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Just Not Cutting It; Getting Discouraged

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by Swing Doom, Oct 13, 2013.

  1. I decided to take the dive and go to music school. I'm attending Michigan State University as a Jazz Studies major and am studying under Prof. Rodney Whitaker. It wasn't a tough decision to come here as it was what I had wanted to do since I was a freshman in high school. It's been about a month and a half since my first day of classes and over this period of time my level of confidence has taken a sharp decrease.

    I feel I have come to this school in a somewhat unique situation. I've actually been taking private lessons with Prof. Whitaker for a few years and this was the main reason I chose to attend this school. I feel the difference now is that rather than having lessons every two or three weeks like I did back in high school, I now have lessons almost every week with occasional off-weeks when Prof. Whitaker is out of town for a gig or something.

    It's not that I feel I've made the wrong decision coming to school. I definitely do not regret coming here; this is where I feel I belong at this point in my life. I just feel I'm not improving at a rate that I should be, especially with such a prestigious professor. I try very hard. I practice two to three hours per day (I'm not counting ensembles rehearsals, performances, or lessons in this calculation) and I want to do more but I don't exactly know how.

    So I basically have two questions:

    How do you fill a 5-6+ hour practice day productively? I want to practice more. It's not that I'm not motivated to or that I'm lazy. I just feel that after I've spent a certain amount of time on material I plateau and am not able to make improvements on it until the next day. The problem for me is that this certain amount of time is very short and the amount of progress I am able to make is very small.

    What do you do to prevent yourself from being discouraged? When I begin to plateau in my practice sessions, it is discouraging. All of a sudden I stop making progress and am not getting any better. I know that of all of the students in the jazz bass studio at MSU I am the worst and I can't seem to change that no matter how hard I try to improve.

    Any advice would be appreciated.
  2. Space Pickle

    Space Pickle

    Apr 15, 2013
    I survived a fairly prestigious jazz school. Here are my tips:

    -Make it through. Get the degree. When I was a student a lot of us (including myself) would act like a jazz degree was worthless. It's not. Earning your B. Mus is an accomplishment and even if your jazzing isn't lighting the world on fire you've still come out ahead if you finish what you start.

    -Focus more on the artistic side. Too many student jazzers will get caught up in practicing technical things and forget to make art. Yes, you need to be able to play Scrapple in 12 keys but it's useless to bang away at this in the shed if you can't play it in one key on a gig or jam. Play music, not technique.

    -Take baby steps. Don't start massive practice projects (i.e. I'M GOING TO PLAY EVERY SCALE EVER IN EVERY POSITION EVER!), pick the smallest thing that's going to have an immediate effect on your playing and focus on that. Work on vocabulary that will be used in actual tunes you'll be performing. It's great if you can play all kinds of crazy stuff, but it's pointless if you can only pull it off in the practice room.

    -Play along with the recordings. A 1 hour session playing along with [INSERT JAZZ GUY HERE]'s albums is going to be much more productive than a 1 hour session playing scales, particularly if you're a weak player.

    And now an inspirational story

    When I was in college one of my good friends was the worst musician in the school. Not just worst drummer, worst musician on any instrument. I started out much further ahead than him technically, but he was way ahead mentally. It took me a long time to get my head on straight and not worry about who was better than whom. While I was wasting time competing with people, this guy was clocking in on average 2 hours per day practicing. At the end of 5 years, his transformation was incredible. Mine, not so much. Like the song says, steady, as she goes.

    I hope that all made sense.
  3. Violen

    Violen Instructor in the Vance/Rabbath Method Banned

    Apr 19, 2004
    Kansas City Metro Area
    Endorsing Artist: Conklin Guitars (Basses)
    3 hours a day is all the practice you need. Make a list of what you are being asked to work on, and check it every day. Don't try everything. Figure out what needs to get better first. Master that and move on.

    If you dont have a good foundation and the basics aren't there, nothing else will improve.

    Im finishing my masters in jazz right now.

    A secret? Everyone thinks they suck once they get to music school. Everyone. Anyone who dosen't is a fool.

    Realize you are getting better, because you are getting better at scrutinizing your technique.

    Also realize you cant let this get in your head space. make progress every day.
  4. Violen

    Violen Instructor in the Vance/Rabbath Method Banned

    Apr 19, 2004
    Kansas City Metro Area
    Endorsing Artist: Conklin Guitars (Basses)
    OH, and pm me any time you need someone to talk to. We are all in this together.
  5. As an ex-college teacher the question that always popped up (that often could not be answered) was asking somebody WHY they want a music degree. The usual answers are the solid ones. They want to be a better player, or they want the degree to enhance job prospects, but other people really have trouble quantifying why they are studying for a degree. Quite a few hate every moment of it. Other realise that to a large extent, they are teaching themselves. Others are networking - making contacts they hope will help them when they leave study. A few are just knowledge sponges - they enjoy the learning, but will never use it. Crazily, with the expense, many end up being Doctors of Music. A good mate of mine is now Dr Drum - it doesn't help him get jobs, it makes him no extra money, but does look nice when printed on documents. I asked him if the money he'd spent on his degree, his masters and then his doctorate had been recovered yet - and the answer was easy - no!

