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.