After taking some time out from the blog and a very busy summer of bass playing here in Edinburgh, I am hoping to get some new interviews posted up very soon! If any musicians out there would like to contribute by answering my questions please feel free to get in touch with me via twitter or via the email address on the right-hand side of home page. I’d also like to expand the blog to other disciplines not limited to music; artists, dancers…clowns. If you know any potential candidates that hone their craft on a regular basis please share the blog with them!

To whet your appetite, here’s a great excerpt from a Clifford Brown practice session. Part 1 of 2.

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Copied from Chick Corea’s question page at www.chickcorea.com.:

Q: I would like to know more about how you manage practice time—specifically, how you know when it’s time to stop practicing something and move on. Also, how do you make the mental switch from practice to playing? — Sam D.

A: Thanks for your question—it’s a good question. To learn how to prepare properly or practice properly, to make advances in one’s technique, or knowledge at the instrument, or music in general, is a really important thing.

The main thing that I can see about practicing—and it’s also true about playing—is that the very basis of practicing, and knowing “when” and “how” and all of that, stems from first having an intention to advance, an intention to improve. An intention to take a certain challenge, or a certain piece of music or a certain phrase, or any particular thing that you think of, and then you have an idea that you would like to improve it, and you also have an idea of how it probably would sound, when it sounded right.

And this is another real important aspect—how you know when you’ve arrived, is that you have to trust your own judgment of what it should sound like. You can’t just accept another’s opinion about it. If a teacher is listening to you practice, and they say, “Oh yeah, that’s right,” when you play, you have to make sure you understand that that’s someone else’s opinion; it’s not yours, unless you can also see that same thing.

So it’s all about one’s own understanding of what his own goal, or target, or object of accomplishment, is. You have that in mind, and then you just go for that. You apply yourself calmly, and create the time, and you just keep doing it, until you’ve got it.

That’s the simple explanation of how to practice. I try to do that, and I get better at it, actually, as I get older. I learn more and more how to do that. And how to slow things down, sometimes, to the right speed, in order to understand every little part of it. You don’t want to go too fast or too slow, but just at a tempo and pace that you can have success at, and really know that you’re gaining on your goal.

— Chick

felix-pastorius

How many days a week on average do you practice?

Kind of depends on how much playing I’m already doing and if I’m on the road. Practicing on the road can be challenging due to lack of time and even space. I also believe in taking breaks from playing or practicing to enjoy other aspects of life, you know like eating and sleeping. Joking but I am serious about having other enjoyments outside of music.

What time of day do you normally practice, and for how long?

I prefer mornings after breakfast with a good cup of coffee.

What does a typical practice session consist of, does it vary at all, and how has it changed over the years?

Warm-up -> Repetition of subject -> Free playing. Definitely varies from practice to practice but I kind of stay with a subject for a while so they might differ from one another but still outline the same concepts and ideas. It’s changed mostly in my ability to discern direction, purpose, and execution.

How has your current routine evolved to where it is now? Did you develop it yourself out of necessity, or have you been inspired by anyone else’s methods?

” …let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet a true creator is necessity, which is the mother of our invention.” The Republic, Book II, 369c, Plato

Sorry if that was cryptic. Necessity answers both.

Do you try to make time to practice a little bit of everything each session, or do you spend more time on a few specific ideas before moving on?

Depends on the subject at hand.

Do you have any practice methods that you would deem unusual?

I believe using various exercises to put your hands in different or unusual positions to be beneficial. Does that count?

We mortals have to constantly remind ourselves that exemplary musicians like yourself are really human. It is clear that personal practising is only one part of the puzzle in eventually becoming accomplished on any instrument, but do you think that it has played a major role in helping you to get to where you are today?

Absolutely. Nothing replaces time spent on your instrument. I realize there might be some people who see my family name as the reason I have progressed as a musician but that is an unfair reasoning for my abilities.

Finally, do you have any words of advice for anyone who is trying to practice more productively and become a better musician?

You need to focus on the qualities of music that excite and inspire you. Then it’s learn, practice, play.

dave1

Once a student of Lennie Tristano, pianist Dave Frank is a prolific solo artist and educator based in New York City. I first discovered him through one of his Youtube videos and now I eagerly await any new videos that surface, which are always interesting and informative in a down-to-earth way.

Please visit his Youtube channel here.

How many days a week on average do you practice?

7 1/2

What time of day do you normally practice, and for how long?

2 hours in the morning, 1 in afternoon, 1-2 hours in evening approx..more
when my wife goes to sleep.

What does a typical practice session consist of, does it vary at all, and how has it changed over the years?

Working on concepts that will be part of my next performance (at the
beginning of my YT vids)

How has your current routine evolved to where it is now? Did you develop it yourself out of necessity, or have you been inspired by anyone else’s methods?

Lennie Tristano taught us to devise a practice routine that had time given
to specific subjects. At that time, I had a 5-hour/day routine that I kept
in place for the 6 years I studied with him that included technique,
harmony, singing with records, improv, basslines, composition, etc. Now I
choose subjects that interest me at the moment and devote regular periods
of time to them daily, if not gaily…

Do you try to make time to practice a little bit of everything each session, or do you spend more time on a few specific ideas before moving on?

