12 Rules of Practice, from Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis at the Lincoln Center for the ...
Wynton Marsalis (Photo: Wikipedia)

Wynton Marsalis is a musician who knows how to practice. As a younger man, he was equally at home in front of a symphony orchestra playing the Haydn concerto, or laying down some serious jazz with Art Blakey. Check out Wynton’s discography for more evidence.

For a while now, he’s turned his full attention to traditional jazz and his own new compositions. Back when VHS was the only option for video releases, Wynton did a program called Tackling the Monster: Wynton on Practice.  In the video excerpt below, fast-forward to 3:00 to get to the practice tidbits. After that, check out Wynton playing some sweet choruses at the Jazz in Marciac festival in France, in 2009. So tasty and relaxed. After that first tune, the concert goes on for another 45 minutes. Worth hearing, for sure! That’s what tens of thousands of hours of practice sound like.

Here are 12 practice suggestions from Master Marsalis. Each one could be the subject of a book on its own.

1. Seek out the best private instruction you can afford.

2. Write/work out a regular practice schedule.

3. Set realistic goals.

4. Concentrate when practicing

5. Relax and practice slowly

6. Practice what you can’t play. – (The hard parts.)

7. Always play with maximum expression.

8. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

9. Don’t show off.

10. Think for yourself. – (Don’t rely on methods.)

11. Be optimistic. – “Music washes away the dust of everyday life.”

12. Look for connections between your music and other things.


(start the vid below at 3:00 to skip the credits). I’ve found some evidence in my own research talking with master musicians that, instead of being something that is dreaded, as Wynton and YoYo Ma mention, practice is also something many musicians love dearly. It’s good to have a challenge and work toward it, even if that work is sometimes supremely demanding, and at times frustrating.

.Here’s Wynton and crew in 2009. Around 16:00 you can hear Wynton and Wycliffe Gordon sing.


9 Comments Add yours

  1. george-b says:

    Thanks for reblogging!

    1. I actually found this elsewhere, George. But I went and checked out what you’re doing, and looks cool. I’m now a follower. Cheers!

      1. george-b says:

        Thanks Jonathan, I’ll visit your site as much as I can!
        And thanks for the good word, That is a good feedback for anyone, anytime, and it is also encouraging!

        The Best!


  2. Clyde Morgan says:

    Hey Jon,

    We lost a great trumpeter today.
    Would you please post his practice tips?
    Here’s a link:


    and here’s one of the better news pieces:


    Lets all practice taps for him on the mpc!

    1. Hey Clyde-
      Thanks so much for posting this. Such sad news, but what an incredible contribution he made, enriching the lives of thousands, tens of thousands of people through his performances, recordings, and teaching. His presence is still very much felt throughout the brass and orchestral world. Deeply missed. My condolences to all his fans, friends, students, and family. RIP, Mr. Herseth!

    2. and also, ton of thanks for the links. I hadn’t heard all of these in one place before! Wonderful!

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