Notes from Tuesday’s Masterclass on Effective Practicing

Posted: July 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

Here are the notes from today’s Masterclass on Effective Practicing.


• The ultimate goal is mastery

• There are many different paths to mastery

• There are many different things to master

• Talk about the concept of improvement- In jazz it is not linear

• Talk about self-knowledge

• Talk about concept of life-long learning vs. “movie training sequence”


Think of Music as a physical (body) activity. Think about atheletes who train

Question- What sport or physical activity is closest to playing your particular instrument?

Setting Up for Success

1.  Figure out the tools you need- metronome, pencil, notebook, recorder, etc & commit to having those tools when you practice

2. Get a practice notebook to log your activities, ideas, things you are working on, schedule and notes

Being “Unconcious”

In order to be successful a soloist needs to be able to be “unselfconscious”  Meaning you keep your internal focus off of  yourself and the internal critique of  your own performance,  and commit to staying in the moment and engaged with the meaning, vibe or idea you are trying to express.  Like a great actor “inhabits a character”, the soloist loses himself in the music.

A couple ways to work on this are to listen to the other players.  Listen objectively to yourself.  My favorite is to give yourself an objective.  I like to use an adjective and try to express a particular feeling. If I focus on this, then I have less attention to focus on “how am I doing?”

Playing with Intention

One way to practice is to impose limits on yourself.

We talked about clarity in your melodic playing.  How clearly can you state an idea.  We talked about the importance of clarity in communicating in speaking as well as playing music.  If you don’t have a clear idea in your exposition, it is harder to develop it.  Also clarity helps bring the audience into what you are doing, and helps you communicate.

I like to play a  game that asks “how clearly can I state the material that I am choosing to play?”

– It allows you to play rhythmically.

– It allows you manipulate your material.

– It allows you to play authentically

It’s like the archetype of the master and student, in which the master says “if you want to become a master, you must first master the simple task.  This is what the limited materials I have given you are asking of you.  Can you create power, beauty, groove, interest and emotion with only a few tools?

For instance, playing a solo with just two notes.   You can find  tension and resolution even in 2 note solos. Use that tension & release to tell a story.  You can do this even if both notes are “dissonant”  through phrasing, register, repetition and cadence.

How do you improve your ability to play with intention?

1. Improve your ear to pre-hear notes

2.  Practice thinking of ideas-singing, audiating (find pitch in your head)

3. Have feeling while you play

4. Practice with parameters

5.  Be the Note- (find what is in the task for you)

Finally, think about treating “mistakes” not as a distraction, but as new material to incorporate in the moment. After all,  nobody plays everything they hear perfectly all the time.

Breaking Down Tasks

I talked about the importance of breaking down tasks into small manageable steps.  Also about determining a tempo you can work at without making mistakes

Figuring out where the problem lies

Look for problems and challenges in your practicing. When you find them, stop and identify strategies for addressing them.

I talked about the importance of breaking down your practice into tactile (muscle memory), aural (ear) and mental aspects.  If you are having a problem, determine which aspect is breaking down and come up with exercises that address that aspect.  One way of strengthening the mental is verbalizing what you are doing.  For instance saying  note names or fingering of scales as you play. 

An Example of Deliberate Practice in learning scales.

You could take a 5-step approach to learning scales: (or other technique)

1.  sing the scale

2. Sing the scale, saying the fingering of each note

3.  Sing the scale fingering while playing the notes in the air.  Try to visualize your fingers on each note

4. Ghost the fingering over the keyboard, while singing the scale

5.  Play the scale while singing the fingering.

In all these steps you want to look for places where you make mistakes or feel uncertain.  Isolate these places and drill them correctly with whichever step you are on.  If you have trouble, go back to an earlier step and drill there.

Practicing expressing emotion

As improvisers, we practice to gain facility on our instruments, and we methodically acquire and work to assimilate vocabulary.   We also practice learning to express and effective portray emotions, attitudes and ideas on our instruments in order to communicate with listeners. Practicing both of these is necessary in order to function in this expressive realm.

Improvising a solo is can be like taking on a character and expressing a certain feeling.

I talked about the idea of playing in gestures.  trying to achieve a shape of line, but not worrying about the notes.  One way to practice this is to play gesturally, record yourself, listen back and adjust the lines so they work.

How to Acquire musical vocabulary

1. Learn the vocabulary

2. Figure out the harmonic context that it works ie- single chords or chord progressions that it will work over.  Start with the context you transcribed it from and figure out other harmonic context in which you can use it.

3. Learn in 12 keys

4. Find songs in which you can apply the vocabulary & apply it as much as possible, until it is internalized

  1. Joby T says:

    Great practical info that works!

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