Variety, to be more accurate

Would you like to be the subject of a future practice clinic? Contact us with any practice problems and we’d be happy to help.

Is music your day job? Do you play for a living?

Chances are that you are one of the vast majority of musicians who has a day job where you don’t play. This creates a number of issues for practice – not least when to fit it in. It also requires an adjustment of expectations to ensure that your goals are realistic given the time you can devote to music.

Today’s clinic subject want’s to develop the following skills under these circumstances:

greater range of things in performance. more exciting performances.

Our reply:

It’s good to hear that you have the drive and commitment to practice your music after work. If you can, try to make sure that you do so each day. Small amounts each day are much more useful that a large chunk of practice at the weekend.

Firstly I would say that if you want to play a greater range of things in performance then that’s what you should do in practice. You mention that you cover scales, warm ups and tone in your practice. Whilst all of these are very useful foundations for your playing you need to ensure that your practice also covers what you want in performance. Otherwise you’ll be able to perform scales very well to the exclusion of other things.

I’d suggest that you spend some time to define what you mean by greater range of things in performance. Is it a range of styles you are after? Perhaps you need greater rhythmic variety incorporating funk, samba, bossa and other feels into your playing? Could you work on some greater dynamic contrasts? Make a list of the range of things you’d like to be able to do. This will help guide your practice.

Once you’ve made a list spend some time assessing how good your are at each of these. Give yourself a score of one to five for each new thing you’d like to learn. One means you can’t do it yet through to five which would mean you are comfortable with that playing. One you have your list you can begin to work on the lower numbers. This will ultimately give you the variety you are after. When you have the list of what you need to practice you then need to move onto HOW you will practice. There are plenty of resources on the site for that!

An added bonus of assessing yourself in this way is that you can do it all again in 3 or 6 months time and see very clearly where you have improved :)

On the point about exciting performance this is a bit more subjective. It’s very difficult to know what is exciting for each listener as we all have different taste. What you can effect is how excited you feel as a performer. Having the increased confidence that will result from the greater range of options that you have will no doubt help.

I’d also suggest that you try making yourself excited. Spend time thinking about what that exciting performance will be like. Try to imagine it in every detail. What would it sound like? What would it feel like to play? How would the crowd respond? The more detail the better. It might be especially useful to try doing this when you’re not feeling especially happy – see if you can turn your mood around. If you can do that then when performance comes you will be set.

greater technical accuracy and more interesting fluent passages. . . would like to be able to play faster and more technically demanding stuff.

The key word you mention here is accuracy. That is key in developing greater speed and also is the basis for more technical work. Trying to play too fast is a mistake countless musicians make. Fast, clumsy, unthinking practice will mean that it takes you much longer to improve in the long run. You need patience at this stage. If you are completely accurate the speed will come. Don’t get hung up on speed.

Spend some time listening to other players who you think play fast. Are they really all that good. For those that don’t listen carefully speed can sometime baffle the ears into thinking that something is good. Are all the notes clean? Is the rhythm even? Accurate? What about tuning? Does the tone suffer due to the speed? Listen with a more attentive ear and you will find that many times what is perceived as good and fast is in fact fast and scrappy.

It sounds from you message as if your goals are entirely realistic and achievable. A little more clarity in what you are trying to achieve and a sensible approach I think are all you need to really enjoy playing the way that you want.

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