Thread August 15, 2015 editorial: comments
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Does Practice Make Perfect?
Everyone knows that practicing is key to becoming a better musician. If you read about the early years of most great players, much of their time was spent “shedding”— that is practicing multiple hours every day. If you want to develop world class chops, its essential to commit the time and discipline to practice. But is that enough to make you a great player? I don’t think so.
We’ve all heard musicians (guitar players especially, it seems) who can play really fast and flashy, but there’s no “there there,” if you know what I mean. They have the chops, but they don’t have the taste or the soul, and their playing leaves you flat.
The really great players, especially those who are master improvisers on their instrument, have both great skill and great taste, and the combination is what makes them so good. Guitarists like Jeff Beck or Derek Trucks come to mind. Both have technical mastery, but they also know how to put notes together in a way that’s surprising and delightful. Another good example would be immortal jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. He was unbelievably fast, yet every note was perfectly chosen. That’s what made him an artist, and not just a technician.
How do you acquire “taste”? Now that’s a tougher question. Almost any reasonably skilled musician can develop great chops with enough practice, but the taste — or the art of it — is a lot more mysterious. Some of it may be innate, but I suspect that a lot of it comes from your musical environment as you’re developing as a player, and your ability to be open minded to many different types of music. One thing I know that’s essential: listen, listen, and listen some more.
How do you find inspiration and keep your music fresh? Send me your thoughts What do you think it takes to develop into a tasteful player?
Without question, it also helps to have a solid grounding in music theory. To that end, you may want to check out our new series on harmony basics, which debuted this past week. If you’re feeling a little challenged in the theory department, it will help you along without taxing your brain too much.
Kjell Van Hoof
Yeah that is why every musician I have met so far in real life has never heard of a shakuhachi, except for the salesman in my local music shop.
And when I explain some of the history around the instrument: how it is focused on timbre rather then melody and rythm and how it has a prehistorical background, how it came to Japan a couple of centuries ago, how it shaped the meditations of the Fuke sect monks of zen-buddhism (called komuso = monks of nothingness), how I can play over two full octaves (about 26 notes so far, some I can play in different positions and that means with different timbre!) on just a 'tube with five holes' -> no artifical keys needed like on a western concert transverse flute, how it is considered to be the most difficult wind instrument to learn - together with quena and xiao- and how most of the cool eastern soundtracks feature the instrument; some people have told me that they recognised the sound from the movies when I started playing it, but nobody - musician or non musician - has ever looked into it?
Nobody seems to care.
Some don't even know what a koto, erhu, dizi is but they do know what a didgeridoo is?
[ Post last edited on 08/15/2015 at 11:40:23 ]
Now, this is an area of music that have really caught my attention. Remember the former basketball player, Allen Iverson? Well, he sparked a great deal of controversy about 13 years ago when he ranted (on and on) about "practice". http://ftw.usatoday.com/2015/05/allen-iverson-practice-anniversary.
Well, my former (Jazz) band members and me (coincidentally) had a very similar discussion about the "merits" of practice. Apparently, some of my former mates extolled the virtues of long hours of practice with/on their instrument(s). Others, had a completely different take on the subject. I must say, that during my early years as a young boy, I hated practicing endless hours at the piano. But, I had to do it, or else incur the temperamental/volatile ire of my teacher (an extremely proficient concert pianist is his own right). God, how I despised that demon from hell! (Thanks Mr. Phillips). That being said, there is absolutely no doubt that all those hours spent practicing the intricacies of "Classical" music turned out to be 100% vital during my active playing days as an adult. (I no longer play publicly due to two severe accidents involving my hands). Anyway, even though I had stopped regular practice, I now regret not putting in the time to further strengthen my fingers and tendons; which would have allowed for more dexterity when executing long, complex (improvisational) runs during a piece. Hindsight is a real big heifer, eh?
The fellas that I'm referring are some very accomplished players (sax, drummers, bass, etc.). To this point, I watched an interview with pianist, David Benoit a few years ago. During the interview, he stated that he NEVER really spent time "practicing". Rather, he felt that he had gained proficiency in the actual *playing* (please fix the italics feature, Mike) of actual songs on the piano (for hours on end). I'm sure that there are thousands of musicians who have views like Benoit. However, these accomplished, and well-knowned talents (I'm absolutely sure) are not in abundance. Perhaps I'm wrong on this, but I doubt it.
