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Tuesday
Feb102009

practicing with limitations

practicing with limitations

I see many musicians (especially young ones) getting frustrated with practicing. there are two main reasons for this.

for one, musicians are overwhelmed by the many possibilities and the number of materials to study. they ask “what should I practice?”, they don’t see the wood for the trees.

others complain about not having enough time to really practice deeply because they have a huge load of responsibilities everyday and at night they’re too tired to focus.

“what” and “when” are the most commonly asked questions.

this post is about the “what” but it will also help to get the “when” under control. (I’ll post a seperate article about the “when” later)

practicing is actually very simple if you follow one simple principle.

keep it simple by applying limitations!

I spent 8 years studying music at conservatories in germany, the netherlands and the usa. I’ve gotten so much advise from teachers, musicians, friends and audiences, I still wouldn’t know where to start hadn’t I come up with a solution. it’s a simple solution, too.

limitation!

limitaion leads to simplicity.

it’s an ongoing process and I started to set limitaions in my life and music just a couple of months ago. I’m working on it and it is my project for 2009. it simplifies life in every aspect.
I definately mastered the art of applying limitations regarding my practicing routine. until a couple of months ago I was running around like chicken with it’s head cut off. now I practice 2 hours a day including bass, voice and composing. since I started to set limitaions I manage to address all my life interests every day. (being a musician, composer, producer, running my label ORkAaN Music, my publishing, gigs, rehearsals, and most importantly family life.

I now practice less hours and less material but I accomplish faster results and greater musicianship than during all my years as a musician combined.

in school (conservatory) we’re told a pro musician has to be able to play evey musical style perfectly. so we practice everything from blues to jazz to rock to hiphop and more.

teachers, professors and unfortunately even musicians pass on the myth of the perfect instrumentalist who can play any style, or the singer who can sing everything ranging from rock to opera.

it’s all a big lie!

I’ve met and befriended many musicians who play with the likes of earth wind and fire, herbie hancock, jaco pastorius, new model army, etc…
they’re all very talented and they all work their butts off to succeed, but they all at some point made a desicion (most of them subconsciously) to focus on a specific style and genre. and they stick to it because they love it more than anything else. they succeed because they stick to their desicion. many of them are great in various genres as a result, because by sticking to their favourite genre they, step by step, developed their overall musicianship. I call that the “zen of music making”. and that’s what it’s all about! find what you love and practice it to the fullest.

so, how do you learn to deal with the “what” and “when”?

set limitations!

by limiting yourself to a specific area in your practicing (this is true for all aspects of life) you’re able to

• focus better
• focus on what’s essential
• dive deeper into the selected material
• be less stressed
• be more efficient
• prevent being overwhelmed
• reduce practicing time

how can you do it? here’s a couple of simple principles that will help you succeed with your practicing efforts.

brainstorm (or rather brainvomit)

first simply ask yourself:
1. which music excites me most?
2. what would I love to play but can’t right now?
3. who’s my favourite musician?
4. which band would I like to play in?

then ask yourself:
1. what music bores me the most?
2. what do I hate to play?
3. who’s my least favourite musician?
4. which band would I never ever want to play in?

write it all down the way it pops into your head. just brainvomit it onto paper. go question by question and just let go!

Eliminate

this one is fun! erase everything that’s on the bore side of your brainstorm.

Identify

the next step is very simple, too. sort through the remaining answers and sort out what (at the moment) is most exciting and important to you.
that’s what you’re going to practice! you’ll have fun with it because you love it most!

don’t be afraid to cross things off the list! you can always come back to them later (and you should! I’ll explain that further down)

Practice - just play it!

in general terms, practice what you love most and forget about the rest.

by limiting yourself to one aspect of music your overall musicianship will grow much faster than when you try to do everything at once.
musicianship is not limited to a certain aspect of music. musicianship doesn’t know styles or scales or anything for that matter. musicianship is something you develop by playing and writing music.
the more you play or write, the more your musicianship and creativity will grow. and that’s key!

you might be interested in blues guitar right now. practice that, dive into it without looking left or right. don’t worry about missing out on some other style! by-and-by you might grow more interested in bossa nova music (or any other music) and six months later want to play in a bossa nova band. then, go on and practice only that. rest assure that you’ll have a much easier time to learn the style because you limited yourself to the blues earlier. you’ll have developed your technique, sound, time, chord and scale knowledge, you’ll have better ears etc. in other words, you will have developed your musicianship!
also, on the contrary, don’t be afraid to lose your blues skills. making music is like riding a bike. if you learn it properly once, you’ll keep the skill for the rest of your life. and again, you will develop your musicianship and switching back and forth between styles will get easier and easier. it will finally add to developing your own musical personality, and that’s when people start to recognize you by just hearing you play. you will become unique as a musician.

