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Superb Practice Advice from JLCO’s Ted Nash

Trumpeter George Recker used to say, “If you can’t sing it, you can’t play it.” It’s great advice. Here’s some similar great advice about singing and playing a horn, as well as several other great practice suggestions from Ted Nash, one of the great players (they’re all great) in the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.



In the following video, Mr. Nash mentions The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. Get a copy by clicking on the image.

Sweet New Metronome You Feel Instead of Hear

Check this one out! What a great idea, especially the ability to synchronize the beat across a group. How about 75 of them for a concert band? Or 20 for a jazz band? Maybe they would cut a deal for large orders like that. I’d ask them, if you’ve got the money. Or even four or five for quartet/quintet groups.

Learn more at their site.

What Every Musician Needs: Mo’ Rhythm (there’s an app for that)

As Duke Ellington taught us, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.” Rhythm is the most fundamental of musical elements. It’s the glue that holds everything together. A clue to how powerful rhythm is can be heard when a “wrong” note played with a funky rhythm: it still sounds good.

There is a new tool that can help you acquire better rhythm for yourself in a fun and easy way: Mo Rhythm Africa, from San Diego percussionist and teacher Monette Marino. More on the app below, after the video.

In The Practice of Practice, there’s a chapter on acquiring rhythm skills using a conga or other percussion instruments, like djembe, one of the coolest sounding drums on the planet. The djembe is a drum invented and used originally in the Mali region of West Africa, but has been adopted all over the planet. One of the world-class musicians who shared their practice experience for the book was djembefola master Sidiki Dembele (he’s the player in white in this example).

You don’t have to be a world class expert to get something from the djembe. Marino’s app, Mo Rhythm Africa will help you acquire the traditional rhythms on djembe (and also on dunun, another drum used in this tradition). If you’re new to this kind of music, each traditional rhythm (there are 10 in the app) has instructional videos that go along with them, and they’re only 99 cents for around 5 videos. Here’s a quick diagram, but you can learn more at Monette Marino’s site.

Monette Marino's "Mo-Rhythm Africa. Click to get it from her site.

Monette Marino’s “Mo-Rhythm Africa. Click to get it from her site.

If you don’t have a drum, I’d recommend a WULA drum. I have one and it’s gorgeous and gets amazing sound, even from a relative beginner like myself. Even better than that, WULA’s philosophy and practice is to support the artists in Guinea who make these drums.

One of the Most Powerful Tools for Your Practice


The amazing Dr. Carol Dweck explains how your belief about intelligence profoundly impacts your motivation to learn, the depth of your learning, and your persistence in the face of failure. In music, Dr. Bret Smith discovered similar findings. Lots more in Chapter 6 of The Practice of Practice (free shipping in the US). 

Want a free color, high-rez poster to hang in your practice room to remind you of this important (crucial) mindset? Here it is. Hope you enjoy the video.


Take a Free Songwriting Course. Open Now! (10-14-14)

A song or poem written by Daniel Johnston.

A song or poem written by Daniel Johnston.

Just a quick heads-up about a free songwriting course over at Coursera, taught by Pat Pattison, from Berklee College of Music.

One of the things I learned while writing The Practice of Practice is that “practice” takes many forms, and Erin McKeown taught me that one of them is the act of songwriting. Songwriting one of the primary ways she used to hone her skill on various instruments (mostly guitar) and as a songwriter. McKeown used a 4-track recorder to write her songs.

I’ve been digging the lo-fi sound of Tune Yard’s first album, Bird-Brains. Merrill Garbis is the creative force behind the band, and that album sounds like she used the same process. She just did a fun interview on Bullseye with Jesse Thorn and talks about her process a bit.

The great thing is that, using a 4-track recorder, you get immediate feedback on what you’ve just recorded, and you scrutinize it for quality. Does it fit what you’re after? No? Then do it again. And maybe again, and again, and again. Not only is this a superb way to get better, at the end of the process you have a song to show for it. That’s motivational.

If the song is good, you can send it out into the world, and if it’s good enough (and you’ve got a little luck), it might just send some money back to you. But the real benefit is in the process. Try it!

4-track recorders.


