We all tend to fall into playing or singing what we know over and over again, regardless of skill level.  Once we are comfortable playing a piece of music – either just strumming chords on a guitar, singing a song we learned the lyrics to, or playing a more complex composition on our instrument – it becomes very easy and enjoyable to keep resorting back to the same.  Doing so requires low effort and at the same time provides a high feeling of satisfaction.  However, once we do this for too long, we get stuck in the cycle of non-growth.  We don’t challenge our mind or finger muscles, and therefore experience no significant musical improvement.

To be able to grow, in any discipline and equally so in music, we must put ourselves in a slightly uncomfortable position of not being able to do something new well at first.

To be able to grow, in any discipline and equally so in music, we must put ourselves in a slightly uncomfortable position of not being able to do something new well at first.  This is the moment when our brain gets challenged and starts to form new connections, expanding our musical and physical abilities.

Here are several tips that can help spark some ideas on how you can continuously challenge yourself, and build a habit of of lifelong music learning:

           1. Learn to play an entirely new song every month

Having a goal to learn a new song regularly both expands our repertoire and challenges us to learn a slightly different musical skill every time.  The more different the songs are, the more of a challenge it is and more learning takes place.

          2. Learn the basics (or some songs) of a new musical style

If you like to play classical music, try to learn some jazz.  If you play rock, try some flamenco or bluegrass.  If you play jazz, try some afro-cuban music.  Or any other style that you have a slight interest in or like listening to but never had courage or time to learn to play.  Not only will different music styles challenge you, but they will surely add a piece of musicality to your playing.  Each style of music has certain unique intricacies of rhythm, melody, harmony, lyricism, and so on, that can greatly enhance your abilities within the primary music style of playing.  Furthermore, if you compose music, expand your musical language.

           3. Learn to play a different instrument

This one can be challenging, but learning a different instrument can greatly improve certain aspects of your musicality.  Playing drums or some kind of percussion instrument can improve your rhythm.  Learning to play some piano can improve your concept of harmony or melody.  Learning to play a wind or any melodic instrument or starting to sing can help with the overall concept of melody and nuance, and so on.  Be sure to pick something that you somewhat like, so that you enjoy the process more.

            4. Write a piece of music

Composing music is a phenomenal way to express yourself, grow your musicality, and learn the intricacies of music.  We can all make music and compose, regardless of skill level.  Little kids sing their own little songs.  As we grow, we tend to be a bit more shy, but the free little kid is still inside us and can make new music.  It is like playing with toys, but using notes instead.

            5. Go to hear concerts outside of the genre you like

There is nothing like listening to live music that is not what you are used to that will get you challenged and inspired.  There is more to music in a live setting than just music.  There is the culture surrounding it as well.  You might just find out that your heart is drawn to this new kind of expression and even decide to pursue this new style of music professionally.

I hope this gives you a few ideas on how to continuously challenge yourself and grow, and ultimately enrich your musical and personal life.