Performance as Practice

Headed north up to do a gig with my quintet Swang and it got me thinking about how performance figures into practice. We’re doing some recordings tomorrow and I know that playing a gig the night before will help our playing a lot.

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

According to a lot of the folks I’ve interviewed, performance is considered a kind of practice. In fact, some, like tuba player Rex Martin and NY Phil trumpeter Ethan Bensdorf try to obliterate the line between “practice” and “performance” and make everything performance. Ethan mentioned that he sometimes will imagine Bud Herseth is in the room (a legend among orchestral trumpeters). It’s an approach Mr. Herseth encouraged. Rex Martin said that he learned from Herseth that you have to be careful about practice, because you start to practice how to practice, instead of practicing performing.

Other players, like singer-songwriter Nicholas Barron, makes performance his sole means of practice. He spent about four years in the Chicago subways performing for commuters all day long as his practice. Others, like jazz guitarist Bobby Broom, has a sporadic relationship with practice and said that he sometimes uses the performance, playing really hard several times a week, as a kind of practice.

Performance is a way to bump your skills to a higher level, and the more you do it, the better. In schools, we have a kind of bizarre relationship to performance. In our ensembles, we work on a few pieces for several months, and then have a concert, maybe 3 or 4 times a year. If you want to get better faster, I recommend forming a small chamber group or jazz combo and perform as much as you possibly can. There’s an intensity of focus required for performance that you simply can’t get any other way.

And it’s rare for a performance to go like it did in practice. I was thinking this as I heard this fantastic version of Nina Simone singing the heartbreaking Bob Dylan tune, Ballad of Hollis Brown. She tells the band what she wants, and adds, “Like we practiced it.”

I love how the tune builds and then fades at the end. Hope you like it. Get out there and play!

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

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