Monthly Archives: January 2019

Getting Better?

I starting writing this post about a month ago… Xmas and other stuff got in the way, but somehow what I had written just didn’t seem write.   Normally I just write and regret it later but for some reason I didn’t click on publish.

I originally wrote this blog about practising, following on from my last post.  Working at my saxophone has been a big thing in the past few months and its something I’m increasingly thinking about.  But improving has to be about more than just work and hours put in.  I’ve left my original post below, but it should be read now in a different context.

I had the pleasure of interview a most inspirational musician this week:  Dave Drake.   He is a young jazz pianist, originally from Brighton but currently studying in New York.  He is also an amazing musician!  In the course of talking to him we touched on the subject of jazz education.  Dave’s responses to my (pretty feeble) questions were actually quite a revelation.  For Dave the most important thing in his education as a musician is having a mentor:  The best, greatest mentor that you can find.  Somebody who is an amazing musician, who can inspire you and let you know what is possible and show you that you can achieve your goals.   However the concept of a mentor might be somebody who works alongside you, it might even be a pupil taking on a mentor role for a teacher.

This chimed with me really strongly as earlier in the day I’d been leading a session working with teachers on mentoring for developing skills.  Many people can get stuck in a rut, even if they are working and putting the hours in to try to develop themselves.  Sometimes it takes another human input to push you, inspire you and make you move forward.

Anyhow the original no debunked post is below!


Following on from my post from last month… I’ve been thinking about the how’s and why’s of practice recently…

I happened to be teaching a couple of advanced students recently who both were worried about their progress and specifically wanted lessons to help them move forward.

The thing is it all boils down to time and effort. (Or at least that is what I believe.)  There isn’t an easy answer to this stuff.  If you want to get better at your saxophone, clarinet, kazoo or whatever it might be, you need to put the hours in.   I am a big fan of the Outliers theory.  It’s a psychological survey from the ’90s in which it is theorised that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master any skill.  There are those who have debunked the theory, but for me it holds true, if you want to be good at something you can’t just think it is about talent or some mystical magical ability.

Of course there is going to be a degree of input into a persons ‘talent’ or their specific predilection towards a given area.  Your neurones might fire in a slightly different way to others, your life experiences or hormonal balance might give you strengths or weaknesses compared to others.  But as a ball park if you want to master an instrument you are going to have to put 10k hours in.  (Maybe 7k, maybe 15k but something in that ball park.)

If you are speaking to a teacher about wanting to improve… you already know the answer play your instrument more and you will get better.   Listen more and you will get more in tune with how you want to sound.  You need to put the hours in.

Sure, teachers can give direction… I’m not totally trying to talk myself out of a job here!  We can give you direction on how to approach things, we can save you time as we have already made some of the mistakes and we can help you avoid them.  But if you want to get good you need to put the hours in.

I often find my role as a teacher is more about coaching than teaching.  It’s about motivating people to get towards their goals, about getting pupils to realise what their goals might be, and how to achieve them.

But the practice works… I’ve been doing some recently… and I can really feel the results showing in my playing.

A couple of years ago I saw a fantastic Youtube video by Bassist and online teacher Scott Devine.  (He has an amazing teaching programme which you can find HERE).  I was very sad to see the video is no longer on YouTube, but it seemed to make the case very clearly about How and Why to practice.   Scott has lots of newer videos about practice out there, but none seem to hit the spot that the original one did.   In the original video Scott talked about how as a starting out bassist he was given a great job playing, but which he was totally not equipped to take on at that point.  He had a really short space of time in which to get his stuff together and take on the pro job.   Scott described how he got there but really looking at his practice and only focussing on the the stuff that he needed to get better, nothing else.  The fundamentals, the skills, exercises, scales.  But only picking the stuff that moved him towards his goal.  He had to be efficient and he couldn’t afford to spend time working at stuff that wouldn’t help him.  You need to pick the specific skills that you need to progress.  The single bar, the single finger movement.  Find your weakness and develop it.

That’s it on practising for the timbering.  I’m off to the shed!  Hopefully a new subject for the next post as I have a new project which I am very excited about.  Am bound to be posting regularly about it very soon!



Leave a comment

Posted by on January 6, 2019 in Uncategorized