm will do this. Playing with a metronome can also work wonders.

6. Work on a solo performance piece

Virtuoso singer Bobby McFerrin says that an essential way to develop your musicality is to pick a difficult piece and learn it really well. This will add to your repertoire and give you many skills that you can apply to improvisation.

7. Learn the rudiments

Scales, arpeggios, paradiddles, vocal scans and other fundamental exercises are important to musicians of all levels. Each instrument has its own essential exercises and it is recommended that you learn these. Once you’ve mastered all your major and minor scales and arpeggios, which may take a serious amount of time, you will be well equipped to handle music given to you by composers. Once you’ve spent enough time with these exercises you can stop practicing them because you will have ingrained them in your musical vocabulary.

8. Study musical style

Most musicians do not limit themselves to study of a certain style. It is important to listen to and study music from many cultures and create a synthesis within your playing. Ray Charles saw himself as a fusion of traditional gospel and contemporary Rhythm and Blues. Each musician is a product of everything they ever listen to and practice. What are your influences? Where could you expand your stylistic knowledge?

9. Apply knowledge from other instruments

If you are a trumpet player its good to listen to and try to learn something played by a violin player. If you are a pianist, learn a piece from the guitar canon. This will help you see music from a broader perspective.

10. If you are an instrumentalist, sing! If you are a singer, play an instrument!

Make sure to sing everything you play. This is how you can develop your ear and hear things before you play them. Many successful improvisers have a vast catalog of licks and phrases which they can recall from memory on the spot. This is a skill developed through singing and repetition. Most western composers and singer/songwriters play piano or guitar. These chordal instruments provide a platform for understanding musical structure. Using your voice and playing a chordal instruments are some of the most invaluable musical development tools, no matter what your instrument.

Didgeridoo Players You Should Know, Part II

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didgeridoo beatbox player aboriginal

I have been asked by Didge Project to expand upon the list of the best didgeridoo players that we all should know about, so here are a few names to add to the list! Feel free to contact Didge Project and add more!

Who Are The World’s Best Didgeridoo Players?

How to Play With Other Musicians

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Most people who play music are interested in collaborating with others, either starting a band or just jamming for fun. Yet for some it can be challenging to make that musical connection with another musician. Here are a few keys that will help you fit in to any musical collaboration.

Don’t lose the groove
One of the most important things in music is repetition. To establish a repeated structure for a piece gives everyone a framework within which to play. Take for example a structure of four bars that repeats and has added emphasis on the downbeat (beat 1). When I’m improvising over these four bars I play musical ideas that stray from the exact notes and rhythms of the repeated pattern. To show everyone that I know where I am I make sure to play a note on the downbeat with strong emphasis, just like everyone else. In this way I have plenty of space to improvise yet stay within the given form.

If I make a mistake in my playing, no matter how out of time or out of tune, or if I get lost, I make sure that I find my place in the structure and hit that strong downbeat. This approach can turn mistakes into musical ideas. If a mistake is made, repeat that same mistake and incorporate it into the piece.

Syncopate your rhythms
One of the best ways to add depth and excitement to a piece is to add syncopation, or the addition of beats between the strong beats. Try counting a piece as 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4 (repeating). Use a metronome to keep steady tempo. Now add the upbeats in between by saying 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and (repeating)… Once you can do this then be selective. Try 1, 2 and 3, 4, 1, 2and 3, 4… Here’s another: 1, 2, 3 and 4 and 1, 2, 3 and 4 and… Learning to syncopate will give you a lot of new musical ideas.

Give each other space
Working with other musicians is all about understanding each other. One of the best ways to achieve understanding is to listen to each other and one of the best ways to do that is to give each other space to play. Try taking an 8-count (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) but only playing beats 1 and 2. Essentially you will be counting in your head on beats 3-8. An easy way to practice this is to count out loud with your voice (repeat 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) and clap only on beats 1 and 2. Try it! Now do a variation of this by playing different beats within the cycle. Try playing beats 1, 6 and 8. Again, count out loud with your voice (repeat 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) and clap on beats 1, 6 and 8. Playing with space will give your fellow musicians an opportunity to fill in the space with their musical ideas.

Play in tune
Depending on your instrument playing in tune may be a great challenge or hardly an issue at all. That being said, you should always be aware of your intonation and try to tune yourself to the other musicians as closely as possible. When it comes to harmonizing and playing in unison, intonation is key. A great way to practice intonation is to play with an externally generated drone, such as an electronic tanpura (I use iTabla Pro) or sing while playing a pitched instrument like guitar or piano. This will help you to develop your ear and find ways to adjust your pitch to meet other musicians, even if they are slightly out of tune. For a challenge, check out these ear training exercises.

Thank you for joining me on this musical journey. I wish you fruitful collaborations ahead!

What is a didgeridoo (the droning Aboriginal Australian wind instrument)?

