I talked to Tim Riddle, guitarist and songwriter about his routine for practicing and the tools he uses to do it. And about how he combines practicing with writing songs.
Hi Tim, thanks for taking the time to give us a little insight into your practicing routine. How long have you been playing music? Did you start with guitar, or did you come to it later?
Hi Chris, thanks for having me! Since I was a kid, I've been making music: First, I used my mom's cooking pots as a substitute for drums, then I started playing the piano when I was eight. In between, I also played the drums – but that wasn't the right thing for me. When I was about 16, I started playing guitar, and two years later, I started studying jazz guitar at the Folkwang University of the Arts.
When did you start practicing seriously? When did you know that you wanted to make this your profession?
Hmm, basically from the moment I knew you could study music and make that your profession. I think that was about half a year after I started playing guitar.
Since I knew I didn't have long before I was done with school, I started practicing seriously. I was always afraid that I was too bad. Since I didn't know anyone else who wanted to study music or played jazz, I practiced on suspicion that everyone else already knew everything.
Were you often frustrated by practicing? Would you have liked more tools?
Yes, definitely – since I was a late bloomer when it came to the internet, etc., I had, if at all, a recording I could play along with. But most of the recordings were too fast for me. My most significant discovery back then, I think, was that there were guitar loopers where you could record something yourself and then play along with it.
Tools like Tonaly would have made practicing a lot more creative and easier for me.
How has studying changed the way you practice? Have you become more structured? Did you work with a set practice schedule?
In my studies, I have come to terms with how I learn in the first place. Seeing other students how they practice and how much they practice, when they practice, what routines they have influenced me a lot. Probably too much. Because I was constantly comparing myself to other musicians, I was afraid that I wasn't good enough. So I picked up routines – "practice 6 hours every day. Otherwise, I'm too bad." In the end, though, I didn't enjoy it very much, and I noticed how I was getting more and more on autopilot with making music. I think I was just oversaturated, with the thousands of notes every day.
To explain my approximate structure anyway: I worked a lot on having a complete overview of the fretboard – scale exercises to the point of no return. Thirds, fourths, fifths, etc., in all possible positions. The same with triads and tetrads. Always with a metronome on, because my time was not very good.
Another part that always took a lot of time was composition. And if it was only mini pieces, I still remember very vividly that that was the most fun for me. I could then practice solos, check out new voicings (or chords), and practice on my accompaniment.
What does your practicing routine look like today? Do you practice differently now than you did in college?
To be honest, I don't have one anymore. After practicing in a structured way for a very long time, at some point, I asked one of my guitar heroes Reinier Baas how he practiced "this-and-that". His answer was always "I was just f*cking around with it." And somehow that stuck in my head – this: "I just practice it because I'm into it, and if I'm not into it anymore, then I don't practice it."
Of course, you shouldn't take this to mean that it is enough to practice for five minutes without having any kind of result and then keep starting something new. I think that is a very subjective thing: if you have the feeling: "I have now really given my best and have (even if it may be only a small success) achieved something with my practice" then, at least for me, sometimes it's enough to continue with it the next day, or the next week.
What tools do you use for practice?
Meanwhile, I often use my DAW (a music program that allows you to record). I use it like I used to use my looper: I record my own backing track, which I can then play along to.
Tonaly is great for that – sometimes I just want to play along to something but don't have a specific track I want to gamble on. Then within minutes, I can pick out a few chords that I like. Since the whole thing is so fast, you can even compose several parts in no time, and so it doesn't get boring so quickly when you use the entire thing as a backing track.
What features of Tonaly do you like the most when you practice?
For me, practicing guitar now has a lot to do with composing at the same time – so I can foster my creativity in that direction. But writing pieces on the same instrument all the time can be tricky – you just have your favorite chords and voicings on your instrument, and that makes it take a long time to come up with new ideas.
Tonaly helps me focus on what I would like to hear and not what I like to play on the guitar (which are often enough two different pair of shoes). I compose a basic framework in no time and can go from there.
Since the app also has a metronome function and different sounds you can set as accompaniment, I can even practice or compose when I'm on the road and play it all through the app.
How do you motivate yourself to practice when you don't feel like it? Do you let it go, or do you think a "daily routine" is important?
I think it depends on the type of learner: Are you someone who learns by working continuously and, for example, learns well by heart? Then a routine might be just the thing. If you are more impulsive and, for example, in school or university, you can sit down only with difficulty studying, this is perhaps not so conducive. Unfortunately, you then have to find your own way of making it work and keeping your "enthusiasm for practicing" as high as possible without a routine.
What would you recommend to other musicians who want to practice more effectively?
I believe that, by far, the most effective way to learn is to have fun. For anyone who wants to learn an instrument, songwriting, or production, the most important thing to focus on is: how can I have fun doing it and understanding why I don't enjoy certain parts of it? Is there a way to make things that seem boring to me but maybe necessary (for example, music theory or finger exercises) more interesting?
The point is to keep going as long as possible and to be inspired. And the easiest way to do that is to have fun. We don't say that an instrument is "played" for nothing.
For me, especially in my early days, an app like Tonaly would have been a great tool to achieve this even easier and learn even faster.
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