In order to get better you must practice. I won’t say practice makes perfect because I’m not striving for perfect. I’m striving for better. And the only way to get there is to practice.
No one every really wants to practice. We all want to pick up our instrument and just sound great. But very few musicians are actual prodigies, most of us have to work at just improving where we are at today.
For most of my musical career, unless I was taking a class or lessons, I had no idea what to practice. So I would just learn tunes and work on the hard parts of those tunes. Occasionally, I’d play a scale or two but nothing was ever focused or planned.
Today, as I participate in a music class on improvisation, something I have not yet learned how to do, I have to discipline myself to practice something useful every single day.
Since I’m a list person, I need to have a list of what to do. I think mostly because crossing it off when it’s complete is so satisfying, but it also helps to keep me on task and moving forward to a particular goal. So I have created a Practice Plan for myself to keep me disciplined in practicing every day and also work on particular nuances of my playing.
As with any goal I try to make sure it is realistic and achievable. I want to set myself up for success. My practice plan currently consists of working on 3 things. My goals are to learn my pentatonic scales so they become second nature, and to stay within the form of the song or tune when improvising.
My focus is on improving my improvisation skills. My practice list, at least for the next few weeks, looks like this:
- Practice my pentatonic scales (each day practice at least one new scale)
- Practice one form exercise – even bar phrasing (improvise for 1 bar and rest for 1 bar – using a metronome)
- Practice one form exercise – uneven bar phrasing (improvise for 1 bar and rest for 2 – using a metronome)
This should take less than 15 minutes a day and I will do them 6 days per week giving myself one day of rest. Once I feel these are second nature I change the plan.
Your practice plan doesn’t necessarily need to look like this, especially if you’re just trying to get better at sessions and learn more tunes. I do suggest you only focus on 1-3 things per day so it’s realistic and you are setting yourself up for success.
Here are some examples:
- If you’re trying to improve your triplets maybe one thing on your list is to practice triplets on every string for 5 minutes a day.
- If you want to improve your intonation, you could practice playing scales with your tuner.
- If you want to improve your rhythm, maybe you commit to playing a tune or two with a metronome.
Whatever your goal is, write it down and stick to it. Some of the best musicians I know are the best only because they have spent hours upon hours and years upon years tenaciously practicing their instrument. As I’ve said, very few musicians are prodigies, the rest of us just have to practice.