A further thought on improving your musical instrument playing through better practicing

I was playing last night and noticed something interesting. My time was locked in at a higher level. As I was improvising and playing other things, I noticed that the succession of notes was more precisely locked into the rhythm, and it felt easier.

Now, if I’m objective about my playing, while there are things I can certainly improve on I’ve always felt that my sense of time and rhythm is my greatest strength. But last night, there was something different, and the likely cause was pretty obvious.

I’ve been focused these past months on my new book Rhythm Savvy and one of the best ways to learn or improve on anything is to teach it or write about it. In the case of me writing this book, I’m immersed in writing exercises with clicks, creating rhythm tracks and writing patterns over them–all while playing and recording myself. It’s practicing with a metronome on steroids!

The experience reinforces that the stuff I’m creating does work–as long as one works at it. It also reinforces something I mentioned to a good friend this past week: Put concentrated effort into your daily practice on things like ear training and rhythm work no matter what else you are preparing for performance-wise.

In the case of my friend, he is preparing for an upcoming concert in which he has an improvised jazz solo. He mentioned to me that once the concert is over, he’ll go back to working on the things in my books. I replied that this is the perfect time to work on building his rhythmic and harmonic acuity so that those heightened attributes will emerge from his solo.

This is an important topic because I know that my friend is not the only type-A player who compartmentalizes aspects of his practicing in the way I described. To be fair, there is only so much time in the day and chops available for playing. The point is to sprinkle into your daily practice those key components that build your overall musical and performance excellence.

You’ll be a long-term better player if you dedicate even 15 minutes of your practice time to exercises like this. Within the three minute track below are three sets of repeating patterns. Each pattern is played for you at the very beginning, the middle and the end. Play the pattern over the rhythm track (in this case a funky guitar). Use your ear to find the notes and the correct rhythm, taking breaths as needed, and play throughout all three patterns making sure to maintain accurate time that is locked into the guitar. Pattern one starts at the beginning of the track, pattern two starts at :52, and pattern three starts at 1:57.


Once you have my book, you’ll have dozens of very diverse exercises like this, but for the moment, focus on this one as well as your metronome. In fact, once you have these three patterns down, play them only with the metronome. Record yourself to objectively evaluate your time accuracy and melodic flow.

Work on your time within your practice schedule and resist waiting for your practice schedule to open up for practicing your time, and later for practicing your ear training, etc. If you’re like me, you’ll begin to hear improved skills creeping into everything you play including that upcoming jazz solo! Wouldn’t that be cool?



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