Thoughts on how to practice effectively?

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by David Potts, May 11, 2022.

  1. There is a current thread by Arigorn35016 that asks us to give feed back. After I made my suggestions I began to think that it might be a good time to visit the topic of practice routines that was last raised as threads some time ago. This may be of use as we resume after the worst effects of Covid.

    I have been pondering over the differences , if any, between How To Practice Successfully, How To Practice For Success and How to Practice Effectively. Whether you choose to laugh, cry or agree these are my thoughts.

    In How To Practice Successfully I see that generally there is a need to create a technique of practicing which involves a structure of warming up with technique checks, technical development, work on current performance material and musical development through repertoire. It involves the nuts and bolts of where you practice, how long and how often you practice and, while needing some self discipline and regularity, is often a bit more laid back and less ambitious. It can be a source of deep pleasure, not a drudge, as you develop and may not have a definite end goal yet.

    In How To Practice For Success I see a range of possibilities that bring into question an Understanding of Deliberate Practice by Colvin that is worth checking out via Google IMO.The young aspirant who spends (too) many hours practicing each day, trying to maintain white hot fierce concentration on a single goal of career success worries me because there maybe no alternative plan B. Quantity over Quality adds the risks of burnout and injury. But the same intensity might be required for a relatively short time to confront once and for all a specific area of weakness such as sight reading, vibrato, intonation, speed, mapping the fingerboard, etc. This needs you to clearly understand the problem, ways to best address it and recognise success.

    In How To Practice Effectively I can see the advantages for having both long and short term realistic goals. Somewhere between the above two levels of intensity you should achieve faster technical results, leave more time to develop repertoire and musicianship and still enjoy playing. This will need you to keep a very clear mind and smart routine that manages your available practice time carefully and maintains enjoyment of playing the bass. Hopefully your progress leads to making good music with better and better players in your chosen genre.

    I have read a little old book called The Living Touch in Music and Education by H. Edgar Hunt (1924) that is still in print after 100 years. Its 30 short chapters contain heaps of gems for both serious teachers and students, still very relevant today. The excellent one I can't reproduce for you is called Points on Practice.
    You can see its similarity to Deliberate Practice and he recognised the worth of Visualisation as a valid practice tool so many years before Barry Green's Inner Game of Music came out. IMO well worth a read!!

    Making good music with others was always my ultimate aim and I took a long and often very ineffective practice route to achieve my ultimate goal, to be a professional player in a big symphony orchestra. Now I am in maintenance mode as I end my career so please pardon my pontificating above. I mean well.

    Cheers everyone, and keep safe.

    Last edited: May 11, 2022
  2. Bruce Calin

    Bruce Calin

    Oct 15, 2002
    Excellent ideas, David. This time of year when students are preparing for their school juries, there is always a discussion among the faculty about the difficulty of the solo the student is going to play. IMO and what I base the selection of a piece on is whether the student can play it well enough to sound good and confident performing it, with technical difficulty of secondary importance. I hate to hear a student on any instrument struggle in a performance situation. Assuming a certain level of expectation, I feel that there will be a better outcome and preparation and practice will be more meaningful if the student plays at but doesn't try to play above their capability at any given time. Some of the faculty encourage pushing the student beyond what they can do, but in that circumstance I'm not one of them. I want to hear them play the piece well, not struggle to play something that is just to difficult for them. One of my main jobs as a teacher is to help them figure out what that is.
  3. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    This is something that I have thought about a lot in recent years. The first thing that comes to mind is that for long term success, the main thing that is needed is to learn to embrace the process of practicing and treat it as something enjoyable. For me the answer can be found in the moral of the old story of the Tortoise and the Hare: slow and steady wins the race.

    This especially applies to technical practice, which is often less glamorous and exciting than musical practice. When technical practice begins to present as more of a meditation than a chore, good things tend to happen. When the technique is solid and a player’s physical calibration to the instrument is current and strong, the musical/expressive side will tend to flow. Lack of calibration has the opposite effect, in my experience.

