Welcome to week #38 where we’re going to talk about building a practice routine. There are many (and I mean many) different ways you can build a practice routine. Everyone has their opinion, their routine and have posted it somewhere online. If you’ve got a routine that works great and you’re seeing results-then stick with it. For those that might need a change of scenery or looking for interesting ways to revise it-then I hope this week’s tip is beneficial for you!
Before I go into my ideal practice routine, it’s important to note the difference between practicing, playing and rehearsing. Practicing is working on something you don’t do well to eventually get better. Practicing is something you do on your own in your own home/studio/woodshed, etc. Playing is…well, playing your instrument! It can be done by yourself or with a group. Rehearsing is bringing together a group of musicians to play what they have practiced individually. One of the greatest downfalls I see groups do is confuse practice time with rehearsal time.
I alluded to it above, but practicing is working on things you don’t do well. This routine can be broken up depending on the time you have available in your day to practice. If you only have one block of time, split this routine up into sections. If you have multiple blocks available, break them up as needed. Always, always, always practice with good rhythm and time!
If you’re like me, my instrument is one that always needs constant maintenance to keep up a certain level of execution of the fundamentals. Each instrument and each player has different needs for maintenance. However, it is something EVERYONE needs to work on. Maintenance includes work on scales, range, flexibility/dexterity, articulation, dynamics and other needs that may be specific to your instrument. Often times I find that students will work on maintenance items that they’re already accomplished in (i.e. always playing the C-major scale). Always remember that practicing is working on things you don’t do well. In your maintenance portion, be sure to be honest with yourself and work on things you’re not good at. While not jazz related, I’m not very good at double-tonguing. So I will spend a good portion of my time in my maintenance working on it. If you struggle with the Bb Altered scale…work on it during your maintenance.
The next section of an effective practice routine is working on music. Every genre of music has a library of tunes its musicians play and each musician should learn those songs and expand their library. For jazz, you need to have standards memorized (melody and chord changes) from the American Songbook as well as other jazz standards. When I’m working on tunes, I’ll play through one (maybe two) standards that I already know (I rotate them each day so I’m not repeating the same one each week). I’ll play the melody and a chorus a capella and then may play through the changes a few times with my iRealbook iPhone app to make sure I can navigate the changes in a way that I’m communicating a coherent message. Then I’ll move on to tunes I’m struggling with or brand new tunes I have yet to work on. I may also write an etude (a pre-determined solo) over the changes of a song I’m struggling with to help solidify what I’m working on. The important part is to not keep playing the same things I’m good at over and over. Over a period of time, you’ll be able to see marked improvement by the ever expanding library.
Targeting or other musical devices
Every song has a chord progression. Every progression has multiple ways we can melodically weave through those changes. If you’ve ever mapped a destination online somewhere in a city you have a starting and an ending point. However, those interactive maps allow you to change how you get there. We can do the same thing in music. We know where we are starting and have an idea of where we’d like to go, but we can interchange the route in between. In improvisation, we can change those routes with targeting devices (see my book, Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose). Some of those devices are more technically challenging then others depending on the context and the key. Some devices I’m able to play at any tempo, register, dynamic, articulation or key I’m in. Others…not as well. But, that’s why we practice those-to get better at them.
Each practice session (whether in one block or split up throughout the day) should include a portion of listening. Regardless of what genre you play, you need to be immersed in music. I wont go into the importance of listening (you can see my prior posts on it), but do want to stress the importance that we include it in our practice routine. Listening helps us develop our ear and personal style (likes and dis-likes). We can practice listening, though, by singing along with a recording or aurally transcribing something that grabs our attention.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s tip and have found it useful to your practice routine in some way. Please feel free to share this tip/site with your friends, colleagues and students with the buttons below to a number of different social-media sites. I enjoy interacting with all of you whether it’s by personal email, commenting on the blog or through other sites. Let me know your thoughts on your practice routine. You never know when you’re ideas might benefit someone else!
Jason Klobnak is a versatile trumpet player that has been performing as an active musician, author, clinician, composer and educator. His band, J's Ruckus, is Denver's blend of Post-Bop, Soul, Gospel, and Hip-Hop. They perform infectious and up-lifting originals for audiences hungry for a memorable live experience. J's Ruckus released their latest album, Suck Less, in March of 2020 and their first EP, Sermons, in July of 2019. Both were recorded live in front of an audience. Suck Less was recorded to a packed auditorium at Arapahoe Community College's Waring Theater in Littleton, CO. Sermons was recorded in front of a sold out crowd at the Soiled Dove Underground. The JKQ (the Jason Klobnak Quintet/Quartet) is Mr. Klobnak's Hammond B-3 centered groups. The JKQ released their third full-length album in March of 2018 called Friends & Family. It has been very well reviewed, on numerous Top 10 lists for Jazz radio stations across the country (including Denver's KUVO 89.3FM which named it May 2018's CD of the month), and in Jazzweek's Top 100. Each composition was written for specific family and close friends (that might as well be family). Their second album, New Chapter, was recorded in part thanks to the Pathways to Jazz Grant from the Boulder County Arts Alliance. In 2015 and 2016, New Chapter was in the Top 75 on the Jazzweek charts and on the Top 10 playlists for over a dozen radio stations worldwide. Their first album, Mountain, Move made the Best Recordings of 2013 list from AllAboutJazz.com by C. Michael Bailey. His very well reviewed Christmas single, Hark the Herald, in 2016 as part of a creative project with musicians James Roberson and Nathaniel Kearney Jr. Besides the JKQ, Mr. Klobnak is a B.A.C. (Best American Craftsman-custom trumpet), Denis Wick (mouthpiece and mutes) and Westone Audio endorsed artist (ES20 and Tru Customs). Mr. Klobnak has played and recorded for numerous groups ranging from jazz, soul/R&B, indie-rock/pop and gospel. In addition to performing, he has also written two improvisation-based books called Targeting: Improvisation With Purpose and Breaking the Monotony and is currently an adjunct professor and brass instructor at Arapahoe Community College. Mr. Klobnak holds a bachelor degree from Drake University (Des Moines, IA) and a Master’s degree from the University of Denver, Lamont School of Music (Denver, CO).
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