The ultimate secret to playing mastery is being so relaxed while you play that everything comes out and sounds like you meant to do it that way (even if it was a mistake).
Sometimes you have to take a step back and examine your persective.
It can be very easy to get swept away by common musicians' challenges:
There are also the pitfalls of comparison:
Practice maniacs may actually suffer from a compulsive disorder, and need to be on medication. We never know the whole story.
Then, we can also get sucked into the age old competition of becoming the best at whatever we play there ever was. Many musicians have gone down in flames with that very thought blistered across their minds.
It would be just as easy to say, "Practice is important!", and leave it at that without getting carried away to extremes.
To simply promise yourself to do the best you can every time you play and every time you practice.
We get twisted up and paralyzed by too much pressure. It can literally suck all the fun out of being a musician. It can turn your practice time into a hellish nightmare.
Pressure to perform and pressure to improve both make you put unreasonable expectations on yourself. They make you set unreasonable goals. It makes you concentrate harder on "not messing up" when you should concentrate on what you want to hear.
Comparison gets you in even worse trouble. It can be very discouraging if you can't accomplish similar feats with your music as someone else you may compare yourself to. It doesn't have to be someone famous either; it could be a teacher or fellow student.
So, how can you avoid doing this to yourself?
You can remind yourself why you bacame a musician in the first place:
Once you can take the pressure off, you'll be much happier and a lot more satisfied with how you play. Practice will be more enjoyable, and less tiresome. You will experience more success and be less flustered by setbacks.
And, you'll grow a "see what I can do" attitude when you perform. Which is so much better than an "I hope I don't mess up" attitude.
So, take it easy. Give yourself a break. Be patient and have fun. Everything will be easier when you learn to relax.
This concludes the iiV7.com tutorial series Practicing to Practice. We hope you enjoyed reading it, and learned something about practice you didn't know before.
A common misconception exists among music teachers and students; even among professional musicians who ought to know better. I heard this one piece of advice from all the teachers I ever studied music with. Band directors, private teachers, music professors, master class instructors, every one.
It makes sense when you hear it because it's very intuitive advice. But, my advice, when you hear this advice, is to absolutely ignore it. Your teachers will mean well, so just smile and nod. But, then let it fall out your other ear. Let it go in one ear and out the other.
The advice they will give you is this:
"Practice the things you are not good at."
This lesson has a lot of different variations, and you may hear the story about the guy who practiced all the time and tried to sound bad in the practice room. They say that he said, "I only work on things I can't do well in the practice room." And that he sounded awful when he practiced, but that he sounded brilliant in performance.
They'll make that sound like a good thing. Like an admirable trait. But, it's been taken to a completely unreasonable and unrealistic extreme.
The thing is, it's just a story. That guy, if he ever really existed, was simply a glutton for punishment. He was sad and frustrated. If he worked that hard on his weak areas and ignored the things he could well, then he would have lost his edge on the things he could do well.
He may have improved on some things, but as soon as he did he would start to ignore those too. And, he would have found himself in an unending cycle of practice and ignorance. That's not a pretty picture.
In reality, you should play to your strengths.
Nurture your talent, and build new skills at the same time. Do what you do best every time you practice, and over time everything about your playing will improve.
So, there are two sides to that. Nurturing your talent means to do what you do well, and do what you enjoy about music in every practice session. Use your talent and creativity to make your music enjoyable.
We always have an easier time doing and making a habit out of doing things we find enjoyable. It gives us pleasure, and we want to do it again as soon as possible. That is the true meaning of discipline.
The other side is to build new or improve all your skills. Exercise the whole musician.
Sight-reading, intonation, and time are all areas that seem to need constant practice and improvement. You should definitely practice these, and work on polishing any areas of your performance that you notice need more work.
Just make sure that's not all you do.
It's too easy to become preoccupied with flaws in your playing, and forget to congratulate yourself on things you do well.
So, if any of your teahcers ever tell you that story about the practice room guy. Tell them the story about the other guy that practiced everything a little bit, and actually enjoyed practicing and couldn't wait 'til the next session. Tell them the other guy is you.
Or, let them read this tutorial series for themselves.
With everything we do in our normal lives things seem to constantly conspire to hijack our focus, and sabotage our concentration.
TV, cell phones, iPods, internet, girlfriends, boyfriends, brothers, sisters, parents, roommates. We all have our own distractions that make it hard keep our minds on what we're doing.
The trick is to find a set amount of time in which you discipline yourself to think only about what you want to accomplish musically. Practice time where you think about music and only music, and more specifically, only the priorities of music that you have chosen to pursue.
You've already been given some very good tools to help you short circuit distractions when they occur. Also, these same tools will help you recover more quickly from those times when distractions sneak away with your focus.
You've written them down. You have them saved to your computer.
Your priorities are set down in order of importance, and you've got them broken down into easily achievable goals.
So, you've got your list of things to do.
You've collected your study material, and put exactly what you intend to practice in your folder, and nothing more.
You've eliminated a lot of ditractions just by condensing the material you need for each practice session and keeping only the pages you're going to use. No more flipping through the pages of study books looking for something interesting.
So, you've got your work cut out for you.
You're keeping a journal, and making notes after each practice session. You write down what you worked on, and the progress you made that day.
You can't forget where you left off the day before, or over the weekend, because you have it all written down in your journal.
The only part left is to make sure you pay attention while you practice. And, that can be the hardest part sometimes.
Stress, and drama can make it difficult to concentrate. If you've got things going on in your life, and everybody does, those things can often stay on your mind. Especially when you most want to think about something else.