there are no limits to what you can learn if you limit yourself to one thing at a time!


at last, do regular check ups

I advise to do a check up like this (from brainstorm to practice) on a regular basis. it will provide some essential information:

1. it will show you exact practicing results (can I do what I wanted to do?)
2. it will keep practicing exciting (once you can play what you wanted to learn you should go on to practice new stuff to not get bored with the now familiar practice routine)
3. it will, after a couple of check ups, tell you exactly where you stand musically.
4. it will give you immense self-confidence when playing in bands and on stage

again, there are no limits to what you can learn if you limit yourself to one thing at a time!

+++about juergen reiter+++

I’m a composer, bassist, producer from germany. I’ve released 10 albums within the last 5 years on my own label ORkAaN Music+Art Productions. My music is a jamsession of charlie mingus, tom waits and einstuerzende neubauten.

more about my label you will find at www.orkaan.com.

I also just started a blog about “zen and the art of rockstarliving” at www.juergenreiter.com

Reader Comments (7)

This posting makes a lot of sense and I have come to a similar conclusion. You just can't be the best at in every genre of music and you should spend time and focus on what is important to you. You'll be happier and your music will be more honest!
darenburns.com

February 11 | Unregistered CommenterDaren Burns

I've only been playing guitar for 5 years, but I definitely agree with this. However, I believe that in the beginning it is still okay to explore multiple genres and try to pick up on the different aspects of musicianship within each one. When i first started playing guitar, i was very into alt-rock....but i decided to branch out to classic rock, then started learning funk riffs, then I even went to hip hop (GOOD hip hop, btw)....then back to classic rock.....and now I am in a band that attempts to mold both classic rock and hip hop together (my two favorite genres).

So anyway, I agree with the tendency of musicians to funnel down to one or two genres....but don't be afraid to explore anything and everything, and take all the advice you can get when you are just starting out!!!

_chris
----------------------------------------
My Blog - http://tightmix.wordpress.com
My Band - http://www.myspace.com/asbpkmusic

February 11 | Unregistered CommenterChris Bracco

Bravo. I wholly agree with the notion that limitation is liberating, rather than the other way around. Not just in practicing, but just about every step of creative process -- from songwriting (limit to a key, tempo or a topic) to arranging (the instruments/voices available are always limited) to recording (few have unlimited gear). Creativity comes to the fore when you try to make the most of what little you have.

Incidentally, I just wrote about practicing on my site recently: The Whole Point of Practicing.

ari

SelfSufficientMusician.com

February 11 | Unregistered CommenterAri Koinuma

For me music is an expression of what we feel and what makes us express how we humans love. But of course practicing our ability to play and sing has its own limitation also because to much of everything is bad.

February 12 | Unregistered CommenterCristel

Wow, that's really great advice. I was just having a conversation with a bandmate last night about this topic. We play in a Funk/R&B group and were trying to develop the best way to get everyone in the band on the same page musically. We settled on this immersion method. It's great to have it reaffirmed the morning after :-)
I have certainly found this to be an excellent method. I'm primarily a Jazz player, but was once asked to join a Salsa band. The only way I was able to get to the point where I was playing Montuno and Latin rhythm patterns correctly was to totally immerse myself in Salsa music. And you're right, it is like riding a bike, as I can still make the changes over "All The Things You Are" :-)
Great post, and this is truly wonderful advice. Everyone go use it!
--------------------------------
Corey Coleman
Making It - Corey Coleman's Starving Artist Success Blog coreycoleman.blogspot.com
www.myspace.com/coreycolemanmusic

February 12 | Unregistered CommenterCorey Coleman

@ chris bracco
thanks for the comment, chris. I think we're on the same page. by limiting yourself to one genre I don't say limiting to one genre for ever. musicians have to explore, that's part of being a musician. if you explore one genre at a time you'll have greater results, that's the message.

@ari
thanks also for your comment. I checked out your blog. like it! good stuff! stay in touch! (twitter?)

@ corey coleman
thanks to you, too. glad you got reaffirmed by my post. I think musicians all over the world face the same challenges and so we help each other. great fun!

I'll be posting more about limitations and how to apply them to the daily practicing routine soon
cheers,

juergen

www.juergenreiter.com

February 12 | Unregistered Commenterjuergen reiter

Ha! wow! Essentially you put down a great description of something that I already practice! great post

February 12 | Unregistered CommenterAustin

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