Back-To-School Specials On All Formats:

The Practice of PracticeBasic Music Theory: How to Read, Write, and Understand Written Music, by Jonathan HarnumSound the Trumpet: How to Blow Your Own Horn


The Fractal Nature of Goals and Music Practice

Animated Sierpinsky Fractal

Animated Sierpinsky Fractal

Setting goals is one of the most powerful things you can do to get better at music or anything else. Some people write them down, some just have a vague idea of what they are, but we all have goals for nearly everything we do. Goals are covered in more detail in The Practice of Practice, but here’s a quick run-down.

Triangles within triangles within triangles: a Sierpinsky triangle

A Sierpinsky Triangle

Goals are like the cool animated GIF of a Sierpinsky fractal above: there are goals within goals within goals. It’s goals all the way down. The usual advice is to break goals down into long-term, mid-term, and short-term goals, but you can and should dive deeper, and consider smaller goals. Writing down long-term goals is a good practice, one you should revisit at least once a year. Mid-term goals are also good to have. For me those are from one year to a couple months away; short-term goals are usually within a month or 6 weeks. All of these goals are great, but the further away they are, the more abstract they become. The shorter-term goals become more and more concrete, there is actually something to do.

Goals that require immediate action are the most powerful. I call them immediate-goals, micro-goals, and nano-goals. Immediate goals are your goals for one practice session. Micro goals are your goals for a passage or a small section you’re trying to learn. A nano goal is one repetition.

The power of goals is their ability to focus your efforts with laser precision. If you can only spare 20 minutes of practice a day or less, spending some time on goals at every level of the fractal is a powerful tool. Writing them out will help, especially at first if you’re not used to thinking this way, but it’s not necessary. In fact, once you’ve gotten used to thinking about goals like this, skip writing out your goals, and spend the extra time on playing.


Motivation to Practice: Go With the Flow

English: Alberto Guerrero (standing) with Glen...

English: Alberto Guerrero (standing) with Glenn Gould, circa 1945.

There’s a lot to like about the video of pianist Glenn Gould below. I’ve highlighted three things that happen in the video (see clips below).

As the great Robert Krulwich (of Radiolab and NPR) pointed out in a recent post, Gould appears to be deep in a Flow state, practicing Bach’s Partita #2.

For me, achieving Flow is one of the biggest motivators to continuing to practice, because it’s a transcendent experience and feels wonderful. Part 2 (of 6) in The Practice of Practice covers helpful aspects of motivation, including Flow, in greater detail. Some players, like drummer Allison Miller, told me that sometimes they’ll go into a practice session with no other goal beyond getting into that Flow state, or a meditative state.

Here’s what Mr. Krulwich said, and as to the last clause, I couldn’t agree more :

How one gets there — that’s still a mystery. Practice is important. Tenacity matters. Talent helps. When you find your “flow,” your brain changes. Dopamine and noradrenaline kick in, GABA neurons get suppressed; sex, hunger, thirst matter less, you are free to play more deeply with stream-of-conscious associations; you are chemically released and can now roam far and wide. Yes, you have no idea where you are or how this is happening; but that it’s happening must be one of the most wonderful experiences ever.

Another gem from this video is at 1:36 (cued up below), when Gould shouts, “Na!” at a mistake. You can see him bear down, sing more precisely, and practice that little flubbed passage again. It’s a golden practice moment, and a bit hard to catch, because it’s an error that only an expert in this music can hear.

Gould was infamous for being difficult to record because he usually vocalized when playing. It’s another trait most master musicians (no matter their instrument) do when playing: Oscar Peterson is another pianist who vocalizes comes immediately to mind.Singing is one of many mental practice strategies that pros in all genres of music use, covered in Part 6 of The Practice of Practice, chapter 31: Going Mental. Check Gould out at 1:59 when he actually gets up from the piano to sing a tricky bit of the Bach.

Finally, there is another important aspect of practice that’s often overlooked: the role of a teacher. Alberto Guerrero was one of Gould’s teachers (picured above), and it was Guerrero who taught Gould a simple practice technique, called “finger tapping,” that another of his students explains below. Learning on your own is great, and everybody does it, but a teacher can shave years of practice off with just a few tips. The different kinds of teachers for different stages of ability are covered in Chapter 14: Hot for Teacher, in The Practice of Practice.


Back-To-School Specials On All Formats:

The Practice of PracticeBasic Music Theory: How to Read, Write, and Understand Written Music, by Jonathan HarnumSoundTheTrumpet2_Cover




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