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The didgeridoo is a wind instrument made from hollow wood. The first didgeridoos, played by aboriginal peoples in northern Australia an estimated 40,000 years ago, were made from fallen eucalyptus branches that had been naturally hollowed out by termites. It is also known that the mayan people of Central America had a similar instrument made of yucca or agave and today referred to as “la trompeta maya” (the mayan trumpet).

Modern didgeridoos are commonly made from eucalyptus, bamboo, and agave. In theory, any enclosed column of air, such as a PVC pipe can be made into a didgeridoo by blowing through it.

The didgeridoo is both a pitched instrument and a percussion instrument. Each didge has one fundamental tone as well as a series of overtones that can be altered by the lips of the player. The didge can also played rhythmically, serving as both a bass and a time keeping instrument.

Check out aboriginal didgeridoo master David Blanasi showing how to make didgeridoos in this video:

Modern didgeridoos are used in many world music applications including beatboxing, dance music and meditation. Check out our list of Didgeridoo Players You Should Know.

For a thorough history of the didgeridoo, visit ididjaustralia’s Didgeridoo History.

Didgeridoo Lessons from Didge Project:

Welcome to your first lesson on how to play didgeridoo. In this video class you will learn some basic breathing techniques, how to use the different parts of your body required for playing, and some simple practices that you...
Circular breathing is a wind instrument technique that allows the player to sustain a tone for an extended period of time. This is accomplished by storing air in the mouth (inflating the cheeks) and using this reservoir of air...
Are you having trouble locking the seal on your didgeridoo mouthpiece? Are you looking for a comfortable and hygienic mouthpiece for your didgeridoo and guidance on how to apply it? Look no further; we've got you covered with this...
This past winter I decided to record a series of new didgeridoo tutorials to update our community on the practices that I have found most beneficial in didgeridoo playing. Among these are vocalization techniques, how to play with a...
   Lip stretching is the fundamental warm-up for didgeridoo playing and it’s all about preparation. So before you touch the didge, before you buzz your lips, do these lip stretches. Also if someone comes to me and says they...
We celebrated the arrival of 2022 with Didge Project's AJ Block for a live question and answer session on all things related to the didgeridoo. Participants asked questions and AJ answered them and did a lot of live didgeridoo...

Playing The Didgeridoo For Sleep Apnea with Dr Jordan Stern of BlueSleep.

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Jordan Stern, MD is a board certified Ear, Nose & Throat surgeon with over 25 years of clinical experience. Dr. Stern is one of the very few ENT specialists who is also board certified in Sleep Medicine. He is the Founder and Medical Director of BlueSleep Medical Center in New York City. Visit Dr. Stern at http://www.bluesleep.com

The practice of the didgeridoo is clinically proven to treat sleep apnea and snoring. In 2006 the British Medical Journal reported a study that compared two groups of patients with moderate sleep apnea: one group that practiced 6 days a week for 25 minutes and another group which did not play didgeridoo. They found that the group that practiced didgeridoo had a significant decrease in their snoring and great improvement in their sleep apnea.

Music: “Resolution” by Didge Project from the album “As One” http://didgeproject.bandcamp.com

The Long Inhalation: An Essential Circular Breathing Technique

The Long Inhalation is a special circular breathing technique for didgeridoo or other winds, which is different from the way you see it taught.

To perform this exercise you will need your lungs to be mostly empty. Essentially you will play a drone and inhale through your nose for as long as possible while still maintaining the didgeridoo sound. The goal is to develop a circular breathing technique that lets you keep a strong drone while bringing air in through the nose. Don’t miss the video below!

Performing The Long Inhalation Circular Breathing Technique:

1. Exhale the majority of your air by blowing out
2. Put the didge up to your mouth and play a drone making sure your cheeks are full
3. Inhale through your nose at the slowest rate possible. Keep the sound of the drone strong by contracting the muscles of your cheeks and jaw to expel air. The air should flow at the same rate
4. Let the sound die out once you have run out of air

It’s important to let the sound die out at the end of each attempt (at first). This will allow you to fully focus on the principle of inhaling and making sound at the same time. Once you can do this successfully, move on to the following exercise.

Performing The Long Inhalation followed by Abdominal Burst:

Now you will perform the same steps 1-3 from the previous exercise with the following ending:

1. Exhale the majority of your air by blowing out
2. Put the didge up to your mouth and play a drone making sure your cheeks are full
3. Inhale through your nose at the slowest rate possible. Keep the sound of the drone strong by contracting the muscles of your cheeks and jaw to expel air. The air should flow at the same rate
4. Before the sound has a chance to die out, send a new wave of air through the instrument by engaging your abdominal muscles in a quick burst.
5. Play the drone for a while until you feel that your air supply is low
6. Repeat steps 3-5

Practicing this circular breathing technique will seem difficult at first, especially if you are new to the practice of didgeridoo or your wind instrument. Once you can master it, however, the long inhalation will allow you to perform circular breathing without losing any of the force of your air stream.

