Music that is.
No, I'm not coming from the stance of being an "ace." I did teach for some time. Could not lie to parents whose kids sucked, didn't practice or didn't care.
But I have learned.
Practice perfect. If you practice mistakes, they become ingrained in you. If you keep it up, you will get worse at your instrument.
It's not about time. It's about using the time well. Plus, if you just count hours, you will be practicing when you're tired. Which accomplishes nothing.
Go back to basics. Woodshed on those scales, etudes, exercises and rudiments. You won't be sorry.
Speed kills. If you really feel like you need to be the fastest kid on the block, you are probably sacrificing technique to do so. And singers, high notes and vocal fireworks kill.
You don't need the best. Equipment that is. In my experience, players who talk incessantly about their gear are often substandard musikers.
Go easy on the headphones. Especially for drummers. They are great for learning certain chops and playing along with your idols. They are pieces of shit in teaching you how to drive a band (see, drummers?) or play in an ensemble.
Work on your sound. This one talks to horn players in particular. If I hear you ripping off sixteenth-note runs, I never get to appreciate the actual sound you are producing. And that sound is everything. Hey, Mr. Hendrix, Jr., do you really needs 22 stomp boxes to sound good? Jeesh!
Play with the best. The more you surround yourself with master players, the better you will become.
Learn to read. Or brush up. I have seen slump-shouldered players banished from sessions because they couldn't read a chart. At least learn to follow the "roadmap" of a chord chart. You can do this in a week.
Quit. Did I just say that? Yep. "Shift gears" might be a better admonition. If your group is going nowhere--or stuck in a rut playing the same gigs in front of the same people, change is the only thing that can rescue you. Okay, Slumpy McGuinness grew up on your block. He can't play bass. He is holding you back--and probably others. Bye, Slumpy.
Play the song. Not just your part. Most likely, you're there to support a singer. Here's an idea: Why not set a wonderful sound picture for a beautiful song? Or would you rather shred?
Don't trust your friends. Relax. I'm sure your buds travel all over creation to see you play. Of course, they're going to say how great you and the band are. But these folks are biased. See how you to when playing in front of new audience. That is a better barometer.
"Tasty" is great. "Too tasty" is, well, boring. The world needs offensive linemen.
Listen. To what every other player is doing. This means learning your music inside/out/over/under/up/down. When you can play the tune in your sleep, now your ears are freed up to improve the entire ensemble. If you know only one way to play a tune, head to the shed. Now you begin to make it better, Jude.
Don't base your playing on someone else. There already is a Clapton, Peart (!), Winwood. When you get comfortable with your own self, people will listen more closely. If you imitate, you will never find your own voice.
Record. As often as possible. This allows you to re-examine your playing in the best way. And also discover what might need work.
Open up. To other types of music. If you are a into Metal Vöid, cool. Just don't expect to get called for gigs where you have to play at less than 11 on the amp.
Disregard the civilians. Of course, they pay to see you play. Appreciate them. But bear in mind they don't know much about music. Folks will always react to a hit song played in mediocre fashion. But when you and the gang pull off a way intense tune, don't be surprised when you get a wimpy golf clap. In short, acknowledge and entertain the crowd. Just don't base your performance on them.
Some of this may seem brusque. It's not meant to be. I'm not even talking about the business here.
Now go play. Or practice.