Learning to Practice

Schmitts
Dorado Schmitt and his sons

Few musicians I’ve talked to have ever been taught how to practice. We’ve all been pretty much on our own. When teachers do influence us, it’s by making reasonable and very specific demands that make it clear exactly what is to be practiced if not exactly how to go about it. Great teachers also tend to tell you what’s wrong, see if you can make the change on your own, and if you can’t, eventually step in and show you how to play something. Finaly, if that fails, a great teacher will show you even more specifically until you get it.

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.

Learning by example is a powerful tool when it comes to practice. It’s one of the reasons the apprenticeship model is probably the best way to learn music. One-on-one, just you and a teacher. If you’re in a large ensemble, there is none of the one-on-one attention and feedback that’s necessary to get better quickly. I say quickly, but it’s still a slow process, just more fast than it would be without interaction with a good teacher.

I’d like to share this old video with you that documents Gypsy guitarist (and fiddler! I hand no idea) Dorado Schmitt teaching his son, Samson, who looks to be around 10 in this video. They’re playing one of Django’s solos over his tune Minor Swing, no small feat. It’s a great example of teaching and learning for many reasons. First of all, Dorado’s feedback is immediate, and without emotion. Very matter-of-fact. His verbal feedback consists of two words, more or less: No, and Voilà. Dorado doesn’t let any error pass by without stopping to correct it, and the cool thing is that he usually says nothing beyond that first, “No.” He shows Samson the correct way to play it and lets him figure out where the mistake occurs. Sometimes he’ll emphasize a note or two and only once does he actually physically move Samson’s fingers to the right spot. In a couple shots you can see Samson bear down, his brow furrowing as he concentrates.

A golden moment for me is at 2:35, where Samson plays the most difficult and complicated run of the clip, absolutely nails it, and gets a smile and a “Voilà,” from his dad as they continue without a break. You can tell Samson had spent a great deal of time mastering that lick, and his dad knew it, and when he nailed it, that little word of praise was perfectly delivered.

After the clip of the lesson is another of Dorado playing with another son, Amati, who is ripping it up on guitar.

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.

And below is Dorado as an adult with his son, Amati:

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