This follows nicely the previous post, Practice Outline.
Practicing is a personal kind of endeavor, and certainly evolves with each of us. I really, honestly, advise you to find your own specific methods, but, it’s good at times to take stock of what you’re doing and evaluate our organization. Lately, I’ve come to think about the many kinds of things which we do in musical practice/study to be grouped into three main areas: Core, Repertoire, Creative. Let me try to explain and give some examples.
Core will include anything specific to the instrument, so for us it starts with foundational things like shifting, finger studies, open string studies, arco and pizz, but also scales, patterns, etc. It could also include etudes and much more.
Repertoire for us as improvising musicians has a wide range. It could include tunes of course, as well as anything “classical” you study, like pieces, suites, but it also needs to include so-called transcriptions, which I like to call imitative practice, which helps to develop what some like to call “vocabulary,” in other words an understanding or reference to a sound and style. As musicians of the future, we need to be equally adept at reading and playing by ear, so both aspects are part of this.
Creative This of course means composition and it’s twin, improvisation. Not all will agree that they are exactly the same, but I’ll loosely paraphrase renowned saxophonist and composer Dave Liebman and say that composition can be though of as improvisation slowed down and vice versa. Of course there are advantages to each activity, and one should do both at least to some extent. The thing I observe with more than a few students is little or no activity that is actually creative. It’s understandable that we need to spend a lot of time with Core and Rep to become great musicians on any instrument, but don’t put off daily creative activity until later. In simple terms, express yourself! It might feel like what you want to do is not in line with what you think is expected of you, but that’s way too much thinking. The greats balance reference, expectancy with surprise. One of my favorite quotes from Benny Golson: “Ron Carter, you never know what that guy is going to do!” That to me means surprise. Work to really be in the moment when you play, and including this in your daily regimen will help you. Do something right now- improvise! It’s what you will be doing when you play with others, much of it anyway, so make it a habit as part of your practice and you will be more confident in your playing in groups.