Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Making the Most of Practice Time

If you want to have a great time when playing music, you should look at at practice time as something that's going to allow that to happen.  Figure out what it is that you want to do with music and then focus your practice time around that.

In my case I want to play old-time and Irish tunes with other traditional musicians.  I'm already attending as many as 8 sessions/jams per month.  At an average of 2.5 hours per jam, that's a good 20 hours per month in that environment. Simply putting myself in that situation is good practice.  Not only do I learn in the moment and gain confidence and familiarity, but I also become aware of things I need to work on - things that may not have been apparent otherwise - so that next time around I'll be able to enjoy more, understand more, and participate more.

Personal practice time is different than being at the session.  In that case, practice is focused-playing in a relaxed, non-critical environment where it's okay to be adventurous, noodle around and try and figure out what does and doesn't work. Nobody is listening or cares when you hit a wrong note.

I have also started to take lessons from a talented instructor with a wealth of theory-knowledge and jazz training, but who also happens to be an accomplished old-time mandolin player who hosts a weekly jam.  He assigns me drills and exercises designed to make me a better all around musician, not just a folk musician. The fact that I always have an upcoming jam or session to implement those teachings makes me more inclined to actually practice the drills and exercises he assigns. 

By becoming aware of areas I need to improve, receiving instruction that focuses on improving those areas, and having actual situations where I can test out what I am learning, I'm finally starting to notice some improvement in my playing.

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