When that happens the only thing to do is relax, and re-focus. Take a deep breath, and start over at the point where you lost your concentration.
At times when you are prone to lapses of concentration you may also be upset about other things. Sometimes it's best to just take a break and deal with the problems or concerns that are distracting you. Then you can start again fresh with your peace of mind.
You'll have much better results from your practice if you can keep your mind clear and focused on what you want to achieve.
Next Up ...
After you cover the basics of music in general, and then reinforce mastery of your specific instrument. You now have time to address those priorities that you worked out at the beginning of this tutorial.
No matter what they are, or how many you came up with. Priorities are going to make up the bulk of your practice time. So, your daily practice should break down something like this; one third fundamentals and instrumental technique, and two thirds priorities.
These are your focus areas. They represent what you think are the most important aspects of your musical training. Your vision for your own musical future.
It may not have been clear before, but do you see the importance of carefully choosing your priorities now?
It's the same as choosing your path, and helps you understand where you want to go musically. And how you want to get there. It's like a MapQuest for your practice routine.
The order that you place on your priorities, and how much time you spend on each one is entirely up to you. You get to decide what level of mastery you want to achieve before you move on to the next one.
Beware about getting stuck, though. You don't want to spend too much time on any one practice area. If you find that you just don't "get" something, and you've spent a reasonable amount of time on it. Move on to something else, and come back to that part later on. Let it be for a week or two and then try it again.
If you still can't seem to get it under your fingers, then set it down again. Sometimes ideas, concepts or new skills just won't give themselves up that easily. And, we'll never learn them until we're really ready.
Be patient, take breaks, and keep coming back to the hard stuff.
You'll discover that practicing leads to creating more priorities. Each skill, as it gets better, leads the student to deeper and ever deeper levels of understanding and insight. So, as you practice your priorities, they will grow and split into more specific priorities. A never ending ascent of musical growth and development.
Up Next ...
Every instrument is different. And, each instrument will have its own demands, techniques and challenges.
I can't go into the specifics of technical practice for each and every instrument there is, or even the ones used most frequently in Jazz. That would be way beyond the scope of this tutorial.
What I can tell you is to look for resources specific to your instrument. Listen to as many people that play your instrument as you can. And, take lessons from a competent and caring teacher.
The number of music scholars in the world is staggering. So, there is no shortage of books, CD's, videos, blogs, podcasts, and anything else you can imagine directly related to the study of your instrument. Of course, Google can be your best friend in this search.
Here are some search terms to get you started:
Be specific about "Your Instrument" in the search. "Alto Saxophone" will deliver better results than just "Saxophone".
You may try going directly to some well known retailers like Amazon, or Barnes and Noble. Use their search functions the same as for any search engine.
And, don't forget to go visit Jamey Aebersold. His site is the standard for Jazz Studies. He has partnered with many of the best Jazz educators to create books, play-along cd's, etudes, and transcriptions for a lot of different instruments.
You can use the same ideas above to find recordings of the master players of your instrument. The catalog of Jazz recordings is immense.
Your initial search term may look like this:
It's very important that you also find local players in your area to go hear play live. Recordings are great, but you can't see the performer from a CD or .mp3 You need to see the player's physical connection to the instrument in order to understand what it takes to play that instrument.
I learned more about playing the trumpet from seeing Wynton Marsalis perform live in concert than I did from listening to all his albums that I had at the time.
Listen to real people who play the same instrument you do. It will make your own playing more real for you.
Private lessons on your instrument are essential. Nothing can replace a good teacher, especially when the teaching happens in a one on one situation. You have the opportunity to ask questions and get answers and hold the undivided attention of your teacher during the lesson time.
You will have the advantage of viewing first-hand demostrations of exactly what the teacher wants you to learn, and you get immediate expert feedback on your performance; so, you'll know what you're doing right and what you need to work on.
A knowledgeable teacher should also be able to help you find resources for further study, and name great players of your instrument and help you find recordings of important performances.
It may sound like a lot of work, but if you do it right it can be a lot of fun. There is an unmistakeable joy of discovery as you explore your own potential to master a musical instrument. There is nothing quite like the feeling when you get it, you finally get it; even after what you've been trying to learn was a hard fought challenge.
Up Next ...
A solid foundation on any musical instrument allows the player to do anything they want on that instrument. Technically, and musically. And, a solid foundation is built on diligent practice of the basics.
So, you should begin every practice session with your instrumental basics in order to maintain good technique and reinforce good playing habits.
Now, every intrument is different. But, the fundamentals of music remain same. Depending on how long you've been playing, and how quickly you pick things up; you should plan to spend an appropriate and reasonable amount of time on each of the fundamental skills every musician needs to master.
Appropriate means enough time to internalize what you want to learn. To "have" it. Not too little.
Reasonable means not to get hung up on any one aspect of your playing so that you don't have enough time for the others. Not too much.
Practice each concept just right.
At least a part of each practice day should be devoted to Ear Training.
There are five parts of the basic idea of sound production. Whatever that means for your instrument you'll need to find or create exercises for each of these:
The idea here is to think through and practice every aspect of musical performance before you ever put it into context within a piece of music. It's not enough to know what all the musical symbols mean; articulations, dynamics, tempo markings, etc. You should know what each of those symbols means to you, and decide how you're going to perform them.
It's so much easier to make simple decisions beforehand. To already know what you're going to do, so when you see it in the music, it's almost automatic. You've already practiced it so you already know it's brilliant. There's no better confidence builder than that.
Next Up ...