Sax on the Web Forum banner

1 - 20 of 60 Posts

·
Banned
Joined
·
6,369 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
I'm just curious to how you guys do it or did it.

I'd be particularly interested in hearing what method helped people successfully achieve drastic improvement their playing.

I've taken an approach to practicing since the new year like it was a day job : wake up in the morning and practice through the evening, 5 days a week. I'm working on a lot of stuff at the same time because there are lots of areas of my playing I'd like to improve.

I spend no more than 25 min on one thing before taking a 5 min break and move on to another thing. Those 25 minutes can be playing long tones or overtones, reading, playing tone leading on a tune, pentatonics, a lick concept (e.g. II/IVm7-bVII7/I sub), etc., repeated one day after another until 1. I get bored with it and decide to move on to something else and come back to it later 2. I nail it and I can build up on what I've learned.

As a result, I've slowly been improving in several areas, but sometimes I feel like if I sat down for a whole day practicing that one thing, I would get it and I could move on to something else.

What do you guys think?

Trying to find the "right" approach has made me realize practicing is somewhat an art in itself.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2017
Joined
·
6,086 Posts
I think as much time as you put in, you must be getting pretty darn good - fast. I'm not sure how you practice matters nearly as much as just putting time in behind the wheel. For me - I practice what I need to know soonest or just play along to material similar to what my next gig entails. Most of the rest of my practice comes in the form of band rehersals or repeatedly trying to get a good track on a recording. By the time I can record it through - I know the part and never need to look back. Finally I ocassionally futz around with altissimo for a bit trying to find some new notes or add some fluency. Solo practice is maybe one hour a week. Practice with bands takes up about 6 hours a week, and I get another 9-15 hours a week gigging - The recording is minimal as most of my time spent there is on other instruments or programming... I have found though, that any exposure to music that causes me to listen intently (Playing, recording, mixing, or mastering) seems to improve my skills somewhat in all areas...
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2009
Joined
·
7,867 Posts
I don't think there's a 'right' approach. It's personal, and different for everyone. besides practicing the horn, you can spend all your life trying to figure out the best way to practice, I guess.
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
6,369 Posts
Discussion Starter #4
I think as much time as you put in, you must be getting pretty darn good - fast.
Nowhere near as fast or as good as I'd like to. ;)

I don't think there's a 'right' approach. It's personal, and different for everyone. besides practicing the horn, you can spend all your life trying to figure out the best way to practice, I guess.
I thought someone would say this. :mrgreen:
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2016
Joined
·
4,881 Posts
Yeah, everyone is going to have different approaches with varying results. I play with a jam session and by and large many of the players are at the same level as three years ago despite regular practice. A few demonstrate accelerated learning with minimal practice. I don't know that there is a magical formula as each person learns in different ways and each person has a certain set of aptitudes and affinities.

Personally, I reflect on periods of growth and try do do what I did then to make those gains. In my case I see focus as the common thread. Usually my success hinges on three things:

1 strategy first -- what (and how) do I want to accomplish
2 intellectual preparation - do I understand it, can I hear it and sing it
3 tactical effort - practice it on my horn

I approach it the way an Mr. Olympia might approach a bodybuilding regimen -- build the whole up together a little at a time.
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
6,369 Posts
Discussion Starter #6
Man, if I had not improved in three years I wouldn't be able to stand it.

I think what makes the difference between those who stagnate and those who improve lies in the first point you made : strategy. It's probably one of the hardest to be smart about.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,328 Posts
I was just thinking about practice routine, as far as segmentation versus trying to coordinate multiple concepts. Of course, time management becomes much more of an issue for someone with a big family and lots of related activities.

I don't disagree with the traditional philosphy of segmenting time as far as warm-up, scales/apeggios, reading, repetroire, creative playing. But, wherever possibly would look to reinforce multiple concepts. A few examples:

- Make everything a tone/vibrato study (especially learning a new ballad or sight-reading a slow edtude)

- If you're working on improv, you could integrate efforts as far as melodic material and patterns into shedding tunrounds, cycles, things in multiple keys

- Take some time during creative jamming sessions to work in something new, or new ideas. Rather than to just run down songs like a performance trying to play and sound your best (which is good exercise), I'll also try to work in different tunes I don't know as well or to keep things fresh as far as different styles, keys, etc. Another common thing is playing choruses of one or two notes, taking a simple motif and seeing how long I can "keep the ball bouncing" by repeating it, sequencing it, playing it different ways. Or consciously focusing on certain sequences in the changes, to really nail those down.

