Here are some great tips to help out those of you who are struggling with practice, focus, discipline or just don’t know where to start with their practice routine. These are specific ideas that I personally have tried out and had great success with in terms of improving overall technical facility, speed, aural coherence and musical understanding (theory / harmony / rhythm). Basically:
- Define and write down a strong set of fundamentals you would like to improve upon (reading, harmony, rhythm, melody etc).
- Set certain times aside every day (or so) that you can definitely do focused, undisturbed practice in a quiet, internet and phone free environment.
Practice Routine Layout
Divide a rotate-able schedule into 3 or 4 ‘topical’ groups and practice each group in succession, either on the same day (if time allows) or over a period of a few days. Make every group at least 1 hour 30 minutes long and ensure each one deals with different relevant material as taken from ‘fundamentals’ (see list below) and /or ‘repertoire’ and ‘application’ ideas. Also, it is wise to include a small ‘review’ time in each group, where you practice and consolidate previously learnt material. You will ultimately decide what works best for your level and also for the direction you’re heading in musically – a key part of this process must be ‘consolidation’ – working in the ideas you’ve practiced inside of usable situations; jam sessions and at gigs etc. Keep a log of everything you practice and be very specific – start and finish times, dates, how long you practiced, exact material etc. Also, write out any studies you work out, either musically (on to a stave) or conceptually (on paper), this way you can teach it on and it’s great for reviewing.
- Time. Further divided into / should include; Metronome usage, bar subdivisions, tempo, meter.
- Harmony. Further divided into / should include; Scales, chords, arpeggios.
- Technique. Further divided into / should include; Accuracy, integrity, feel, placement, speed.
- Reading. Further divided into / should include; Rhythm, notation, chords, various styles and tempos.
- Genre. Include tunes drawn from many stylistically different genres; Swing (swung 8th or 16th notes), Latin (straight 8ths), Ballad, Funk, and 3/4 feels. You could even try putting tunes that you know in to contrasting genres (play a straight 8ths as a swing, or a 3/4 or ballad). Great challenge!
- Tempo. Be able to play each tune in at least 3 different tempos – slow (60-120bpm), medium (100-160bpm) and fast(160bpm+).
- Play alongs – Aebersold, Sher Music, record own backing. To CD / record over original artist.
Import wav. file(s) into recording software and record yourself OVER the actual artists.
- Jam sessions – find a tune and use exact ideas (in ‘lick or line form) within the harmonic / rhythmic matrix of the tune. You may want to do this verbatim at first, so that you can be sure you are actually able to perform what ever exercise / example it is that you’re wanting to apply – but don’t be afraid to experiment! You could embellish the particular practiced idea, rather than play it verbatim – but the key is to grab hold of a definite practice concept or one aspect and PUT IT INTO a tune.
- During lessons – then you really have to know your stuff! – teaching = consolidation and repetition of information.
- Play ideas / concepts/ lines at gigs – choose a tune and use exact ideas (in ‘lick or line form) within the harmonic / rhythmic matrix of the tune (as above in jam sessions) – BUT; ensure you are playing something you really have a hold of, not something half practiced otherwise you won’t be able to communicate this idea to the listener.
Remember that practice is about understanding, coming to terms with, reflecting upon, developing muscle and aural memory of musical material. The application of this material is the most important factor, you must always be applying practice to performance!
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