Answered that one

Do you have any practice methods that you would deem unusual?

I watch TV 100% of the time that I practice. It started when I was
teaching at Berklee watching the Red Sox in the Series while I practice
with the sound off(didn’t want to miss the games but didn’t want to miss
practicing either), over time the whole thing got out of control and now I
can’t practice without watching TV including sound) I tivo cop shows,
reality shows, Dr. Phil, etc., and watch em while I practice and compose.
I do FF the commercials. I recommend this way of practicing to exactly
nobody!

We mortals have to constantly remind ourselves that exemplary musicians
like yourself are really human. It is clear that personal practising is
only one part of the puzzle in eventually becoming accomplished on any
instrument, but do you think that it has played a major role in helping
you to get to where you are today?

I am completely obsessed with practicing and have been my entire life. I
am resigned to the fact that my entire lifetime I’ll be in the shed. I
don’t perform, or play with another soul ever. I practice in my studio,
teach folks worldwide through skype 7 days/week, and put the fruits of my
labors into my YT performance/master class videos. I am the strangest
musician on the planet) But it works for me.

Finally, do you have any words of advice for anyone who is trying to
practice more productively and become a better musician?

Organize your work with the help of a master teacher, schedule your
practice time, keep a diary (not a dairy) and make a lifestyle out of it if
you enjoy it. I have spent thousands of days of my life peacefully and
happily absorbed in practice, as long as I have something to practice I am
happy.

Below is a transcript of a 1954 radio interview with Charlie Parker. He is talking with fellow altoist Paul Desmond and announcer John McLellan.

PD: Another thing that’s been a major factor in your playing is this fantastic technique, that nobody’s quite equaled. I’ve always wondered about that, too … whether there was … whether that came behind practicing or whether that was just from playing, whether it evolved gradually.

CP: Well,you make it so hard for me to answer, you know, because I can’t see where there’s anything fantastic about it all. I put quite a bit of study into the horn, that’s true. In fact the neighbors threatened to ask my mother to move once when we were living out West. She said I was driving them crazy with the horn. I used to put in at least 11 — 11 to 15 hours a day.

PD: Yes, that’s what I wondered.

CP: That’s true, yes. I did that for overa period of 3 to 4 years.

PD: Oh, yeah. I guess that’s the answer.

CP: Well, that’s the facts anyway. (chuckle)

PD: I heard a record of yours a couple of months ago that somehow I’ve missed up to date, and I heard a little two-bar quote from the Klose book that was like an echo from home …[Desmond scats the quote.]

CP: Yeah, yeah. Well that was all done with books, you know. Naturally, it wasn’t done with mirrors, this time it was done with books.

PD: Well, that’s very reassuring to hear, because somehow I got the idea that you were just sort of born with that technique, and you never had to worry too much about it, about keeping it working.

JM: You know, I’m very glad that he’s bringing up this point because I think that a lot of young musicians tend to think that …

PD: Yeah, they do. They just go out …

JM: It isn’t necessary to do this.

PD: … and make those sessions and live the life, but they don’t put in that 11 hours a day with any of the books.

CP: Oh definitely, study is absolutely necessary, in all forms. It’s just like any talent that’s born within somebody, it’s like a good pair of shoes when you put a shine on it, you know. Like schooling brings out the polish of any talent that happens anywhere in the world. Einstein had schooling, but he has a definite genius, you know, within himself, schooling is one of the most wonderful things there’s ever been, you know.

JM: I’m glad to hear you say this.

CP: That’s absolutely right.

Read the rest of the interview at http://www.puredesmond.ca/.

DA_Artist_Bob-Lanzetti-_EA2116121976_2hmntm5pxal4_PROXY

Bob Lanzetti is a Brooklyn based guitarist who hails from New Jersey, and who currently performs with the fusion band/collective, Snarky Puppy. You should definitely check them out if you haven’t come across them already.

How many days a week on average do you practice?

I try and do a little bit everyday if possible. Sometimes it’s not! At the very least though I’ll try and do some deep breathing and playing a scale or just improvising for a couple of minutes. A very meditative sort of thing.

What time of day do you normally practice, and for how long?

The length all depends on how busy I am. Usually I’ll try and do something in the morning. It’s nice to start the day, when possible, with the aforementioned deep breathing.

What does a typical practice session consist of, does it vary at all, and how has it changed over the years?

I kind of let whatever I feel in the moment guide me. I’m not big on forcing yourself to practice certain things because you think you need to be better at them. I’d rather practice what I really want and that usually ends up giving the most benefits and being the most enjoyable. As far as what I do it varies a lot. Sometimes I’ll sing solos with records, do ear training, improvise over a standard or free, etc. I should mention that I consider writing music or working on music for a gig a separate thing in a way. I obviously do those things as well-sometimes more than anything else-but it isn’t the same as practicing.

