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Practise Time

Discussion in 'Ask Steve Lawson & Michael Manring' started by oneoftheway, Apr 18, 2004.

  1. oneoftheway


    Nov 27, 2002
    Hey guys,

    I was wondering, when you guys were younger undiscovered musicans how much time did you put into your instrument daily?

  2. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    Hi Cody,

    My practice time has varied greatly through my playing life - when I started playing I played for hours and hours a day, though very little of it was of the useful practice type - most of it was me playing tunes by The Cure and The Pixies through a distortion pedal :)

    When I went to music college, I was again playing for hours a day - some of it solo practice, lots of it practice in a band setting.

    Since then, it's varied from up to about five hours day to nothing, depending on what else is going on in my music life - when I'm gigging a lot I don't often get to practice as much as I'd like, but in the run up to recording a new album, I tend to get back into a heavy practice schedule.


  3. I'm not sure if it's a myth, but I've heard that the more "seasoned" you are as a muso, the lazier you get at practicing because the physical aspect of playing has already been mastered. And when I mean "seasoned", that's probably 25 years plus of playing to excell. :bassist:

    But who knows, it's probably just a myth though.........
  4. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    I don't think that's true for jazz players. Sure you have all ends of the spectrum; Sal Mosca is in his 70's and still practices 6 - 8 hours a day. Sonny Rollins, George Coleman, Pharoah Sanders (buddy of mine has a great story about hanging out with Pharoah Sanders, he went over to his apartment in the morning for a lesson, Pharoah had a gig that night, so his lesson consisted of him listening to Pharoah spend the 8 or so hours trying to find a reed he liked. he'd put one on, play for about half an hour, take it off put another one on, repeat ad infinitum.), they all put in a lot of practice time still. Trumpet players, it's such a physical instrument, you have to put time in daily or you lose your lip.

    But practice is not simply about the physical approach. Practice is about expanding your ear, your execution, the depth of your understanding.

    Both Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller have expressed much the same situation as Steve, the more gigs you have, the longer the tour, the less time you have to practice. Playing a lot really drives home those things you can already do. But it also points out those things that are still a challenge.
    and the only way to rise to that challenge is in the shed.
  5. Zirc


    May 13, 2001
    Los Angeles
    When I first got my bass, I would practice about 3-4 hours a day. Now unless I'm practicing with a band, it's more of a hobby thing. I'll play it whenever I get creative or the urge to play.
  6. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    In my twenties I went through a period of trying to practice as much as possible and I'd sometimes put in 12 hours a day. I remember I had a little footstool that I kept in place by my bed so that on waking up, I could roll out immediately into practice position! Needless to say this was a bit extreme, and I eventually found that the ideal amount of practice time for me seems to be somewhere in the 3-6 hours a day range. Time spent away from the bass appears to be a vital part of the learning process, perhaps giving the subconscious mind a chance to absorb the lessons. Ed brings up a really good point that there are many different activities that help improve your overall musicianship. In any case, I believe that quality of practice time is more important than quantity. Unfortunately, these days with all the challenges of being a professional musician, I usually only manage to get an hour or two a day with the bass, so I have to be really focused!
  7. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    I'm interested in what you practiced during this time, what you fitted in to those 12 hours. What took up the majority of your practice time?

    Lesson exercises aside, I'm finding the majority of my practice time has been going towards improvisation and trying to hone my chordal knowledge. And I've developed an interest in experimenting with harmonics. My practice routine hasn't been as structured as I want it to be lately, but I'm getting what I need done. There's just so many things I want to be learning at the moment. I'm sure I can go for 12 hours (I can sometimes get up to 10), but fatigue sets in early these days.

    Still working on my Bach too. :)
  8. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    you and me both - I've just got the Cello Suites and Two Part Inventions again after a 10 year layoff, and am having much fun working through some of them...

  9. bassjigga


    Aug 6, 2003

    Can I ask what you were doing for a living when you were practicing 12 hours a day? Or did you just not sleep at all? How did you have time to do that?

  10. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    In my days of major practice time I was your basic starving musician with perhaps more determination than common sense. Like Stephanie, I also found that fatigue set in after 6 hours or so but I just plowed through, ignoring the very likely possibility that the fatigue was my body's and my brain's way of telling me enough was enough and I probably wasn't really learning anything any more at that point. However, I've never had trouble finding things to practice – certainly more than enough to fill up 12 hours a day. There's so much to learn about music, and I can't think of anything that I don't want to be able to play better. In those days I was working very hard to re-assess my technique, to try to learn to play more efficiently and effectively. I devised a set of exercises to help me do this and I started my practice day with those, and still do. After that, it was harmony exercises – scales, intervals, arpeggios. I also worked on rhythm as much as possible, mostly trying to be more aligned with the metronome. Finally I'd work on tunes – jazz repertoire, transcriptions and my own compositions.
  11. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Great post Michael!

