Saturday, March 19, 2011

Forming a Practice routine

My new strat!! Not relevant ... just because I am stoked!

Today we have a guest entry from a fine musician. One Mr. Jeff Stocks. In a discussion we were having about forming a guitar practice routine, his post stood out as one of exceptional quality. It needs to be shared as I couldn't have worded it better! Jeff you have the floor:

"Forming an efficient practice routine is a topic near and dear to my heart . Mostly I love it because I spent years, literally, practicing stuff that ultimately didn't serve the music I was playing. I learned the hard way, and only because I finally found a great teacher, how to translate practice room material into actual music! It is something I work on and think about often.

A few bits of wisdom I have gleaned:
  • Everything you do must serve the music. I honestly ask myself when working on some random, abstract concept 'Would Keith Jarrett practice this way'? I make my decision based on that answer.
  • Apply whatever you are working on to tunes. This could be voicings, lines, concepts, etc. By rote exercises played in a vacuum never 'stuck' with me and I have anecdotal evidence they don't with many players.
  • Ear training and slow metronome work will change your playing more than just about anything.
  • Sing everything.
  • Spend some time transcribing, even just a line or two.
  • Limit whatever you are working on to a few concepts/voicings/etc.
I often think how much more valuable my practice would have been, had I taken a few tunes and used them as vehicles for concepts. Instead of just reading notes on a page or working through the cycle.

I guess a practical example would be to take a tune like 'All The Things You Are'. It goes through multiple keys, moves in common harmonic cadences, has pretty much all chord types represented, is a nice, strong melody and is a good tune to shed ideas.

Just a small sample of what you could work on:
  • Play the changes using shell voicings (3rd & 7ths). Sing the root movement. Then the thirds. Now 7ths.
  • Play the changes using triads with nice voice-leading. Sing the top note of the triad. Sounds like Bach w/ this tune.
  • Pick a certain chord extension and play through the changes using that as the top voice of the chord (9ths for example)
  • Improvise using guide tones (3rds and 7ths) resolving on strong beats.
  • Improvise using only triads.
  • Pick a 'constant' set of intervals and solo (3-5-7-9, for example) using only those notes over every chord.
  • Play a certain number of notes/bar.
  • Play only on certain beats through the changes.
  • Improvise using modes of the melodic minor for every chord.
  • Improvise using upper structure triads.
  • Improvise using only pentatonics.
  • Treat everything like a tri-tone sub.
  • Play completely free over the entire progression.
The benefit is that you will learn a tune really well, will get a real-world use of whatever concept you like, and are making actual music in the practice room. I wish I would have started this type of work decades ago as opposed to years ago....."

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