How has your current routine evolved to where it is now? Did you develop it yourself out of necessity, or have you been inspired by anyone else’s methods?

It’s changed a lot over the years. I used to do a lot of stuff where I would record the changes to a tune on a tape machine and then just practice playing over it. I would do all different kinds of metronome practice. Putting the metronome on different beats or parts of the beat or whatever. Two years ago I began studying with Connie Crothers. She was a protege of Lennie Tristano. She has completely changed my view of practicing. Singing with records, deep breathing, practicing what I want as opposed to what I “should” pretty much all comes from her.

Do you try to make time to practice a little bit of everything each session, or do you spend more time on a few specific ideas before moving on?

Usually a few specific ideas.

Do you have any practice methods that you would deem unusual?

Haha. Well, I would say the deep breathing stuff may be a little different.

We mortals have to constantly remind ourselves that exemplary musicians like yourself are really human. It is clear that personal practising is only one part of the puzzle in eventually becoming accomplished on any instrument, but do you think that it has played a major role in helping you to get to where you are today?

Absolutely. I’ve spent countless hours practicing in many different ways. Taking a little from many different teachers, professors, idols, and peers. All of those different methods and influences mix together and help me make the music I make now.

Finally, do you have any words of advice for anyone who is trying to practice more productively and become a better musician?

I would say the thing that has helped me the most is surrounding myself with positive, inspiring, like minded people. I’ve learned so much from teachers and peers that I never would have discovered otherwise. Also, follow your heart. It’s important to have a lot of basic musical stuff together but beyond that you need to make the music that speaks to you.

scott_9.12.07_2

Scott Amendola is easily one of my favourite drummers. I saw him perform with the Nels Cline Singers at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC a couple of years back, and although the whole group was incredible, Scott’s drumming was something extra special. I highly recommend checking him out live if you get a chance. Since graduating from Berklee* in 1992, Scott has become a staple of the San Francisco bay scene and has toured or recorded with Charlie Hunter, Bill Frissell, Dave Liebman, John Zorn and a whole host of others. He has recorded 7 albums as a leader, and his latest effort, 2010’s “Lift”, features guitarist Jeff Parker of Tortoise and bassist John Shifflett. Have a read on what he has to say about practising and dinosaurs:

* this website is not in any way affiliated with Berklee (!)

How many days a week on average do you practice?

This depends on my tour schedule (obviously), and my family schedule. These days I’m practicing everyday when I’m home, except weekends are questionable.

What time of day do you normally practice, and for how long?

This varies. I like mornings, but will spread it out between 9am and 2:30pm usually. Sometimes later in the day or in the evening.

What does a typical practice session consist of, does it vary at all, and how has it changed over the years?

It has changed tremendously over the years. I’ll work on music that I need to be dealing with. For example, I’m about to do 4 shows with the Nels Cline Singers. So I’ll revisit the music, and focus on that. But I’ve also been trying (for years!) to work on playing with a double bass drum pedal. I’m fascinated by it, and I’m terrible at it. So I’m trying to do at least 15-30 minutes a day focusing on it. But at least 10 minutes of solid work. I know, not much, but anything focused is good. I’ll jump into books, or rudiments, or play one groove for an hour or so. It really depends on what’s going on at the moment. And if I’m working on writing music I’ll be playing things related to whatever I’m composing and go between the drums/piano/electric bass/guitar/ and now harmonica (very early stages of that), and my electronics if that’s incorporated in the music I’m writing.

How has your current routine evolved to where it is now? Did you develop it yourself out of necessity, or have you been inspired by anyone else’s methods?

I’ve developed my practice routines myself. I try and focus on what I feel I need to work on and try to relate everything to what gigs I have coming up.

Do you try to make time to practice a little bit of everything each session, or do you spend more time on a few specific ideas before moving on?

Sometimes I jump around, sometimes I do one thing. It all depends on how much time I have.

Do you have any practice methods that you would deem unusual?

Gee, never thought of that… I doubt it. I like to play other instruments when I’m practicing. I think that’s a very valuable thing to any instrument.

We mortals have to constantly remind ourselves that exemplary musicians like yourself are really human. It is clear that personal practising is only one part of the puzzle in eventually becoming accomplished on any instrument, but do you think that it has played a major role in helping you to get to where you are today?

Definitely. I was able to practice 12 hours a day when I was at Berklee. And when I was in middle school and high school I practiced all the time. Summers during middle school and high school I spent many hours a day playing the drums. No question that FOCUSED practice for many years has helped me be the musician I am today.

Do you have any words of advice for anyone who is trying to practice more productively and become a better musician?

FOCUS! That means, whatever you are truly interested in musically, work on that. Work on technique. HAVE A CONCEPT! I meet loads of drummers that don’t have a concept around technique and it has clearly set them back, in some cases, years. It is VITAL! We do need to think about what were doing and work on that so we can get to the place of getting lost in the music. Good habits make the music go WAY deeper.

Mandatory random last question. What is your favourite dinosaur?

Ankylosaurus