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practicing with limitations - material and how to deal with it, part I

as I explained in the post practicing with limitations I beleive practicing is most exciting when you set limitations to what you do and when you do it. (the ‘when’ includes time management principles to get a daily practicing routine happening and I’ll cover that soon)

so, now you’ve narrowed down your field of study to what excites you most, you’re enthusiastic about learning something new and you are ready to start. but what happens next, when you actually practice? how can you practice the selected material and make your daily routine a daily success?

here are a couple of principles to make it happen.

how to chose quality practicing material

attention! regarding practicing material it is important that you chose material you’re not able to play but whish to be able to play. some musicians practice material they know already because playing it feels good! while to feel good is surely exciting, it is not what we are talking about here. the excitement you are going after is what you’d love to learn and be able to do, not something you can already do! the excitement comes from being able to accomplish now what you haven’t accomplished in the past.  as a result, the material you have to practice to get there might seem hard and painful at the moment. but, if you follow some simple principles, nothing is hard and everything is possible!

how to chose the right material?


what material can you find that will bring you closer to your exciting goal?

the best way to get world class practicing material is to ask fellow musicians how they accomplished what you want to accomplish. if blues guitar is your favourite, don’t ask a classical guitar player how to do it. look for musicians who reached the goal you’d like to reach and ask them how they did it and if they have advice on how to do it. ask them for material to practice. don’t be afraid to walk up to famous musicians after concerts and ask them for advice. most of them are more than happy to help fellow musicians. I’ve never been rejected by anybody when I just walked up to them and asked one or two things I couldn’t figure out.

I talked to Jim Hall, Dave Holland, Ron Carter, singers of the Ray Charles backing group etc. all of them were more than happy to talk to me. they love sincere musicians!

check your local library for music instruction material. there are tons of books with audio cd’s to learn almost any kind of music. plus, this way you don’t have to buy expensive material.

check out video material. you can find a lot of it at your local library. if not, check out ebay to get it second hand (safe big bucks this way!) or even youtube. the downside of youtube is that anybody can post what they feel is good advice. beware of the amateur instructor, though! instead, when you use youtube as your number one instructional source, specifically look for musicians you’d like to check out and check them out exclusively! many famous musicians have instructional videos up on youtube.

buy or check out libraries for CD’s of your favourite artist. listen to them until you can whistle every note without having to think about it.

some say you have to transcribe music. I’m not a fan of of the word “transcribing”, because it includes writing down what you listen to. it just makes me unhappy and it is a very theoretical exercise. I sing along a million times until I can sing it from memory. if you can sing music from memory you can play it. that’s a golden rule! just sing it and find the notes on your instrument. done.

practicing material also includes reading material, such as music blogs like this one, books about your favourite musicians (biographies, instructional books) and newspaper/magazine interviews.

generally I think it’s best to get advice from real people rather than books or videos. personal advice get’s to you faster and sticks longer. plus you gain friends fast by exchanging practicing tips. after all, making music is a face to face business and a lot of fun if you don’t do it all by yourself!

after brainstorming you need to eliminate the non important material and focus on the essentials. part II is all about that. (coming soon)

Juergen Reiter

I’m a composer and bassist based in Germany. Being a father, labelowner, musician, composer and blogger, I have many responsibilities to deal with every day. To get it all done I experiment with the musician lifestyle to come up with new ideas of how to make rockstarliving possible.

Reader Comments (3)

A while back I was told to practice what you can not do. This sums it up for me. Transitions in pieces are what generally requires added attention for my practice time.

March 15 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick Smith

In the (great) book, Effortless Mastery, by the jazz pianist, Kenny Werner, he writes of being coached by a master instructor whose concept was " practice as LITTLE as possible". That is, in volume of material, not time - with the idea that most musicians, in a misguided hurry to "learn it all now", dilute their results by practicing way too much different material.

I have certainly found this true with drumming - taught by my mentor (James Gadson, arguably the most recorded funk, soul and R&B drummer, so I didn't question him and now glad!) - to practice a groove nonstop for up to an hour (with no fills, a monotonous exercise!), then work on it as primary practice until, as he says, "it becomes part of you". Then the fills will just happen organically. Oh, and he says don't practice with a clik until you have the groove down - just use it to smooth everything out - if you practice to a clik too soon the feel will be stiff.

Effective practicing is strong stuff, indeed, and will DRAMATICALLY transform playing - thanks, Juergen, for shedding the light!

March 16 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

Tempo is another good limit. Go as slowly as necessary to execute the new material properly. After you have it under the fingers, gradually raise the tempo. You're dealing with muscle memory, and if you go too fast, you're teaching your fingers the mistakes. Slow is the faster way to learn.

March 20 | Unregistered CommenterMojo Bone

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