    Anyway, time to go water the garden, but looking forward to reading more responses.
  4. DrayMiles


    Feb 24, 2007
    East Coast
    Hmm... I'll interject one concern or ponderance regarding...

    I personally enjoy practicing more than gigging. The concept of discovering new ideas and theoretical application
    vehicles excites my creativity... But I've found lately, irregardless of age, that a lot of musicians get bored learning repertoire. I should say they also get bored way more easily than I can remember aspiring musos ever doing. People get bored practicing IMO, and they get bored learning tunes enough to not have an Ipad, or chord chart in front of them. I guess what I seem to be seeing is people get bored so easily now with the mechanics of music (non pro aspirants), that excellence is a chore...
    And they are uncomfortable being around players who transcend that miasma. They get annoyed seeing a good player (their age) get noticed at a jam session from the veterans. It's strange watching... I love to practice, but it seems that folks who dislike practicing seem to have increased (Hmm, or maybe it's WHAT they're practicing)...

    It's perplexing watching a kid groan, grunt and contort with effort, but the sound emanating couldn't warrant all that exertion!?! They snap and pop more than Michael Jackson ever did playing Billie's Bounce?

    I don't see the problem watching someone your age killing it. It should put you on notice what you need to do...

    I'm still analyzing this... Maybe it's only my environs...
    Last edited: May 12, 2022
    foilracer likes this.
  5. foilracer

    foilracer Supporting Member

    Oct 12, 2007
    Seattle, WA
    Good to read this thread...and ponder, compare & ask more questions....Dray...will you comment on your environs? I know about my daily practice sessions but when I join others I think I really don't know much about their practice sessions. Looking forward to more comments & discussion!
  6. DrayMiles


    Feb 24, 2007
    East Coast
    I’m currently in the DMV area… I’ve done a weekly duo gig since 2017 roughly. I did that in order to work on standards. I’ve also been studying with Rufus Reid since 2017… I work out of several books. Simandl, trombone studies.. I listen to whoever has my interest at that moment (Blue Mitchell lately). I practice from 6 til 9am. Then I squeeze in repertoire the rest of the day when possible.
    I spend an hour or two at the piano most days… I go out and see gigs… I had the pleasure recently of having Mike Stern draft me to play behind him at a MasterClass…
    I play until my brain can’t take anymore because of fatigue or whatever…
    But, if I have a gig or job, I work on the material.
    I make sure I listen to other players. Even those I don’t care for… I try to get a lesson from everyone. I’ve even learned stuff from TB… Mostly the politics and dialogue. ;)
    Currently it’s thumb position… That’s tacked on to my basics. A spice really…
    If you love playing, pick a goal, pick a time period, take note of improvements, have a gradual, incremental vision of what you want/need to do. Life and your musical mentors will give clues. The internet is a tool, but I’m old school… Content ain’t knowledge to me. And flash without substance gets embarrassed when the going gets tough IMO.
    Im trying to figure stuff out, but Stern made my ears open up when he said he likes using the altered scale and triad pairs…
    foilracer and Chris Fitzgerald like this.
  7. DrayMiles


