How To Get Better At Anything

Happy new year!

So, I started learning to play guitar in my early teens. In that time, there were three important things that helped me to improve:

  1. Practice (obviously)
  2. Getting help from better guitarists
  3. Going in over my head

It’s the third point that I want to highlight today.

It’s important to try something challenging in order to get better. This doesn’t apply to only guitar, but any skill, really, including singing, recording, mixing, mastering, you name it.

We are often far too content to simply sit within our comfort zones. After the novelty of a new skill has worn off, we’re happy to just stick with things we’re good at. Not take any challenges. Not take any risks.

That’s fine I guess, but in order to really improve at something, I believe that it’s important to push ourselves. To try something a little harder than we’ve ever tried before. Something that maybe we’re not so sure we can pull off. Something we have to work at.

Of course, it’s possible to go too far with this. Many times I’ve decided to take on a challenge that really was too far out for me. In the end I got discouraged and frustrated, and ended up quitting.

That doesn’t do anybody any good.

Instead, we should take on tasks that are challenging, but attainable. Even if they’re not achieved quite in the way we planned, the journey of trying hard to achieve a difficult goal forces us to get better.

The other night, I was watching The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug with my wife, in preparation to go see The Battle of the Five Armies in theatres (which was awesome, by the way).

At the end of the movie, there is a song called “I See Fire” which has a very cool fingerstyle guitar part. I decided that I wanted to try to learn it.

It’s not a terribly challenging guitar part, but it did take some work. I’m not very experienced with this style of guitar playing, so it was a stretch for me.

But once I got it, oh man that felt good!

A month or so ago, I took on a 4 song production project with a friend of mine who is a piano player and singer. It was my first time really recording a musician other than myself. It was challenging and scary, but we managed to finish the project, and again, it felt good!

Later this month, I’m planning to produce a song with a friend which will force me to do several things I’ve never done before, including:

  • Work with several different musicians
  • Record remotely (i.e. outside of my studio)
  • Record an acoustic piano
  • Record a violin and cello

It’s a little scary. But I’m really excited about it. It will force me to step outside my comfort zone, learn something new, and most importantly, I know that I’m going to get better because of it.

What challenge are you going to take on this year?

Don’t make it too hard! You don’t want to get frustrated and discouraged.

But don’t make it too easy. Push yourself a little. Try something a little harder than you’ve ever tried before. You will get better.

Leave a comment and let me know how you’re going to challenge yourself this year. I read every comment, and I will do my best to hold you to your challenge!

Have a fantastic new year!



5 thoughts on “How To Get Better At Anything

  1. Excellent piece of advice, Alex. I really loved reading this post and it connected with me really well. I have experienced this a little bit when I have tried to attempt playing a few songs I like, on my keyboard. As first I could not figure out what key signature the song is in, but once I have figured out a few notes, I could figure out the next ones easily. I have not practiced those songs yet and so cannot play them, but the moment when I had struck the right notes was very satisfying. I want to transfer this into learning to play most parts of the song at once, if not the entire song. Good mention about collaboration as well.

    I have one question here, if it is possible for you to answer. What is your recording gear/setup and environment like?

    Thanks so much for sharing this, and all the other great posts you have been sharing so far. Keep up the good work, and I’ll look forward to your next post.


    1. Thanks for the comment, Kaitav!

      I’m so that that this post resonated with you. It definitely helps to try to do something hard, and press through.

      My gear and setup is pretty modest. My DAW is Logic Pro. I use an old Presonus FirePod as my interface (it is now called the Presonus FireStudio). I have a pair of decent monitors (Yorkville YSM 6) and headphones (ATH-M40fs). I built my own acoustic treatment for my small studio room. I’ve gradually built up a reasonable microphone collection, ranging in price and quality. I think I have 8 microphones now. That’s totally unneccesary; you can get great recordings with a single microphone. In fact, when I recorded my EP, I probably only used one or two (except on the drums).

      I have never paid for a plugin, and I don’t used cracked plugins. My only third party plugins were free downloads. I’m on a 5 year old MacBook Pro laptop, which is still working for now. May have to replace it this year sometime.

      So I have built up a decent collection of gear, but not nearly as much as some people have. And for the most part, I just buy what I need. I don’t get all the latest plugins, software or hardware. I firmly believe that you can get great recordings and mixes on budget gear, if you focus on improving yourself. I have spend a good amount of money in the last couple years on training products from people like Joe Gilder and Graham Cochrane. They have been far more helpful than any gear purchase.

      Hope this helps man. Keep up the great music. Loved your album!


      1. Very nice to know about your studio gear, Alex. Thanks so much for sharing all the details. 🙂

        I am totally opposite to you when it comes to gear. My studio is mostly software based, but I do have pretty decent hardware gear as well. I have a lot of third party instruments (VSTs) and sample libraries that I have been collecting from past 3 years or so, and all of these including the hardware gear I have is purchased on my own or I have downloaded free stuff which is royalty free to use. With all this I have setup a home studio in one of the rooms of our house.

        The only microphone I have is SM58 which I had got for recording vocals. Unfortunately, I have not been able to put it to use yet. However, I do plan to use it in near future, and as you said, I will stick with only this microphone. I won’t buy any other unless it is absolutely necessary or I want to record some instrument.

        A couple of years ago I reduced a lot of sample collection, and I want to start by cutting down the sample collection and VST plug-ins a lot more (following Studio Detox by Graham 🙂 ). It is the time to learn and get better at things you use the most.

        Thank you so much for appreciating (and tagging) my album. I am glad you liked it. I liked your EP as well, and I am looking forward to more music from you this year. My best wishes for your future projects! 🙂


      2. Nice! Yes, from listening to your music, I assumed that you used plenty of software instruments and samples. They sound great!

        Yes, it certainly is useful to trim down and get better at the core. I like what Graham is doing with the “Studio Detox”. Makes a lot of sense!

        Thanks, Kaitav 🙂


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