Ready for further training on circular breathing? Want to see how to put all the pieces together? Sign up below for a free video class on Circular Breathing Exercises You Can Try At Home.

The 5 Most Effective Practices To Treat Sleep Apnea With The Didgeridoo

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The treatment of sleep apnea is quite challenging because there is not a single treatment that works well for every patient. The didgeridoo has been used to treat sleep apnea and it has been shown to be effective in part because of strengthening of the pharyngeal muscles, which means the muscles of the throat, as well as the muscles of the tongue.

– Dr. Jordan Stern, BlueSleep

For the past six years we at Didge Project have been given the opportunity to work with many people with obstructive sleep apnea and have seen great results. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or instances of shallow or infrequent breathing during sleep. According to the National Institute of Health, there are over 12 million Americans documented as having sleep apnea, and likely a great deal more in unreported cases. For our original article on didgeridoo for sleep apnea and the University of Zurich study, click here.

Based on the feedback we receive from our clients, some of whom have now played didgeridoo for multiple years, we have developed a system that focuses on strengthening the muscles of the throat and the back of the tongue, the same muscles that are attributed to obstructive sleep apnea.

treat sleep apnea with didgeridooOne client, Paul Auerbach, says:

My path to playing the didgeridoo began with difficulty staying asleep at night and low daytime energy. An overnight sleep study showed that I had sleep apnea. After two weeks of playing didgeridoo daily I became aware that I was sleeping much better. I believe that this was a combination of the strengthening of my throat muscles and the meditative state induced by the vibrations of the didgeridoo. Since then, about two years ago, I do not consider myself to have a sleep problem anymore. It is truly wonderful to no longer be living my life in a state of sleep deprivation.

treat sleep apnea with didgeridooWe decided to take our research to the professional level and consulted expert Dr. Jordan Stern of BlueSleep. Dr. Stern performed a nasal endoscopy on me while I played the didgeridoo, meaning that he was able to look at the muscles of my throat while I played the didgeridoo.

After analyzing the video of my throat he said that didgeridoo playing is “clearly a great workout for the tongue and the muscles in the deep part of the throat. We can understand why working out these muscles, making them stronger, will help breathing at night, will help keep the airway open and prevent snoring and sleep apnea.” Dr. Stern showed us physically what we should be focusing on as we work with clients. We now apply certain wind-instrument techniques to treat sleep apnea and the results we see have improved significantly.

Here are The 5 Most Effective Practices To Treat Sleep Apnea With The Didgeridoo:

  1. Develop Consistent Practice Habits

There are two types of practice patterns that I see in people who play didgeridoo. The first type is who resists playing the instrument but once he finally sits down with it he is able to play for over an hour on end. This is helpful in the initial stages of developing muscles tone and just familiarizing yourself with the instrument. However, I have seen that daily practice, for as little as 20 to 30 minutes, is much more effective. I have received multiple reports from my clients telling me that practicing daily for a set amount of time directly effects the quality of sleep on any given night. One client says that if he doesn’t play one day, his sleep that night will not be as good.

  1. Play With The Best Sound Possible

The quality of the didgeridoo sound is always important. Basic exercises such as lip buzzing, playing long tones on didgeridoo and playing overtones with the tongue are some of the key techniques to strengthen the muscles of the throat and the tongue.

  1. Learn Circular Breathing, But Don’t Be Attached To It

Circular breathing is a wind instrument technique that allows the player to sustain a tone for an extended period of time. This is accomplished by storing air in the mouth (inflating the cheeks) and using this reservoir of air to inhale through the nose while air is still coming out the mouth. This technique is not necessary to treat sleep apnea, however, it will enhance the efficacy of the practice. By utilizing circular breathing a player can play for many minutes on end, resulting in longer engagement of the muscles of the throat and tongue and thus getting a better workout for this part of the body.

  1. Utilize Your Voice

Exercising your vocal chords while playing didgeridoo, especially in the lower register, is an effective way to strengthen the muscles that collapse during sleep apnea. Similar to speech therapy for sleep apnea, using the voice in conjunction with the didgeridoo drone requires an extra layer of muscle engagement and

  1. Get Direct Feedback From An Experienced Teacher

Trying to learn didgeridoo exclusively from videos is a difficult endeavor. Some people are capable of doing it, especially if they already have wind instrument experience. For most, we recommend meeting with a teacher regularly until the player can sustain a high-quality sound and apply some of the basic techniques.

Clave Rhythms For Didgeridoo (20-Minute Video Class)

In much of African and Afro-Latin music, a key element is the bell pattern, or clave pattern: a syncopated rhythmic figure that repeats and is the foundation for a musical form. Using a variety of clave patterns we can create rhythms for didgeridoo that are exciting with an upbeat feel. In this video we explore clave rhythms from Africa, Cuba, Latin-America and Brazil, and we learn what each of these claves sounds like and how to play it.

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