Music

Practicing Practices

I want to open this blog post up by saying I don’t think everyone needs to use the pandemic as an excuse to do anything. The world is crazy enough and no one should feel bad if all they want to do is get by. However some people, myself included, have used the past year to try to refine themselves in certain ways. I have focused my time on extra practicing and building myself musically. I set goals for myself to spend more time in the studio, to try some new things (techniques, instrument recording techniques), and to post more regularly about what I’m doing in music on media like my Instagram . 

A few posts ago I shared some progress that I had done with trying to get better with slap bass. Slap is not a technique I used much nor is it one that I’m a huge fan. But, with a bit of work I have cleaned up my technique quite a bit and I can certainly handle some easier slap lines now.

Another thing I tried to do more recently is to transcribe a solo to play on bass. This means listening to a solo, figuring out the notes, and then playing it. For an extra challenge I decided to try a piano solo. This was tougher because of how the instruments are so different. I was very happy with how the transcription turned out and for added bonus – it looks cool as heck to play!

Now this post isn’t trying to brag (cause it’s not perfect) or show off (maybe there’s a little bit of show off going on) but really the point I wanted to make was that the three biggest hindrances with becoming better musically (and probably lots of other things) are time, motivation, and equipment. Don’t tell Jenna but I really have enough basses at this point so we can take equipment off the list but the other two are relevant.

Time. Time is not equal for everyone. Not everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. I don’t think someone who works two jobs or someone who has kids has the same amount of time in a day as I do as a music teacher and musician. When the pandemic started musicians found themselves with a ton of extra time due to most concert halls and music venues closing. For me personally, I’ve had just about zero evening obligations for almost a year. It’s sad but it’s my reality. This has given me time to put towards music.

So how have I structured my extra time? I didn’t want to set a schedule by any means since that can be overwhelming but I did decide that I had “zones” in my day where things fit better based on how I was feeling. For example, I prefer to work out earlier than later so I usually try to do that in the morning. Likewise, I enjoy practicing early or midday but I prefer to produce and record in the evenings so I try to make sure I do those things in those times. After a while it almost becomes a routine where I feel off if I don’t play a little in the morning time. 

Motivation. This is another big factor – especially for music writing. Writing or creating when you’re not motivated is almost always a lost cause. When I am using my time the way that I want to I let my motivation guide what I’m doing. If I feel like writing I write. If I feel like noodling (that’s an official term) I noodle. If I feel like working on techniques I do just that. It’s not the same focused practice I was doing in college but I had different goals then. My goals now are vague so my motivation can lead me in many directions and I don’t feel it’s wasted time.

So how do you make sure you’re motivated? This is a question that educators have been discussing for years and I surely don’t have any answers. What seems to work for me is having something that I’m working towards and trying to see the steps needed to get there. Breaking a task into smaller steps always feels more manageable and achievable. I like to think of things in a “big picture” way. Like, if I work on this pattern slowly then I can play this section. If I can play that section then I can play 50% of the piece. Therefore – it’s worth it to work on a pattern slowly for a bit.

As I said before, I know my mindset isn’t for everyone. I also don’t think anyone needs to do anything to feel “good” and if someone just wants to come home and watch YouTube to be happy then so be it. But maybe someone people do think like I do and there’s always strength in numbers. If we both work the same way then we are onto something and can and should continue to progress in the way makes sense to us. Still, I’m curious – what have you been doing with your time and how do you motivate yourself? Does anyone else think like me?

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