800px-Antonio_Sanchez
Flickr DaisyBasie

Antonio Sanchez has one of the most coveted seats in the jazz house at the moment; on the drum stool in Pat Metheny’s Unity Band alongside Chris Potter and Ben Williams (and Pat of course). He has been touring and recording with Pat for many years now, and has also found himself on dates with Chick Corea, Gary Burton and the late Michael Brecker. After attending Berklee for 4 years, he continued his studies with a Masters in Jazz Improvisation at The New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and eventually moved on to New York City where he resides today (there is a pattern emerging here).
 
 
 

He has some interesting things to say about over-doing it in the practice room:

How many days a week on average do you practise?

As of late not that many because I’m so much on the road. After many years of practicing I felt like I need to stop and step back and take a close look at my playing.

I feel like when you practice too much you regurgitate licks and patterns more than being in the moment. I think when you are a creative jazz musician you can actually practice TOO much. I felt like I had too much technique and hand reflex that would sometimes override the creative side of my playing. I feel like I have less chops than before but I’m way more musical and creative and mature and “in the moment”.

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

Lately I just warm up before gigs by stretching for about 5 minutes.

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

I can tell you what I used to do when I was practicing a lot. I used to work on my weaknesses and spend little time on the stuff I knew already.

How has your current routine evolved to where it is now?

It has evolved into me being able to play at a high level without being able to practice so much and a lot of mental exercises.

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

Not at all.

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?

Of course. Nothing comes easily for most of us. Me included. I practiced a lot for many years to get to where I am now.

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

Don’t waste time practicing stuff you already know. When one practices stuff that you don’t master yet is natural to feel unaccomplished and uncomfortable but that feeling is an important step towards growth and mastery. It’s a matter of how you channel and harness that feeling that will make you develop and evolve.


Thank you, Antonio.


The following video is one of my favourite performances of ‘Bright Size Life’, and the first time I heard/saw Antonio Sanchez doing his thing.

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Happy New Year to you all! I thought I would start off 2013 with a look at one of my favourite musicians, Eric Dolphy. There is a great interview with Dolphy’s parents from 1975 (11 years after he passed) that can be found on youtube, and there are some nice insights into his practice habits. The following is from the 2nd video:

Do you think he would he have any words of advice for people?

(Sadie Dolphy) I think he would tell them to practice, because that’s all he did!

He would get up in the morning before he went to school, say about 4.30 or 5, and practiced until it’s almost time to get his breakfast and leave for school. And he’d hurry home to start practicing again until really late in the evenings.

Did he mostly just practise scales and exercises?

Yes, and tone qualities. He’d blow one note for all day long.

(Eric Dolphy Sr) I’ve seen him blow one note on the saxophone for weeks at a time. I’d be out in the yard working and I’d go in and say, “There’s no more keys on that saxophone but that one?” And he’d play it and put it on his tape recorder, and he’d listen to it. He’d say, “Daddy, it’s gotta be right.” I’d say, “Sounds right to me.” “No, it’s not right yet.””

A little nugget from the ask Dave section of Dave Holland’s website:

“Do you have a regular practice routine that you do, or in what ways to you organise your practice schedule?” – Luke Sellick (from daveholland.com)

I divide my time between technical practice and creative practice. Of course, the two areas overlap and support each other.

Like most musicians I use scales and arpeggios for a lot of my practice material. There are endless variations. I also have a series of exercises that works particular aspects of bass technique. Basically left hand technique, pizzicato and bowing.

The creative practice involves just playing through ideas, sometimes within a given framework and sometimes just in a free association kind of way. I might be working on ideas that relate to music that Ill be playing on gigs. I try to have a focus to my practice and I often have several things that I will be working on at any given time.

Dave Holland, December 10′

Janek Gwizdala
Flickr catster

The first respondent to my questionnaire is Janek Gwizdala, an electric bassist who was born in England and is now based in New York City. After attending Berklee for 3 semesters and subsequently moving to NYC, he now finds himself at the forefront of the contemporary music scene having played with big name musicians such as Mike Stern and Jojo Mayer. He also runs a popular music lessons blog http://videobasslessons.tv/, and has recently written a book focusing on the business side of being a performing musician in the internet age.

