Erin McKeown first opened my eyes about how practice can be very different depending on the kind of music you’re making. The kind of creative approach Erin uses to get better is covered in more detail in Chapters 26 and 38 of “The Practice of Practice,” available on Amazon. Below is a recording of my 2011 interview with Erin, talking about how she gets better.
Music is unique. The more I know about how it works, the deeper it gets; the better it becomes.
~ Erin McKeown, from the Interview
Check out what the excellent singer-songwriter Erin McKeown has to say about music practice. I’ve been a fan of Erin’s since hearing Distillation in 2000. Erin plays guitar, piano, drums, and bass and has recorded albums. I learned of her through one of many interviews with Erin on NPR, this one on The World Cafe, a most excellent show hosted on WXPN in Philadelphia and hosted by David Dye. Great stuff! Erin’s got 12 albums out, and they’re all worth owning. My favorite 3 albums are Distillation, Grand, and Hundreds of Lions.
Well, I’ve got a few interviews in the can and will be editing and processing them in the coming weeks. The next post to this podcast will have an interview with Nicholas Barron, singer-songwriter from Chicago, followed by interviews with classical trumpeter Colin Oldberg (principal trumpet w/ the Hong Kong Symphony Orchestra), Singer-Songwriter Erin McKeown, jazz trumpeter Chad McCullough, and the most excellent Chicago Symphony Orchestra Tuba player Rex Martin. There are more interviews in the works, too, including (tentatively) Ingrid Jensen, Bobby Broom, and Josh Ritter. Stay tuned. When that first one is posted, be sure to subscribe to the iTunes podcast feed to download future interviews automatically. The first one should be up by mid-March.
That’s almost exactly what Erin McKeown said in her talk about practice in The Practice of Practice.
There are more ways to practice than this video documents. It’s one of the blind spots in academia: all of the research on practice is focused on Western Classical Music. It’s like other styles and other approaches don’t even exist. Weird, right? It’s why I did the research I did on practice (and wrote a…
In The Practice of Practice, Erin McKeown talks about how she used songwriting as her practice. Not only did songwriting with ap 4-track recorder give her some serious feedback, resulting in serious chops, her process resulted in some excellent albums, too. There are lots of resources online to learn songwriting. Here’s one:
One of the revelations I discovered while researching The Practice of Practice was that some musicians–like Erin McKeown who turned me on to the strategy–use composition and multi-tracking, or looping, to improve. Trumpet Wizard Adam Rapa breaks down why using multi-tracking is so good for your practice from a blog post over at the fantastic 21st…
Musicians steal all the time. Chord progressions can’t be copyrighted, musicians often borrow a progression from a well-known song and put a new melody over the top of the chords. The uber-standard chord progression in the jazz world is “Rhythm Changes,” the chord changes from the Gershwin brothers’ tune “I Got Rhythm,” used in hundreds of songs, including The Flintstones theme.
Herbie Hancock stole a melodic idea for his hit album Headhunters (the super-hit song Watermelon Man–see below) from other master improvisers, improvisers not too many people know about: the Pygmy people (specifically, Mbuti Pygmies of Northeastern Zaire).
Until The Practice of Practice, there hasn’t been a book on practice written for musicians who aren’t interested in the school musics (band, choir, and orchestra). The good news is that this book is also valuable for those folks, too. It’s useful whether you’re into Bach, Rock, or any other kind of music.
Just a quick heads-up about a free songwriting course over at Coursera, taught by Pat Pattison, from Berklee College of Music.