    Hey...er...wait...that sounds like me! :D

    Not meaning to belittle myself or anything, but at this point (after 4 years of playing), I'm wishing I had something to show for all the hard hours of practice I put in. :hmmm: Not just for myself but family outside the music spectrum that don't understand that one needs to work hard at his/her craft to get "somewhere". Some ppl think that you wake up and *boom* you can cut an album or become Mozart. :rolleyes: Unfortunately my most recent efforts have not succeeded an acceptable outcome.

    (Off on a rant tonight oops :D )
  12. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    I know how you feel, Stephanie. Please hang in there. One of the things I've noticed about practicing is that improvement seems to happen just below the threshold of the ability to notice. If you're practicing effectively you're probably making a lot of progress, but you won't realize it until you hear an old recording of yourself, or you come across a piece that you weren't able to play in the past, or you have some other experience that offers perspective. In any case, I believe that the most challenging experiences in life usually end up being the most rewarding in the long run. You never know if and when the people around you will appreciate the work you're doing, so please try to focus on making sure your musical pursuits are fulfilling to you. If that's the case, I think it's more likely that other folks will enjoy them as well.
  13. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Thanks for the encouragement, Michael. I'm always thankful for the words and advice you and Steve bequeath. :)

    I think my problem lies in the fact that I have nothing to show for 4 years of playing physically - as in no CDs are being made, not having played in public yet, etc. Whether it's my own doing or not, I don't know lol. I just want something to show physically for all the practice time I put in. There's a hunger inside that all artists feel to get their work out into the world. I have to prove (to myself and otherwise) that yes indeed I can make a living doing what I love (I am not one to settle for the mundane). I know I have improved through the years. There's no doubt about that. It's actually exciting to me to take out a piece of sheet music I previously had no clue how to play and after time be able to play it, and play it effortlessly at that.

    It's a strange thing being a soloist. I think that's what has driven me to practice more, feeling that somewhere in that practice I'll find something unique, something that will aid me in "getting out there". And also wanting to be prepared for anything.

    ...Then again, as the Zen saying goes: "why all this searching, when there is nothing to be found?" :meh: :D
  14. I often get frustrated with threads like this; with all the people and their pratice times. I have arthritus which means I can only practice 1-1.5 hours a day with my bass no matter what my drive is, so that can get very frustrating. My question is what type of things do you do Micheal away from your bass that enhance your playing and overal musicianship?? I've been working on some theory and basic ear training but any other ideas would really help me, since as you can imagine if those 12 hours of practice you did during your first few years were cut to just 1 or 2, not through choice, you wouldn't feel too good ;)

    Edit: Just read through this post again. Sorry if I come across annoyed, I'm not at all just getting frustrated with my situation ya know.
  15. stephanie


    Nov 14, 2000
    Scranton, PA
    Romac, I am glad you have posted in this thread as I can relate to your frustration. I have arthritis as well, which is a great part of my frustration. Although, I have it in my hips and knees (which has prevented me from being able to stand up and play, which in turn has caused me to turn down some band inquiries that obviously want an energetic bassist that can jump around and such...) and a constant back pain and not so much in my hands (mostly only on humid days). Some days, yes, I can't practice as much as I wish because it's painful. On those days I find some bass-related reading material to occupy my time or something to enhance my creativity. Or just take some music...and realllly listen to it, get deep inside it until images and colors come alive in my mind.

    When you play, make sure you warm up beforehand. I also shake out my hands to get rid of stiffness. I do yoga stretches when I wake up everyday.
  16. Steve Lawson

    Steve Lawson Solo Bass Exploration! Supporting Member

    Apr 21, 2000
    Birmingham, UK
    add me to the list of bassists-with-arthritis - like Steph I get it most in my hips, and haven't really felt much of it in my hands as yet, fortunately, but it does make it tricky to play gigs in venues that are either cold or damp...

