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PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT?

Where have I heard that before?
During my 15 years as a musician this question continually haunts me time and time again. It is not that I don't know the answer, I do... but then the problem starts when you consider just 'how much' practice makes perfection and to 'what degree' of perfection you are striving for! And if it is really true that 'practice makes perfect' then why is it that so many give up somewhere along the way? Personally I think it is because we often succumb to some basic human errors that sabotage our efforts of practicing.
So what are these booby traps?
Not practicing regularly enough
Not setting goals
Overly-ambitious goals
Not taking stock
Giving up

 

 

Aubrey with Face First. The band hardly rehearses together but you bet everyone still practices individually, if only to keep up with the others!

You see, these traps are so obvious, yet so many of my students (and fellow musicians!) never realized what they were doing wrong. In fact it took a rude awakening while I was in Berklee to make me realize that I was wasting a lot of precious time and effort too. I too often felt that although I put in the necessary hours, I was never pleased with the ‘results’. Let me explain.
Not practicing regularly enough

How many times have you heard of someone who, in preparing for next week’s lesson shrugs off any notion of practicing for the first 6 days and then crams a 9-hour session the day before the dreaded class? WHAT??! You did that too?! Let me let you in on a secret. Try it if you have to. I DARE YA!

I have learnt (ya, the hard way too) that with 15 minutes a day , you would have done more than your ‘9-hour-in-one-day’ session. Okay, okay, so the math don’t add up but hey, I was never really good at math anyway! However, it seems that music, to some extent, involves a lot of motor skills, and these get developed with constant input, not like the petrol tank in your car. (Fill-her-up once a week?! Geddit??) Sort of like a picking up a habit! You don't know that you're picking anything up until one day you just realize you simply must have your legs up while you're reading in bed! Now imagine having the ‘motor skills’ of Hancock, Jarrett & Corea as a habit! Awesome huh?!

Not setting goals

Is it just me or does this seem the one trap that a lot of musicians fall into. We sit down regularly everyday yet nothing much seems to come out of it. 

When you don't set goals, you tend to be less focused on what you want to achieve. Or you end up practicing something different almost every day. That's not going to work. Earlier I talked about 'motor skills' and consistency. Now it doesn't take a genius to see why  the no-goal-ers don't see much success. And then we GIVE UP?!

Setting goals has one distinct advantage.  First you list a set of things you want t achieve. Then work out how much you want to practice them. The list is too long? OK, then ... divide them into to the 'must get' and the 'it'll be nice to get'. Your list may look like this: 

Must get

The head to 'Donna Lee" (20%)

8th note swing (30%)

transcription of 'something' (20%)

It'll be nice to get

improvising (10%)

Dbl time soloing (10%)

diminished scales (10%)

Now the easy part. Let's say you have only have an hour to practice, practice according to the percentages you've worked out! Better still, you can break up you practice time. If you have ten minutes while waiting for someone, you can... maybe... work on your 'Donna Lee' then later get to the others. Get the drift?