practicing the unknown/somewhat known

Discussion in 'Ask Adam Nitti' started by noam, Sep 5, 2010.

  1. noam


    Nov 29, 2007
    Hi Adam,

    I'm wondering how you feel about the usefulness of getting really deep into the tone/dynamics/touch etc. of scales and other exercises... it's often been said that a musician should practice what he doesn't know rather than repeating what he knows, but then again if you take for example a chromatic scale, it's very easy to play and understand conceptually, but if you start practicing it with great concentration you might find it difficult to play it perfectly in time with controlled dynamics and tone, even quite slowly. Would you then say that the chromatic scale still resides in the realm of the unknown, or is spending lots of time on stuff like that more like getting bogged down, when it would be better to work on details of tone and time in the context of newer and/or more complex musical material?


  2. adamnitti


    Nov 29, 2001
    hi noam-

    i think that one of the biggest mistakes that players make is assuming that they completely 'know' something, such as a scale or chord, when in fact they haven't really explored the mastery aspect of it at all. take, for example, the major scale. whenever i do a bass clinic and ask for a show of hands how many people in the room know the major scale, almost everyone will raise their hand. i ask that question as a setup of sorts, and then proceed to demonstrate to the room how the majority of those folks really don't know the scale as intimately as they think they do. i'll do this by getting them to take part in a series of ear training 'tests' by getting them to participate in singing different random single notes, 2 note combinations, phrases, etc. from just this simple, one-octave major scale. this is almost always a wakeup call for players, because at that moment they realize that they have been playing the bass more with their eyes than they have their ears for quite a long period of time. mastery assumes a seamless connection between what you hear and being able to see/play it spontaneously on the instrument without any hesitation or any need for cognitive calculation or translation. i think you are on the right track with your questions; you recognize that there is more to notes than just their location and name. there is a whole world that integrates phrasing and perception of time that universally presents challenges for every musical and academic component you might encounter. there is also the aspect of relativity as it applies to notes. in other words, notes have different functions and create different implied (or un-implied!) moods depending on the harmony that they are being played over. the minute you assume you have mastered any of these components is the minute that you decide that you no longer have to work on them, and obviously this curtails your progress and musicality in very significant ways.