Practicing is hard. Very hard.
Playing your instrument once is easy, but practising means regular, means often and means intense and that is where the difficulty lies.
I must have talked to students thousands of times, generally about doing more of it, (occasionally about doing so much of it… ) but I don’t think I have considered enough about what I actually do in practising music and what actually gets me to get my instrument out and work in a thorough useful and consistent way… and how to share this knowledge with my students effectively. It is so easy to say things need more work without talking about the ‘how’ or the ‘why’.
Let me say here… I am really bad at practising! I am easily distracted. Normally when I start to play my saxophone at home the internet and world of social media and all its distractions come calling to me as soon soon as the instrument is out of its case. But occasionally I can get myself motivated and find myself actually getting into the groove of regular, in-depth work at improving my skills. Normally interspersed with periods of no work which are just long enough for any new skills to disappear entirely.
But when I do find the zone it’s like a kind of meditation, transcendentally repeating patterns, breathing, stretching. It’s a physical exercise: draining and tiring. But thoroughly rewarding once I see the results of my work coming to fruition. Worse than this.. I play music because I enjoy it… steering free of the temptations of playing music for fun, rather than rigorous intensive, time efficiency which does me good, rather than just being enjoyed.
But at periods of my life the work, the motivation and the energy have all clicked and the bug hits me. Improvement is like a drug and the mantra of the rituals of my practice can be seductive in its own way once I find my place in the practice groove. I have put my hours in over the years… just not so much recently…
So what would my number one tip for practice be?
Sorry I don’t have one.. It has to be two.. and they totally contradict each other which is pleasing.
Be efficient and intensive. What are you aiming for, and what are the specific things you need to do to improve the skill / ability / knowledge? Don’t waste your time twiddling your fingers around playing tunes, noodling around. What is the scale that needs work, what segment of that scale actually needs the work? What is the specific finger pattern that is failing you… work it out and sort that, nothing else.
But that is boring and you will give up unless you are a robot. If you just do this you will fail… so…
Enjoy, play, improvise, perform, have fun! Its all about balance, work and reward, yin and yang. Get your intensive work in, do our warmups, your stretches, your technique. But then set yourself free and give yourself a real reason for doing all that hard slog. One without the other will mean you are scale machine without feeling and passion for the music.
And the passion must be the real reason for you playing. Else why bother?
Also never write about practice without practising correct spelling… (those Americans have it easy!)