This post features guest-writer, Peter Luttrull, Indianapolis-based professional saxophonist and instructor at Vibe Music Academy. Peter has a Master of Music in Jazz Studies degree from Michigan State University.
For most of my musical journey, I didn’t really know how to practice. I never really had a method, and I found myself spending a lot of time practicing with no direction. Throughout music history, music has been passed down through mentorship relationships. In a similar fashion, these four best-practices for nailing the art of practicing music were passed to me by jazz saxophonist and composer, and my mentor, Diego Rivera. Here they are...
I get asked the question, “How many hours should I practice? “ all of the time.
In many ways, music isn’t all that different from anything else that requires hard work and practice. The more time you spend practicing, the better you’ll be. But without consistency, or daily practice, it’s hard to get the new material that you’re learning to stick. Try practicing daily, and treat practice time as you would a class until it becomes a permanent part of your day and you begin to schedule other things around it.
If your goal is to be able to play saxophone like Charlie Parker or piano like Glenn Gould, then you must be willing to work as hard as (or harder than) they did. Both of those musicians are famous for practicing 12-15 hours a day! If that is the goal, you need to have a similar work ethic. If not, you will be constantly disappointed in your progress. So be realistic in your goal setting.
Setting goals is a vital part of any practice routine. Goals are important because they hold you accountable and help measure your progress. I tend to break down my goals into two categories: long-term and short-term goals.
Long-term goals should focus on larger, broader concepts, like being able to play 10 solos by John Coltrane in 12 weeks or increasing your longevity to play 15 tunes by the end of the month.
Short-term goals should be set for each practice session, so you’re thinking through what you’ll ideally accomplish by the end of the session and what you will do consistently the entire session. For example, your short term goals could be increasing your ability to play a technique exercise from memory while focusing on playing in time the whole lesson, or playing your etude in 4 different keys from memory while focusing on using proper articulation and phrasing for the whole lesson. Try to have variety in the goals you set, and set new goals that you believe are just beyond your ability as a musician. It’s ok if you don’t always achieve 100%, as long as you’re striving towards those short term and long term goals.
Make a Plan.
Work smarter, not harder. In practicing, it is very easy to become overwhelmed - there is a lot to learn and a lot to work on. If you go into a practice session without a plan or routine, you risk wasting time. There are things that should be a part of every practice session and some that should be dependent on gigs you have or an upcoming concert. Start by staying focused on the materials that your teacher gives you, and try to build a routine that will serve as a strong foundation for improvement. Here’s a few things you can do daily to help form your routine:
- Warm up everyday, focusing on your sound.
- Sight read.
- Play your technique exercises in all 12 keys.
Remember, Make Music!
When practicing, always remember that you are making music! Sometimes, practicing can be repetitive and difficult. It is easy to forget why you are putting in all this work. It is important to frequently remind yourself why you practice: you love to play. Take time every practice session to make music. Find moments to put away all your materials, recordings, exercises, and sheet music, and just play. Use the skill, sound, and musicianship you work on in practicing to simply make music.