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A Method for Musicians to Practice for Improvement and Enjoyment

If you play a musical instrument you sometimes can be frustrated with your progress. You may not like the sound you are getting or may find yourself in a rut. I have experienced this myself and after many years of playing, I still do occasionally. There are many factors that can play into this, but I am not going to get into the whys at this time, but the solutions that can improve your playing.

The first thing is that you must really want to play and are willing to put the work into it. You reap what you sow…. That is a fact. There are no shortcuts. However, the magic to playing great lies within you…! Work is a tough word for some, but work can be enjoyable if you like what you hear. For anyone that plays a brass, string, keyboard, or woodwind, you must first master your major scales in very key, followed by minor scales. If you are a drummer then master the basic rudiments. There are 2 ways to approach this. Take your time and play the scales in a melodic fashion, then once you learn them, play them in time with a metronome.

Make you instrument sound beautiful. Project your sound. Listen carefully to the sound you are creating with your instrument. As a saxophonist, I face the horn toward the wall and let the sound bounce back to me, that way I can hear the true sound of my saxophone. If you have an electronic instrument, then use headphones. You need not play every note as a quarter or eighth note, but play melodically mixing slurring, legato, staccato, straight or with vibrato. It is up to you. Play the way you want concentrating on the tone, intonation, correct fingering/positioning and overall sound. Enjoy the sound you are producing. Once you feel like you know the scale (internalize), then move on to using a metronome, playing each note in time. The idea is to internalize your scales. Start slow and work your way up, playing faster and faster. You must play the scale or phrase correctly before trying to speed up. If you cannot play it right, then do not play it. If you do, then there is the possibility that you will play it incorrectly at faster tempos. Do it right. There are many ways to practice scales, single notes, diads, triads… etc, you can incorporate these but this blog is all about getting a great sound and building confidence.

By the way, I mentioned the term internalize previously so …. The definition of internalize is similar to memorizing, but is much more, It incorporates your coordination (ears to brain to fingers), your ears (hearing) and your feelings. Once you internalize a scale, lick or melody, you can play it without consciously thinking about it. Your fingers just flow over the instrument. So when you hear a specific song structure in a particular key, you can react or improvise without thinking about it. The instrument becomes an extension of you, and you and your instrument become one.

Here is another thing I do. I am fortunate to have a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and a good microphone. I like to record myself practicing. Back in the old days, the only things available in my price range were portable tape recorders and they did not have a very good sound quality. So I relied on my own ears or other individuals for feedback. I use my DAW to help compose and record original sound recordings, but also use Jamie Abersold play alongs to develop and improve my tone, technical abilities and overall improvisation techniques. Using my DAW (I use ProTools), I drag and drop the play along rhythm section into a ProTools session. I then create a track and record myself playing the melody and soloing. I can then play back the tracks to hear my sound and then find out what I need to do to improve my sound. This is a great way to practice and make improvements. It is also great when you nail it…. It definitely gives you a sense of accomplishment and makes you feel good. Feeling good, that is what creating and listening to music is all about isn’t it…?

OK, so here is my practice session structure.

  1. Have a goal in mind. What do you want to accomplish during this practice session?

  2. Create the best environment possible for practicing

  3. Take your time and warm up using scales. I also play long tones to warm up the horn

  4. Play melodic scales

  5. Play scales using a metronome.

  6. Work on something from a music book, a song, new lick. If you cannot read music, then work on a song or lick from a recording.

  7. Sing a melody from your head and then try to play it. Come up with your own melody, sing it and then play it. If you can sing it, then you can play it.

  8. Use play alongs to help you improve your improvisation skills. I highly recommend using Jamie Abersold’s Play Alongs

  9. If possible, record some of your practice session so you can really hear yourself.

  10. Wipe off or clean your instrument and take time to reflect back on what you accomplished and what you need to work on next practice session.

Here it what it is all about … No matter what your level of musical abilities or accomplishments, hard work (wood shedding) is worth it. The results of it make you feel good. You accomplish something. It is addictive, but there are great side effects. It makes you a happy and better person.

For great play alongs and great improvisation help for all instruments, go to Jamie Abersold’s site.

Hope this helps…. More to come.

Jacque Harenberg

Jac-Oh-La Music