    Feb 24, 2007
    East Coast
    Oh… and I grabbed this from somewhere years ago…

    It’s another branch on the tree of knowledge…
    1. Warmup (~20 - 30 minutes)
      1. Open strings w/bow - long tones
      2. Scale w/bow (two or three octave) - I work through the cycle of fifths on a weekly rotation. I practice this with both a drone for intonation and a metronome for time usually ~ 80 bpm. I also practice different 'pathways' up and down the fingerboard for slower and faster tempos.
        1. Half notes
        2. Quarters
        3. Eighths
        4. Eighth note triplets
        5. Sixteenths
        6. Slurs
        7. Some kind of bowing variation
      3. Arpeggio w/bow - same key as scale. Similar order of rhythm variations and bowing variations.
      4. Pizz warmup - I pick a familiar song, put in in the key of whatever scale I work on, and practice it in iReal. I vary the tempo on this throughout the week.
        1. Walking bass
        2. Melody
        3. Improv
    2. Bow etude - (~15-20 minutes) I pick one etude and concentrate on it. If I feel like I've reached a place of progress within the timeframe I set I may review an etude or two I worked on previously.
    3. Tunes - (20-30 mins +) I pick a new tune or excerpt and get to work on it using some different strategies. I make a point to make sure I have a reason to learn a new tune - usually it's for an upcoming gig that I'd like to debut a new tune on.
    Aragorn35016, foilracer and Garagiste like this.
  8. DrayMiles


    Feb 24, 2007
    East Coast
    Oh… and from years ago.. Somewhere, there’s a thread or something called “How to really learn a tune…”
    I would advise anyone to find that…
    Bass4Gsus likes this.
  9. Andy Mopley

    Andy Mopley

    Sep 24, 2011
    All well and good you all set a GOAL? I feel that unless there is something tangible to aim at, or keep progressing toward it, eg being able to play a passage at speed and in tune, it can become a bit of a walk on the hamster wheel..??
    Aragorn35016 likes this.
  10. DrayMiles


    Feb 24, 2007
    East Coast
    You set your own goals…
    As long as they are realistic.

    Your goal is to play in tune and in time with taste.
    Your goals are unique to you only…

    BUT, ;)

    I used to use books as goals. Then completion of chapters per week/month as goals to achieve.
    Then pages per lesson as goals…

    The metronome at 80bpm on an exercise was a great achievement if played clean and accurately…
    How about being able to play a standard in all 12 keys as a goal?

    Your ultimate goal as a pro is to pay your bills as a full time musician.

    But, you might have other things to prioritize…
  11. DrayMiles


    Feb 24, 2007
    East Coast
    I checked some of your playing online..
    I suspect you’re a younger player.. Cool ;)

    It sounds good to me…

    Ease up on yourself. There’s no rush or deadline saying you gotta have it together next week or next year…
    Just keep being consistent and most importantly…

    Play live with better musicians.

    And I suspect you’ll find that, not only will everything be okay, but you’ll have most of your questions answered..
    AGCurry likes this.
  12. AGCurry

    AGCurry Supporting Member

    Jun 29, 2005
    St. Louis
    I practice in order to do ^^this^^, because playing with others results in greater progress than anything else. Fluent sightreading is my biggest impediment.
    DrayMiles and unbrokenchain like this.
  13. Bruce Calin

    Bruce Calin

    Oct 15, 2002
    I have mentioned in another post that I have two things on the wall of my studio. One says "No whining", the circle with the / through it. The other says "It takes as long as it takes". Often there is some sort of performance deadline which can definitely put pressure on, but most of the time I try to encourage diligent effort without judgement concerning how long it takes to learn or develop some aspect of playing. It takes some of the pressure off both me and the students. I also encourage "musical" thinking as well as technique. It's all part of the deal.
  14. ProbablyTooLoud


    Aug 1, 2020
    REALLY Learning a tune
    DrayMiles likes this.
  15. ILIA


    Jan 27, 2006
    "How to practice effectively" is akin to "how to live effectively." It's a very long difficult answer that is very different for every person, and is discovered through one's own journey.

    IOW, "practice" IS "life" as far as a musician is concerned. Every musician has to write their own book, when it comes to both their life and their practice routine.

    Thank you, David, for allowing us to read thoughts about yours and for your provided resources.

    This thread makes me want to see if there is already a published annotated bibliography about practicing.

    And before someone says it, I'll say it before someone else does:
    . . . . I should be practicing instead of hunting for resources about practicing . . . .
    DrayMiles and unbrokenchain like this.
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