Category Archives: practicing

The 4th Law of Practicing

 

A few months ago, I wrote a post called The 3 Laws of Practicing. After reading a great book recently, Deep Work by Cal Newport, I’ve decided that there’s another “Practice Law” that can have a real impact on the quality of the work that happens in the practice room.

4. No multitasking.

No Facebook. No Instagram. No Twitter. No Snapchat. No email. No texting. No web surfing.

While each of the above examples serves a purpose in our digital toolbox, none of them are useful during a practice session. The truth of the matter is that the messages and notifications we receive from social media et al. rarely require immediate action on our part. As such, there’s no real need to attend to our digital lives when we’re in the shed.

The real problem with multitasking is that it takes us away from the work we are trying and wanting to do. When indulged while we’re working, the distractions presented by our digital lives prevent us from achieving the level of depth necessary to make meaningful progress in our practice. Ultimately that translates to us maybe doing the work, but not work at the level we are truly capable of doing.

When I apply this “law” in my own practice sessions, that means putting my phone on silent and closing the web browser on my computer. If I’m really intent on avoiding the kinds of interruptions that give way to multitasking, I’ll shut my phone completely down and turn the wi-fi off on my computer. I would shut my computer down as well, but I use a couple of apps in my practice (Transcribe! and Metronomics). These are all things I did before I read Deep Work, but that book really hammered home their importance.

You can find Deep Work here:
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

From 1 to 10: Ways to get more from your transcriptions.

Tonight I was listening and playing along with a nice duo recording by Archie Shepp and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (NHØP if you’re nasty) called Looking At Bird. All of the tunes on the album were written by Charlie Parker.

While listening to Moose the Mooche, I came across this phrase by Archie Shepp:

From 1 to 10

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

It starts with an enclosure of the A, the 5th of D7. Then it proceeds down the D Bebop Dominant scale and finishes with an enclosure of the F natural, the 7th of G7.

At this point, you could learn the phrase verbatim (in 12 keys, of course) and call it a day, but you’d be much better off in the long run if you can spend some time working out some other ways of playing it.

Below are some examples of ways you could manipulate this phrase:

1. is the original phrase.

2 .begins a beat earlier. Number 1 starts on beat 3 and number 2 starts on beat 2. No other changes.

3. starts a beat later than number 1. No other changes.

4. starts 2 beats later than number 1. This created the need for some adjustments. The C# passing tone between the D and C is gone so that the B is on the downbeat of the G7. I added my own ending to the line on the G7.

5. is the original phrase in double time (twice the speed). It’s rhythmically lined up so that the first note of the G7 is the same as the original.

6. is where bigger changes start. Instead of starting the phrase with an enclosure of the 5th (A) of D7, we start with an enclosure of the root (D). The phrase maintains its overall direction and shape.

7. starts with an enclosure of the 3rd (F#). Again, the direction and shape of the phrase are similar to the original.

8. starts again with an enclosure of the 3rd (F#). This time I added chromatic passing tones between the F# on beat 4 of the 1st measure and the D in the 2nd measure.

9. starts with an enclosure of the 7th (C). I started mine with a Db, but you could just as easily start on D. Whichever one you like is the best choice.

10. is the deluxe Bebop version of this phrase. It starts two beats earlier than the original phrase and contains every available chromatic approach over the D7.

 

Just by changing where the phrase started rhythmically and which chord tone it started with, I very quickly had exponentially more material to work with. The beauty of that is there are many more options than I listed in the pdf. For example, you could take the double-time version of the phrase (5.)  and start that on a different beat or you could use you other scales in the place of the Bebop Dominant. It only limited by your imagination.

There’s a whole world waiting to be discovered in every phrase!

The 3 Laws of Practicing

Developing a solid and productive way of practicing is a real source of anxiety, frustration, and confusion for many musicians. There seem to be so many competing factors pulling at each of us – the expectations of teachers, market expectations, and the perceived difference between where you are and where you want to be in your playing, to name a few. When we strip away all of these factors and influences, we are left with 3 concepts that together form a prerequisite for successful practice.

The 3 Laws of Practicing

1. Have A Plan.
2. Correct Mistakes.
3. Be Consistent.

1. Have A Plan – This is the most fundamental element of practicing. To me, a plan is a set of instructions that you can act upon to reach specific goals. Having a plan is important for a couple of reasons. First, it requires you to think about what you’re doing, especially when it comes to large long-term goals. The ability to break down large goals into small manageable tasks is invaluable. Also, it creates an opportunity to track progress over time. You can see what’s working (or not working) for you. You can also work out how realistic your timeline is for reaching your goals.

Having a plan is essential. In my opinion, if you’re playing without a plan, you’re not really practicing. With that said, playing music is a creative endeavor and there must be room for spontaneity and creativity. Sometimes you’ve just gotta play for the sake of playing.

2. Correct Mistakes – This sounds simple, but is often overlooked. These rules are short and simple. If I were to elaborate and give this rule a longer name, it would be “Correct mistakes mercilessly and fully.” This means that you must first remove any personal judgements about making mistakes (i.e. I made a mistake. I’m a terrible musician and a horrible human being.). No one is perfect. Top performers in any field make mistakes. The difference is that they accept that they will mistakes and then approach those mistakes with a laser-like focus and correct them.