I couldn't agree more with Haywood's statement below, though. The best learning tends to happen step-by-step like building blocks. Especially when you can take a deficiency and focus extra time to smooth it out (like a spotlight!).

If you don't periodically do some kind of self-assessment as far as where you're at and the next few places you would like to get to it's very easy to lose momentum or even become (gasp!) complacent. This is my biggest struggle mentally, that and discipline in general. Recording myself regularly (e.g. TOTM) has been one of the best things as far as finding opportunities, or things to incorporate more of.

1 strategy first -- what (and how) do I want to accomplish
2 intellectual preparation - do I understand it, can I hear it and sing it
3 tactical effort - practice it on my horn

I approach it the way an Mr. Olympia might approach a bodybuilding regimen -- build the whole up together a little at a time.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
3,202 Posts
To put it simply I think obsession is best. The teachers I had (and they were among the best) told me - " you don't really have this down - you need to get it down completely, in time and in your ear so that it's in you - that's how you get good." So don't work on to many things at once. Personally I would pick maybe two or three things that you want to work on and obsess over those until they are down. Most of the great players were obsessive. If you've got a gig or something to prepare for then you will have to add that on to your routine. That's my philosophy anyway.
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
6,369 Posts
Discussion Starter #9
fsax, that's usually what I do. Assess what I need to work on and get at it. Also, each thing I practice leaks onto the other things, there's no avoiding it.

bstrom, I know what you mean about obsessing. I feel it really depends on what you're working on though. Some of that stuff just requires time to get better at (like sight reading or time feel), while others can be tackled in a few days or a week (1 scale type in all keys for example)

I would probably need to try the obsessive approach for a month and see what I get from it.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,328 Posts
Only caveat I would say about the obsessing philosphy is you can't focus on one concept to the exclusion of all else for too long, or other facets of your playing could suffer. So, if necessary definitely isolate something and really smooth it out.

But, for regular routine (over the course of a week anyhow) you need to cover all the bases to be balanced...

Shawn

ps Do we know *how* the great players practiced? I agree Coltrane was obsessive as far as practicing all the time and sound, but he also spent a great deal of time on harmony too... I'd say he was a pretty balanced player as far as technique, sound, harmony, melody, rhythmic, etc.
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
6,369 Posts
Discussion Starter #11
ps Do we know *how* the great players practiced? I agree Coltrane was obsessive as far as practicing all the time and sound, but he also spent a great deal of time on harmony too... I'd say he was a pretty balanced player as far as technique, sound, harmony, melody, rhythmic, etc.
Apparently, at one point Coltrane practice an hour of long tone exercises, an hour of quarter tones, 1H of 8th and 1H of 16th before working on tunes and melodic devices.

Edit :
First he played an entire hour of only whole notes, focusing exclusively on his tone. Then came another hour of just half notes, then another hour of quarter notes, working on scales, arpeggios, along with his tone. Next was an hour of eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and faster runs, incorporating everything he had done so far with speed as well. He would then spend a few hours working on exercise books for other instruments, such as violin and harp. Finally came time spent on actual songs or compositions, which would often consume a few more hours.
http://pages.cs.wisc.edu/~wright/music/coltrane-ellison/paper.html

Of course, this could be another one of the myths.
 

·
Forum Contributor 2016, Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
12,793 Posts
I'm more about the obsessing concept. I will go for hours straight just practicing one concept in every key. There were times in my past where I did the approach stuff or the bebop scale stuff where that is all I practiced for months straight every time i picked up my horn. I would practice tunes and of course on the gig I would just play but when I was practicing it was all about the concept I was trying to get down. When I was in college I would do 1/2 hour of diminished scale, 1/2 hour of pentatonics, 1/2 hour of triad pairs, 1/2 hour of altered scales, 1/2 hour of a tune..........I always felt like was was learning stuff slowly but not mastering anything. For me, I have to really immerse myself in a concept to really master it.
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
28,511 Posts
This is a great thread....with lots of food for thought. So thanks Victor for asking the question.

