Practicing for the long term vs the short term
I'm always kind of struggling with deciding what to practice. Reading, fingerstyle technique, slapping tecnique, transcribing by ear, memorizing songs, etc. There's so much to do and only so much time available.
Today, as I was thinking about it for the thousandth time, it ocurred to me that with the exception of reading, most of what I end up practicing is stuff that I expect to benefit from in the next 3 to 6 months. I work on songs that the band leaders who call me like to play, or on songs that I can almost play accurately but not quite.
What if, instead of that, I think about where I want to be as a player in 5 or 10 years, and practice the things that will get me there? I'm not even sure what that would be yet, but it's probably more time on ear training, maybe even playing keyboards and singing.
What do you think? Do you have long-term goals? Do you intentionally practice toward them?
I think it is a matter of perspective and I imagine it goes in cycles for folks.
I find it tough to balance between actual gig prep (playing in a couple of rock oriented worship bands) and learning the skills to progress (I am taking lessons) with the little time I have (after regular day job and familiy life).
My practice seems to bounce between both areas of focus. Right now I work on my skill set (scales, arp, theory, etc). I want to tackle more complex music and play current setlists better. Sort of looking to build a solid foundation for music that will come later.
I have only recently started thinking in terms of long term vs short term benefits of my practice. The music I want to get into is above my current skill level and I think it will take actual focused work on skills and not just hammering through tunes (duh, right? :eek:).
Once I could hold my own with the fundamentals, I concentrate now on playing specific songs that are coming up in the next gig.
Yes, that focuses on a specific style, and I can improve by working on techniques used in that style. That never will end. Always something to learn.
As far as 5 to 10 years down the road that will take care of itself, if you are a non-professional hobby player like I am...... as you progress you will see things you would like to learn and then go learn them. But as far as a ten year plan right now I do not have a 10 year plan, course I'm 78 and hope I can still lug the amp into a gig when I'm 88. ;) That would be great if that could happen.
From a musicianship point of view, ear training. From a professional point of view, sight reading. My 2 cents.
Malcolm, I don't think it "takes care of itself". There's a lot of stuff that needs work and then only way to get through it is to actually DO the work.
If all you do is work on songs, then you never really get a a good foundation and you'll eventually run into something that is hard for you because you never spent time working on the underlying skill necessary (physical approach, understanding or hearing) to do it. It's actually going to be easier, in the long run, to learn songs if you have worked hard to develop skill sets that deal with actual fundamentals of music because you'll be able to HEAR interval relationships, know where they are on your instrument and understand how they function. No hunt and peck.
Sure, you have to take care of business. If you have tunes to play, you need to learn those tunes. But imagine how much easier that's going to be if your ear training makes it a breeze to hear what's going on so you don't have to try to memorize it. If all the scale and arpeggio work makes figuring out the best fingering option so you don't waste a lot of time practicing an awkward fingering so you can make the tempo.
The BEST thing you can do for youself, as a musician, is practice for the long term.
QFT...same approach my instructor (Michael Wilcox in the Bay Area, CA) takes. Get the fundamentals down solid and keep working on the things that make more complex music (relative to your skill level) attainable/playable.
I addressed this recently. My goal is to be able to pick up SITSOM or some similar book and be able to read all the most difficult charts. My current regimen of practicing songs of the bands I gig with was not getting me any closer to that goal. So I quit all the projects, the original band with half realized songs, the blues bands doing the same thing over and over. Cut ties with all of it. Now back in community college taking music theory and being forced to learn to read. I'll crack open SITSOM in another month or so near the end of the semester and see if it makes a difference.
It will. Trust me.
A long term goal is like a catch-22, you have to trust in the work to get a result, but many give up to early because they do not get the results they want.....so ensure they get no real result at all.
As Malcolm said "it takes care of itself" what this really means is if you work and play in certain areas music the development happens because of not what you learned....but by how you are using it.
For example in learning to keep time, everyone focuses on 4/4...no one really focuses on other meters. But in learning other meters you will develop another level of time keeping, and that will impact on how well you play 4/4......4/4 will take care of itself.
If a player cannot play in 3/4 then playing different meters will be hader to learn....almost frustrating.
Because a player cannot do one of the basic fundamentals (play in 3/4) then if they cannot combine it it with 4/4 to make odd meters they will struggle, where as if they can they will find it easier because playing say 5/4 or 7/8 will take care of itself because they can combine 3s and 4s as well as sub-divide 3s and 4s.(how can you sub-divided them if you cannot play the new number they form when added them together...you cannot sub-divide with success what you cannot play?)
But unless you have music that involves the use of such things it is a skill that you will not lose but just not develop further.