    In this topic - what exactly is it that's discouraging you? It seems you are unhappy with your rate of progress. You've tried hard work and it doesn't seem to be working to speed up progress, so maybe this is your maximum progression speed, and no extra work will help. This will eat at you, so back off on the practice and try a different sort of music - get playing with others, as much as you can, and see if that get's you past the barrier. I stopped conventional music grades when I was in my teens because I started to really get annoyed with practicing. It stopped my progression through the grades, but helped my musicianship greatly because I was making real music with others instead of playing scale after scale ad nauseum. My scales and arpeggios are still poor, but I don't care. For what I want music to do in my life, they're not important. I've lost a few jobs over the years by not being able to play a certain scale instantly and perfectly, and I even see some of my ex-students getting better jobs than I ever had because they can do it.

    It's maybe that your expectations of the degree course were mismatched. First year is often shakedown - trying to lose the people who won't achieve, and encouraging those who the staff know will be fine, but don't know it yet, and identifying the high flyers who make astounding progress. As a result little of year one in a three year programme is that critical - it's kind of boot camp. It is also the time that some students who have 'holes' in their skills or knowledge get the chance to play catch up. The staff have great difficulty dealing with too wide a base range, so after the first year, the gaps have closed.

    Being discouraged isn't terminal. For some people, even enjoying the course is an option.

    Did you expect what you're getting or is it a shock?
  6. Man, i wish i still had time to practice like that everyday.
  7. Jazz study major ! Awesome, now how about we just drop all the crap and look deep inside ones soul and honestly ask yourself

    Are you honestly greatful for the opportunity that stands before you ,
    You don't need to answer that on TB . The only person you need to answer that to is yourself

    If you have true gratitude you will not be discouraged. Stop comparing yourself to some insane benchmark you have created in your own mind, enjoy every moment of whatever you do and realise how lucky you are. If that doesn't work then nothing will ... Sorry man but you sound like a spoilt kid, forget all the crap, head down bum up and complete the course.
  8. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Excellent post. +1
  9. statsc

    statsc Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2010
    Burlington, VT
    I have several suggestions to add to the many good ones already expressed here:

    1. Break your practicing up into shorter, more frequent, more focused sessions. Most people's focus tends to start waning after about 45 minutes; going beyond that the law of diminishing returns starts to kick in.

    2. Know that the results of practicing often are not realized for several months, and frequently only after you've stopped practicing that particular thing. Often, you actually improve from taking a break from practicing ("covert rehearsal").

    3. Try not to focus on what others are playing and how you compare to them. Focus on what YOU do. Keep in mind that no one plays like you; capitalize on this.

    4. (The following may not help you through your academic program, but will DEFINITELY help you in the real world of gigs you are training for!). Keep in mind that your primary function as a bass player is to provide a firm, steady propulsive foundation upon which others can tell their stories. Focus on this aspect of your playing. I highly recommend playing as often as possible without a drummer to strengthen this. Soloing is icing on the cake.

    5. When soloing, try to think of creating alternate melodies to the tune's head that reflect the chord changes, rather than exercises in scale-running. If you adopt this approach, you will definitely set yourself apart from most of your peers!

    6. Finally, DON'T GIVE UP! We all feel discouraged and that we play like crap at times. We all alternate plateaus with periods of rapid advancement. The road to improvement is rarely smooth and straight!

    Hope this helps!
    nicechuckh likes this.
  10. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    The professor doesn't do the work, you do. Some teachers are better than others but it's all up to the student...that's true for any subject you study, not just music.

    Improvement is not an overnight thing. It can take weeks, months or years for lessons you have worked on to suddenly bear fruit in your playing.
  11. smeet

    smeet Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 27, 2006
    Woodland Hills, CA
    I think both of these points are really important to understand. One of the big lessons I learned when I went to music school was that there are a lot of very talented young players out there. This raises your standards, and even though you are probably improving, your standards are rising at the same time, so it's hard to see.
  12. ctrlzjones


    Jul 11, 2013
    I'd like to add another perspective here, as this is partly a psycho theme:

    Learn how to become a good person. one that has to share something with the world.
    sounds funny, right?

    But it is not that far away.

    Music is not only about technique and theory. it is about connection, with yourself, the others, the spiritual.
    In these days we live in, everything is put into numbers, achievements to be measured. But this is not at all jazzy.
    Jazz, as I like to envision it, is a way of being that feeds from the music, likewise listened and played. And all the other ingredients, are away from the instrument are important too.

    Develop yourself as an interesting character, someone that has something to say, something to share. One that enjoys sharing with others, to connect.

    I recently saw a video done by Mike Longo, Dizzy Gillespie's pianist; he talks a lot about
    'getting your ego out of the way' and 'you do not put feelings into music, you get feelings from the music'.

    Playing music is not so different from having a good conversation, or cooking, or surfing; it is all about you and what you do and HOW you do it ... it is a sound that comes from your body our of you, way beyond of what you know consciously ...
    cultivate that. Learn how to be 'in the moment', how to react properly, being a good player is not about scales and tempo. It is all interaction, with you & yourself, the others, the public, the universe. Have an open mind, be ready for the things to be happening.
    Mike Longo calls this 'Onthology' ...