    Still, I haven't stood up on a gig for a few years, so I'm doing OK... :)

  17. Thanks for the advice Steph, it's nice to know someone is in a similar posistion. I also get it mostly in the back (also have a problem called scheurmanns disease which gives me a lot of back pain too). Have you heard of pilates? I little yoga but more muscle strenghening, that seems to have helped me out.
  18. Kurisu


    Nov 19, 2003
    Saskatoon SK
    Michael, may I ask you this question: You mentioned earlier you found a practice routine that really helped, would you mind sharing that with us? Essentially, what practice routine have you found that has helped you the most?

    I know of you finger dexterity permutations excercise, but what about learning theory, chords, scales and rhythm?

    The reason I ask: I only have a half hour or so a day to practice (newborn + thesis = no time. :( ) but I want to make the most of the time I do have. I'm reading through Serious Electric Bass, but it's pretty heady stuff. I'm not sure how to approach practicing the material - like what I should focus on today, and what my goal should be. At times I wonder how I'm supposed to memorize all this. And in the end I feel like I haven't learned anything and it's just very frustrating, you know?

    (Of course this question goes out to Steve as well. :) )
  19. Michael Manring

    Michael Manring TalkBass Pro Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    I can definitely understand your frustration Romac, and I very much admire all of you who struggle with arthritis. However, I do feel the limitation on the amount of time you can spend with the bass each day could actually work in your favor. In my experience, the physical/technique/chops kinds of skills are really the least important in music. Spending an hour to an hour and a half a day with the bass is fine – that's about all I get these days. I think that developing good listening skills is what will really make you a better musician and I'm glad to hear that you are working on ear training. Any kind of ear training is good – sight singing, transcribing, or just listening to all kinds of music and trying to figure out what's going on, why and how it makes you feel. Ideally you should probably spend at least as much time on ear training as you do with the bass – maybe twice as much. If you record your one-hour practice session and then listen to it all carefully, my guess you'll get better much more quickly than if you just practice for two hours without recording anything. As you mentioned, studying music theory is another excellent use of your time. You might also consider studying music history as well. I believe that understanding the context in which you are making music is a necessity for expressing something vital and relevant. Consider also studying ethnomusicology, music electronics, lutherie, composition, film scoring, music therapy, singing or any other tangentially related subjects. For that matter, music is an art form so gaining an understanding of all kinds of other art forms will broaden the depth and scope of your music as well. And good art is of course, intrinsically linked to life in general, so having any experiences which inspire you or make you think or feel will be exercising those abilities which make you a better musician. I'm glad to hear you're getting into Pilates. I've been a big fan of yoga for many years and have been starting to do Pilates myself. These kind of focused physical activities are so important to me that I think of them as the first part of my practice routine. I honestly believe by doing all these things you can become a much more engaging, meaningful artist than by just practicing scales for 12 hours a day.

    As far as what to practice in the time you do get with the bass -- I can certainly relate to not having enough time to practice! I feel the key is to first decide what you want to accomplish and let that determine how you divide up your practice time. For instance, if you want to be able to play jazz, you'll have to make time to study improv and therefore harmony, scales, etc. as well as repertoire. If you want to be a better supportive bassist you'll want to focus on your groove and rhythm exercises. If you only have a half hour a day to practice, consider practicing one hour every other day instead, if possible. You might find that longer, less frequent practice periods are more productive. In any case, divide your practice time into segments something like: one third warm-up and fundamental technique exercises, one third scales, arpeggios and harmony, one third just goofing around (after all, you're supposed to enjoy playing music!). Pay close attention to how your schedule works for you and keep revising it to help you accomplish your goals.
  20. jgbass

    jgbass Guest

    Dec 17, 2003
    Michael, and everyone else here, I appreciate all your thoughts about practicing. For me, there's a bit of being overwhelmed at all the things I'm trying to accomplish. I play electric, I play upright, and, recently, it has just gotten to the point that the demands of the kinds of gigs I want require at least background singing so I've got to at least warm up most days. The good thing is that one thing I do with one instrument translates well to the other and singing what I'm playing on bass somehow helps my overall intonation, pitch recognition, and musicality.

    My practice routine is mostly like the above, except for original compositions. I'd replace that with more repertoire, whether it be repertoire for gigs or some classical playing. I try to go for 3 hours but am happy when I can do more. if there are gigs then that's not always possible. Michael, I like your idea of taping practice sessions. Think I'll try that and do that regularly, just like I'm getting better at using the metronome more regularly. And yoga is such a wonderful exercise and discipline. I think yoga is why I'm able to do all of this physically demanding practice in the first place.