I would never advocate someone not to practice. Charlie Parker said he practiced 12 hours a day for a period of 3 years. I didn’t enjoy practicing formally out of books and exercises so never did that as I simply wanted to make music from a very early age. I used my ear to teach my body to execute what I heard. As I developed I heard more and my ear responded by training the body. Looking back I wish I had put the 12 hours a day in. The thing that amazes me is that I have been able to hold my own with other artists who did practice formally intensely ranging from Benny Goodman to Chick Corea. What I want to impart is don’t ever underestimate the power of the ear. Whether you practice formally or not, you will need to cultivate that ability to be a real jazz artist.
2 thoughts on “Practice”
Glenn, there was a time in my early 20s that I spent nearly a year practicing 70 hours a week. Part of that practice included all the ear training I could manage. I would transcribe Parker and Coltrane solos as well as Bill Evans, Bud Powell, and any thing else I could get my hands on in the way of recordings. Then I would figure out the most efficient fingerlings for guitar. It was quite a challenge. I think I am understanding you in that you’re saying that the ear is all important. I totally agree. No matter what instrument you choose to express yourself on I feel that it’s all about the ear. Some young players today leave me feeling uninspired because the feeling is not there. I think just about anyone can achieve sixteenth note facility at mm. =180 or 200 if that’s all their after and that’s all they practice, but what good is it if there’s no feel. I’ve heard some great players kill you with one note…. The way it hangs there as it weaves its way thru’ a chord progression. One thing I learned when I set out to practice 70 hours per week was that I couldn’t concentrate that long at first. Some people might set in a chair with their instrument in their hands for that long but they re probably not really practicing, their just sitting there and calling themselves practicing. I had to work up to that 70 hours per week. It took me about 3 months to condition my mind and body to concentrate for long a period of time. Even then I would break it up into 2 hour segments with breaks in between. Here’s another thing I learned. If a person wants to get good at practicing all they have to do is practice. Unfortunately that’s not why most of us practice. We practice so that we might play better. To play better we actually have to play in front of people. I still practice every day even though I teach 6 days a week, but not 10 hours a day. Nowadays I spend more time playing than practicing. Another thing I found out about myself during that time was this. At that period in my life I became more comfortable practicing than actually being around people and that’s not healthy. Learning these things about myself have made me a better, more understanding teacher over the years. I’ll be 64 years old this month and I’ve been enjoying playing the guitar since I was 8. I think I’m more in love with it now than when I was younger. When I was about 10 years old I remember asking my teacher how long it would take me to master the instrument. He said emphatically “6 years”. I have since decided that 6 lifetimes would not be enought time to learn everything I want to experience about this amazing art form we call music.
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hi Rod ! Thank you for your email and comments and quite a story. I admire your dedication to your instrument and music and i am sure all your hard work has paid off. Also great you can pass that on to your students. Regarding practice as i said i would never recommend to anyone not to practice and i wish i had the discipline to put in 70 hours per week when i was young. I think it is a very personal thing and one size doesn’t fit all. In my case i had great ears from day one and a burning desire to make music and I let that take the lead. Also there was no one saying i couldn’t do that. I asked my dad how long would it take me to get good on the trumpet and he said gee Glenn at least 20 minutes a day. I would put a timer on the piano practicing the Arban book and set it to 20 minutes and couldn’t make it. Found myself going to the Music Minus One records i had and playing jazz with greats like Milt Hinton who later i became dear friends with a recorded and did many jazz festivals. I self taught myself saxophone after only one lesson to learn the fingerings never practicing one exercise out of a book. I never transcribed anyones solo or even sat down to learn them but after 8 bars of listening to anyone i could get the basic concept of how they approached the music where they put the time how they phrased etc. After repeated and enjoyable listening it just seeped into my playing and my own style organically. So for me it was all about feel , emotion , swing and getting a unique sound. For sure not the only way and maybe not for everyone but it was what i was comfortable with and more important brought me joy and not effort. Add to that the luxury of being thrown on the bandstand at my parents jazz club with greats like Tommy Flanagan , Bobby Timmons , Ray Bryant etc. weekly and you have the best internship in the world. What i am trying to impart to the student is even though they may not have the same “set up” and opportunity i had they can use what it did as a validate of their own abilities in the same area because i feel the ability to hear and feel should be innate. I would love to hear your playing sent me a track.