My conclusion: "practice" is NEVER a bad thing. Your mention of Oscar Peterson (my idol) and others like him, speaks well to that fact. Sure, hours spent perfecting any artistic endeavor is usually a lonely and (more than likely) a boring pastime, but my <personal> experience says, bite the bullet, and just do it. It will pay off in the long run.
[ Post last edited on 08/15/2015 at 12:31:03 ]
I think that practice is important but the best kind is when it has a goal in mind - probably easier when you're young and trying to impress girls or something but harder when you're older and time is at more of a premium.
I was always an improviser, but I always felt limited. While soloing I would have a great idea or phrase in my head , but when I would attempt to play it, I would fumble up (mostly from poor picking technique). I have not become a shredder but my phrasing and string crossing have improved and I can "almost" play everything i think. The hours of practicing have paid off for me., but only recently. I think my approach to practice has changed for the the better. After years of playing the chromatic scale my dexterity didnt improve until I played it and counted in triplets. A lot of it is down to how our brain perceives music, I use my DAW to record riffs I struggle with, loop them, and move the drum loop so the snare and kick are "switched" and most times I find I can play the riffs really easily, and the issue is a simply a timing or accent issue. The approach to practice is the key. Sitting for hours aimlessly rolling up and down the fretboard really only develops bad habits.
I doesn't matter how good we think we are, or how much practice we do. It`s other people that decide if we are good or not. Playing with a band is the ultimate challenge. Listening to what the other members are playing, and applying what you feel is needed is best.. be it percussive or melodic. As I say its how people perceive your music is what matters.. To be noticed more is what most musicians need to feel accomplished. Try using dynamics - lay off for a bit so passages can have more impact. Also (for guitarists) vibrato. The speed of the vibrato is never given much thought. Simply vibrating a note "in time" or in a different time signature than the music behind it can generate strange harmonics that immediately catch peoples attention, (if thats what you want) By the way Mike, I have your blog open in a new tab ready for reading!
Very few of us are born prodigies, so we have to work to develop our skill and dexterity. I have heard many great guitarists say, "what you practice at home , you bring into your live playing" And I think thats why we have so many mind numbing shredding guitarists all over youtube etc. So be methodical about practice!
So 4 things to make you a better "feel" musician.. Listening, dynamics, vibrato and lastly. .. Humming! see if you can hum it... Cos if you cant hum it, you cant play it.
Sorry for such a long post, I seem to have spent the last 30 years involved in the practice. Only now its coming together for me and hopefully it can help somebody out.
Ironically as it may sound to some folks, Jeff Beck never did anything for me, as I never liked his taste in music. On the other hand great acoustic players like Rory Block, and Dónal Lunny whom I went to college with, are world-class players, and all without the assist of electronic effects boards.
I accept electric guitar players can create emotion, but so too can acoustic guitar musicians, where the challenges can be a lot more difficult. Derek Trucks might be a great slide player, but on the other end of the spectrum we mustn’t forget that Rory Block is equally so.
The fellas that I'm referring are some very accomplished players (sax, drummers, bass, etc.). To this point, I watched an interview with pianist, David Benoit a few years ago. During the interview, he stated that he NEVER really spent time "practicing".
I agree that practicing doesn't need to necessarily be just scales and exercises. Playing the instrument counts too, as far as I'm concerned, as does figuring out parts off recordings. It would be unbelievably boring to just do scales and exercises. There has to be some musical satisfaction to at least a portion of a practice session, or you won't want to practice as much as you should.
How is it when it comes to discussing great musicians we always seem to look upon electric guitar players as been Great at the exclusion of acoustic guitar musicians?
I know what you're saying, but I was not intentionally leaving off acoustic players. (I did mention Oscar Peterson, btw, who plays acoustic piano). There are tons of great acoustic players. Jerry Douglas, Tommy Emmanuel, Mark O'Connor. I was just giving a few examples, not providing an exhaustive list. No slight meant towards Rory Block or Dónal Lunny.
Playing with a band is the ultimate challenge. Listening to what the other members are playing, and applying what you feel is needed is best.. be it percussive or melodic. As I say its how people perceive your music is what matters.. To be noticed more is what most musicians need to feel accomplished. Try using dynamics - lay off for a bit so passages can have more impact.
Good advice. I'm really glad to hear you were able to bounce back from the adversity you had. Best of luck in the future!
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