This is a multi-step process.
1. Identify a mistake and its exact location.
2. Identify the nature of the mistake – mechanical (fingers/tongue), mental (counting errors), etc.
3. Find a solution to the mistake.
4. Practice the correction at the point of the mistake (just a few notes before and after the mistake)
5. Play it slowly until it feels comfortable and easy then increase speed as needed.
6. Play the section in context.

The process of correcting mistakes is where skill is developed. Music is built on a lot of patterns and repetition. If you encounter a particular problem in a piece or a tune, you can expect to see it pop up again somewhere down the line. Addressing mistakes fully the first time around will increase your chances of success in the future.

3. Be Consistent – The key to developing a skill over time is consistency. You have to show up and do the work on a regular basis.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts about practicing in the comments below.

Barry Harris Half Step Rules

The video above was filmed at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, NL. It is part of a collection of video chronicling workshops that were given by pianist Barry Harris between 1989 and 1998. That collection can be found on the Barry Harris Videos channel on YouTube. There is a lot of great information there. Dr. Harris’s career has spanned over half a century and at the age of 85, he continues to perform and teach.

In the video, Harris outlines and demonstrates a set of rules for dealing with descending dominant (Mixolydian) scales. The basic concept is that in particular circumstances, the addition of half steps is necessary to insure that chord tones (1, 3, 5, b7) occur on downbeats instead of upbeats.

In the handout below, I wrote out the rules outlined by Dr. Harris in the video. Harris briefly talks about rules for the Major scale, but only mentions the use of a half step going from 6 to 5 before returning to the discussion of the dominant (Mixolydian) scale.

 

Transcribed: You Stepped Out Of A Dream – Dexter Gordon

A Swingin' Affair

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is Dexter Gordon’s solo on You Stepped Out of a Dream from his 1962 album, A Swingin’ Affair.

You Stepped Out of a Dream – Dexter Gordon Solo by eddierich

Transcribed: Lester Leaps In – Sonny Stitt

A couple post back, I played along with the recording of Sonny Stitt playing Lester Leaps In. I had learned the solo by listening and listening to it and playing along and figuring it out. I mentioned in that post that I wasn’t planning on writing it down

 

After working with it for a few weeks, I decided it might be better to write it down. I was at a point of extracting and isolating vocabulary. I find this to be easier if I can see it. With that said, and without further ado, here it is.

 

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Playing with Sonny Stitt – Lester Leaps In

sonny-stitt-now

This is a solo I’ve been working on recently. No plans on writing it down at the moment.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

 

Free Stuff!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everybody likes free stuff, right? Just wanted to let you know that I’ve added a few free exercises to the Student Resources page. Just scroll down until you get to the section labeled Free Exercises. Click on the links to download any of the exercises. That is all. Enjoy!

Transcribed: Widow’s Walk – Rick Margitza

 

 

This solo has all of the things that I like about Rick Margitza. There’s a lot of great melodic inside playing, material built off of upper structure triads, and a strong display of fluency in the altissimo register. I actually learned this solo 6 months ago, maybe longer, but I just got around to writing it down. I spent a LOT of time playing this slowed down to 50% (even down to 25% sometimes!) in Transcribe! It was the only way I could have possibly gotten the 32nd-note double-time stuff down.

A couple of notes for practicing/performance:
The solo goes up to altissimo D (D4). I decided to write this all with ledger lines and not use 8va.
There are a couple of harmonics in the solo. They have a ° sign above them. Finger the bottom note and sound the top note.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Books about Music that I Love!

I love reading books about music! It’s so nice to have that access to someone else’s perspective and insights. Here are a couple that really influenced how I think about music and how I work at music.

1. The Talent Code – Author Daniel Coyle has spent most of his career writing about sports. There are, of course, many parallels between practicing sports and practicing music. In the book, Coyle talks about hotbeds of talent in sports, music, and other disciplines. What’s striking is that all of the hotbeds have a large number of things in common – direct, expert coaching, simple, uncluttered environments, and a lot of repetition along with a list of other factors.
The takeaway from this book for me was the importance of slow practice. Parts of the book describe the Meadowmount Music Camp. The teachers encourage slow practice and the saying around there is that if someone walking by can recognize a passage you’re practicing, then you’re playing it too fast. In my own practice, I haven’t taken to quite that extreme, but when I’m working on something new or encounter problems with something I’m comfortable with, I slow it down and attempt to play with as little tension and with the best technique I can. This has been extremely helpful.

 

 

 

2. Effortless Mastery – In this book, pianist Kenny Werner, writes about his life as a musician and issues with negative self-talk that we can all experience from time to time (or all the time!). He goes on to discuss how he was able to let go of this burden and gives advice to musicians who want to follow that same path. It also includes a CD that contains 4 meditations guided by Kenny Werner.
I think that book serves as a reminder of two things. 1. It’s very easy to talk yourself into walking into a musical situation feeling defeated before you play/sing a note. 2. Music is a truly joyful activity that we do with people that we care about and we have the right to feel that joy, to spread that both to our friends on the bandstand, and to the listener(s). We also have the right to revel in the joy of our bandmates.