Check out his website here. Onto the interview…

How many days a week on average do you practise?

Every day possible. That is sometimes literally every day if I’m not on the road, but when I’m touring the schedule often doesn’t allow for that to happen. But for the most part, even if it’s just for 15 mins, I’ll pull my bass out in the lounge at the airport and do some basic maintenance.

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

Again, that can vary depending on how much time I’m able to make available for practicing. The most consistent time for practicing over the past 15 years has been later on in the day and into the night. Generally between 10pm and 4am I find I’m the most productive. But more recently I’ve been trying to get up at 8am no matter what, and focus my practice time in the morning. It’s constantly evolving, and you could ask me the same question in a year and probably get a totally new answer.

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

I don’t think there is such a thing as a typical practice session. I’m constantly looking for new things so the less I can regurgitate when I’m practicing the better. Like right now for instance I’m working on a Michael Brecker transcription for a course I just wrote for VideoBassLessons.tv, so I’ve been working 4-6hrs a day on being able to perform that particular solo along with the record. But I also have other commitments like a trip to Japan next week so I have to learn new music for that as well. As a general rule my practice time is spent working either on music I have to perform in the near future, or on writing and practicing new music for my own recordings and tours.

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 think I’m constantly inspired by other people’s methods, but not necessarily musicians. I like the fact that NBA Basketball player Kobe Bryant plays an entire season during the summer when most of the other players are taking a break between regular seasons. He’s first to the gym, and last to leave. That’s a work ethic right there. So as long as I’m working on music that inspires me and that I’m interested in, I’ll take the outside influences like that of Kobe Bryant, Danial Day Lewis, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, and all those great athletes and artists with an incredible work ethic, and try and put that together with my own process of learning music. And I think certain aspects of my technique have developed out of the necessity of needing to play certain things that I might not have been able to before. I’ll develop new exercises and routines to overcome things I can’t do, and that helps keep my playing fresh and on point.

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

It always involves time, sound, melody, harmony, and listening. What the actual notes I end up playing in a practice session are are kind of besides the point. As long as I’m aware of those 5 main elements of my playing, and I’m working on something that inspires me, then it’s all good.

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

My warm up method might be looked at as being unusual by bass players, but not by drummers… I like to use a practice pad and a pair of drum sticks to do some rudiments before I play bass. That gets the blood moving through my hands and frees up my brain from pre-conceived “bass” ideas and elements before I start shedding.

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?

The thing that’s played the biggest role in me being where I am today is understanding I’m human, and not putting too much pressure on myself to force things into my playing. Everything happens when it’s meant to, and just attempting to be constantly inspired by music on a daily basis is what helps the motivation to work on things I don’t understand. Having an open mind, and working on things that I can’t do rather than repeating things I can, are at the root of any success I’ve had. That’s not to say that repetition isn’t important when it comes to learning, but over repeating can be a bad thing if it stops you from moving on to learning more information beyond that.

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

I guess the last question kind of speaks to anyone who’s looking for advice when it comes to practicing. Don’t force yourself, and don’t think you have to learn everything right away. If you learn one note a day then that’s progress, and that’s OKAY! Once you maintain some consistency with the time you spend with your instrument, you will start to learn your body and your mind, and learn what works for you and what doesn’t.

Mandatory random last question.  What is your favourite type of fabric?

Cashmere. But I’m not even sure that’s a fabric is it…?


Oh yes, that is a fabric. I like your style. Thank you, Janek.

Hello everyone, welcome to the first post of my brand new ‘Good Practice’ blog!  My name is Craig Macfadyen and I created this site in order to help gain an insight into the practice routines of master musicians around the world.  Through this blog I hope to find out what they get up to in the practice room and how their methods have helped them get to where they are today. Maybe we will all learn a thing or two along the way.

I hope that these insights will be of interest and benefit to you.  Being a bass player myself (www.thediscordiantrio.com!) I know that it has already helped me.