    Enjoying yourself at what you do is a good antidote for frustration. And get that pressure from your shoulders; it is all in your hands, you are enough and capable of being happy.
    I sometimes look at my bass (and it is far from being a 'masters intrument') and have a big smile and feel fortunate of being allowed to play with it. And the sound of only one note can be so fulfilling, how it travels through from the string into the instrument, getting bigger and bigger, then into the room getting even bigger, and then coming back to me.

    If you are meant to become a virtuoso, work it out. There are a lot of different ways to enjoy music. Find out what is yours, depending on your capacities and your situation and go for it.

    Frustration is only coming in when you want something that (for a reason) cannot be. So resolve that, do the possible and forget about the impossible.

    Ah and: play with people, that know something / are something that you don't, that you want to get your hands on.
    Schools are great for that.
    You can learn a lot of things without processing it consciously. Again: music is not the notes or the theory or the technique; these are only the vehicles to get to that place where you can be totally yourself and one with the rest. Allow it, invite it to happen.


    Wow, this was way longer that I meant it to be ...
    now back to church ;-)
  13. cleary


    Apr 19, 2013
    NSW, Australia
    There's a few book on the theory of optimising practice time, Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code is one I'm reading at the moment after several recommendations from here.
    You need to give yourself a break too - what is music to you? What was music to you before you started studying?

    In my case, music is a hobby, but I'm working towards tertiary study via some primary school level examination syllabus'. This has moved it a bit away from hobby status for me, but I still need that hobby outlet to relax, so I've started pulling apart guitars and rebuilding them in order to learn about what makes these instruments tick/learn some woodworking and finishing skills.
    Not unexpectedly, it's helped me learn more about my bass and getting it set up to suit my playing -

    So my suggestion is embellishing on the ones here earlier - see if you can find a hobby/timeout that you enjoy that complements your study. Drinking at a local jazz bar, lutherie, collecting vinyl, playing in a head pounding drumnbass dubstep two piece, I dunno - but it gives you the opportunity to rest your mind while still expanding your knowledge in the vague area of study, and not "wasting" the limited time you have :)
  14. Good article and thanks for the post

  15. I'll give you my own little story - when I was still in high school, I took lessons with a guy who was a former bass teacher at the University of North Texas (a fairly well-known school for jazz). I had been playing bass in a few bands in and out of school, including jazz band, and in my extremely limited experience I thought I was ahead of the curve. After a year and a half at a Dallas community college, I enrolled in UNT, despite never having taken a bass lesson on upright or even owning one for that matter. Needless to say, my first semester was a wake-up call. I stumbled my way through the audition, completely failed at a small-group audition (I thought I could hear my way through "Autumn Leaves" on the fly) and didn't even buy a double bass until my 3rd semester.

    But, I worked hard, practiced, jammed, got to know people, and tried to absorb as much as I could. By the time I graduated, I had advanced enough to have played in a few of the top bands at school and was gigging just about every night of the week. I was by no means the best player around, but I was light-years beyond the player I was when I showed up my first day on campus.

    You're experiencing something that I think is pretty common - you arrive at school and all of the sudden your standards for yourself are raised because you've been exposed to many more players. It can be frustrating as all get-out, even when you're making progress, because you start to progress in your own ability, you see how well you can play, but haven't quite reached the level where you can do it on a consistent basis. Plus, the bar at most music schools is constantly being raised - you realize, because the school tries to drill it into your head, that improving as a musician is a life-long endeavor, and that doesn't stop at any point of your career.

    It's ok to be discouraged, but understand that it will pass. Take advantage of every opportunity you can to play and learn from your professors and fellow students. Don't be afraid of falling flat on your face - the temptation is there to not embarrass yourself in front of other students, but school is the time to make as many mistakes as you can.
  16. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    At some point in time you've got to stop looking outside yourself for verification. All you can sound like is what you sound like. The only thing that changes that is the work you do in the shed and that's NOT fast work. It's slow and steady and progressive. If somebody gets something quicker than you or slower than you , it still doesn't affect how you sound. If somebody has a deeper understanding or doesn't understand it still doesn't affect how you sound. All you can sound like is what you sound like.
    Mesa likes this.
  17. bassisten


    Sep 15, 2004
    Bergen, Norway

    Couldn't agree more.

    I was not the best bass player at university at all, but most people had an easy time working with me in the studio, ensembles etc. A lot of mature and way more experienced pro musicians that I know say the same thing. Be good, open, reliable, do a straight job... These things become SO important after you graduate!
  18. Robus


    Aug 25, 2013
    Chicago Area
    Sounds like you're killing all the joy.
  19. This. Dan Haerle, a long-time professor of jazz piano at UNT gave a lecture shortly before his retirement where he discussed his "Parting Thoughts for Music Students." One of the things he said was "At any time, you are perfectly alright and simply in some stage of your growth. There will always be musicians who are more or less experienced than you. Be inspired by all of them."

    The whole list is here: http://www.danhaerle.com/partingthoughts.html

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