- Friday, October 14, 2011
- by Jonathan Martin
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."
Practice Room Guy
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.
Play to Your Strengths
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.
Nurture Your Talent
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.
Build Your Skills
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.
The Other Practice Room Guy
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.
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. Be sure to sign up for the email series Intro to Improv, and register for our free Ear Training.
Do you know someone like the Practice Room Guy? Tell us about it in the Comments ...
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