For example, I can type, but it is with a finger on each hand. So not for me the full hand and speed of say a professional secretary, but it does what I want it to do. In the start it was about searching for letters and symbols. That slowed me down, now it is not an issue I type fast enough for my use because I spend less time looking for the letters to make the words......and so on.
But it is my daily use that developed the skill, I did start off holding my hands correct and using all fingers, but once a certain ability and level was gained I balanced the work ethic of developing it further against what I actually need to use it for and.....well bailed out.
But how my typing skills developed, in a way, mirror how my playing skills developed....only difference is I did not ever bail out in playing.
In typing/playing it was about finding the letters/notes, developing the fingers to type/fret, looking at my hands/fingers rather than what I was typing/playing, constantly going back and correcting myself, frustration with getting what was in my head onto the paper/instrument etc etc , but at some point I stopped doing all these things, it was not a conscious decision, it just happened......the work load and use to care of it and everything just flowed better, smoother and faster.
This also parallels playing skills, it is not how I type/play it is what I have to say. I can have the greatest typing/playing skills in the world, but unless I have something interesting for people to read/listen to, then it is all really just party trick of sorts I can do because I cannot develop it into something of substance.
This is what long term goals are really, the realisation that you can do what you set out to do, it is not a fixed point you reach, it is a realisation that you are doing it.....how long you have been doing it or when you crossed that line is really a mystery, because in long term goals its about doing the right work and letting the rest take care of itself, its about being in that place rather than arriving at it.....it's a leap of faith........but unless you are willing to leap then its a catch-22,
So what you're saying is that all you can do is just "what developed". If that's "good enough" for your needs, good luck with that. It would not be for everyone, and certainly isn't for me. Working at hearing with a more nuanced ear and being able to play what you hear isn't "just a party trick of sorts", it's what real jazz musicians do every day. And it doesn't "just happen".
Hearing is an essential skill but it's not the only skill a musician must have at their disposable. To meaningful contribute to many musical genres, one needs to be versed in the "style" of that genre as well. A Salsa gig is a far different beast than a Jazz gig as is a Classical music gig(I'm just using these three as a example). You'll use your hearing on all of them, but if you aren't hip to Salsa and haven't internalized its groove, that will be felt and heard. If you're reading and arco chops aren't up to snuff you're not going to fair to well on that Classical gig if you in fact get an opportunity to be on the gig.
Active listening helps me a lot to absorb new styles. Very useful to subscribe to Spotify or other services to target what I'm working on and internalize the best of a particular genre. Having the sound in my head is essential to play it well - especially on fretless bass!
Depends on your situation..... I'm doing music full time so I practice specifically for gigs and to keep a step ahead of what my stronger students are doing.... This is generally working on a full compliment of flea tunes for bass and ultra nu metal ala lamb of god on guitar. The gig practice is just learning covers in bass or guitar.
I do make time for my own personal bass practice though!
I would say practice to see benefit inside a month..... That means stuff not too difficult to get the hands around!
The constant use of the new skills will negate old skills for a while till the new skill is developed and learned, then the y will become part of what you can do, they become internal learned skills.
The 'party trick' I refer to are those with great technical skills, but cannot really hold a tune. They can play outrages slap or fretting techniques but cannot use them to play a tune. So initially you think "wow" but after a short while you see they have nothing but that "party trick"..............they spend so much time learning it they never developed a real use for it within music so it quickly becomes something you have seen and heard before........a bit like hearing a joke, funny the first time but it where's off after a while.
Learning is one thing, but learning so it is part of something you use is called development....and we can all develop as players if we know what we need to work on....that also can be a catch-22 for some students...they want the skills but not have to work for it......but then they are missing the point of what the working for it achieves....the two go hand in hand.:)
Here's something I've noticed short term vs long term
I have a lot of books, so I have a lot of version of Blues in F and Autumn Leaves and a few others.
What's relatively easy to teach and learn are certain consistent patterns. It's a very good place to start. And there are more than a handful of useful patterns to know mentally and in muscle memory. But what you play gets pretty predictable and repetitive. The very things that make it easy to teach and learn -- predictable and repetitive.
Then I have a few books that have examples that are much less predictable and repetitive, instead of every bar starting on a root, they just find the closest chord tone of the next chord and they hop around on chord tones and throw other scale tones along with the more usual chromatic approach tones. And it's harder to read because I'm used to the predictable reading patterns and it's harder to memorize, but it can be much more melodic and musical. It's an opportunity to hear something and learn something that's a little more long term -- if nothing more than the reading of less predictable movement. Since it doesn't seem to be lending itself to memorization it seems it might be lending itself more to listening and sensing how a counter melody balances its rising and falling and tension and release. So at some point do away with the book and what's written.
In the meantime for a break I'll go back and play some standard short term box pattern blues to ease the fruistrations of all that.
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