Re: how the greats practiced, I believe I read somewhere, maybe Jamey Aebersold, that some of the players who people think were great by nature of innate talent really got where they did in part because they had a talent for knowing how and what to practice the most productively. They also had the perserverance to keep at it continuously no matter what. In that way they maximized their time more than the less organized and/or less driven among us.

@ fsaxwas9 What you've laid out in post #9 is a really fantastic approach IMHO. It seems a very efficient way to kill several birds with the same few stones. I'm going to start using your suggestions in my practice beginning tomorrow.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2016
Joined
·
4,881 Posts
I think to summarize: Pick one thing -- and obsess over finding thousands of ways to implement that one thing.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
1,877 Posts
I practice everything in no particular order. I work on tunes and attack the tough parts of tunes . At this point in my life the best thing for me to do is transcribe some lines and memorize them and how the fit the language.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
2,144 Posts
There's a lot to be said for having a well-rounded practice routine...especially for beginners and the highly advanced. When you fall in the middle though...(moderately advanced)...sometimes nothing beats obsession to really work out and nail a specific concept you're trying to master. Back in the day, I spent many hours every day locked in a practice room totally obsessing on one thing until I could do it in my sleep. Whether it took a few days or a few weeks, I would keep at it until I had it down, then I would either go back to a more balanced daily routine or move on to the next specific concept I wanted to master. In the long run, I made far better progress and showed more noticeable improvement through those "obsessed" practice sessions than I did by trying to work on "a little of this and a little of that" every day. Balanced practice sessions are also important...but they're more like daily preventive maintenance, when sometimes what you need is a major engine overhaul.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
2,640 Posts
I'm more about the obsessing concept. I will go for hours straight just practicing one concept in every key. There were times in my past where I did the approach stuff or the bebop scale stuff where that is all I practiced for months straight every time i picked up my horn. I would practice tunes and of course on the gig I would just play but when I was practicing it was all about the concept I was trying to get down. When I was in college I would do 1/2 hour of diminished scale, 1/2 hour of pentatonics, 1/2 hour of triad pairs, 1/2 hour of altered scales, 1/2 hour of a tune..........I always felt like was was learning stuff slowly but not mastering anything. For me, I have to really immerse myself in a concept to really master it.
This is how I practice now. I used to practice a bunch of different things and I too felt like I wasn't really getting anywhere. Now I will spend an entire year doing one concept in every key or until I feel I have it down now and I have gotten much better much faster. I play tunes, rehearse with some bands and practice gig material before a show but for the most part I stay with something until I can knock it out of the park. When you get a high level of mastery in one concept it helps your playing greatly in other areas. I really think you need to put your nose to the grind stone and get a concept down cold until you can play your concept in every key well with out thinking about it to much.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,328 Posts
Great discussion and as always your mileage may vary. I probably should zero in on some basic concepts more often and really hammer away at them until they're second nature. That's really the whole logic behind the obsessing about certain areas - to be so competent that it's almost a subconscious thing.

But, my programming is pretty well hard-wired to go in every direction at once. It's difficult to fight your innate tendencies.

Shawn
 

·
Non Resident SOTW Eccentric & 2012 Forum Contribut
Joined
·
3,259 Posts
I find following Kenny Werner's advice on practicing lines or whatever works very well for me. Focus on one part of a line or song or phrase until you can play it absolutely effortlessly without thinking then on to the next bit. A short phrase or bar or two at a time.

Exercises to develop tone and other similar bits that are larynx and embouchure related (longtones, overtones etc) I believe should only be done until the muscles stop doing what they are supposed to do properly. Once one is capable of spending more than 30 minutes of dedicated work in this area I think that is as much as is needed in a day
 

·
SOTW Administrator
Joined
·
26,207 Posts
I think practicing sax should be the same as practicing hatha yoga. Which way would a yoga practitioner approach practicing?


or maybe Ben Solomon should answer this one. heehee.
 
1 - 20 of 60 Posts
Top