Download the Podcast on iTunes here.
Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Teen Jazz Radio for 2014! I’m Shannon Kennedy, your host and I’d like to thank you for taking the time out of your day to listen to our show and to the fantastic young artists we feature as part of each podcast.
Today on the show I’m going to discuss a collection of tips on practice and I’m also going to feature the music of several of our artists.
I know many of you are listening to this podcast for different reasons – some of you may be here for the advice offered as part of this episode and some of you may be listening to check out the music we feature as part of the show. So, as I mentioned in the last episode, I’m going to try and space the music and the advice out evenly throughout the podcast so that there’s a little something for everyone.
As I mentioned just a moment ago, in today’s episode I’m going to giving you a collection of practice tips.
Practice, love it or hate it, if you plan on becoming a career musician, it’s something you’ll have to do a lot. Sometimes we’re more motivated to do it than at other times, but regardless of whether it’s something you feel like doing, it’s something you have to do.
To start out, I’d like to let you know that we have quite a few articles over at TeenJazz.com with practice tips on everything from where to find time to what you should practice. If you’re looking for more information following this podcast, you can visit teenjazz.com/practice for a roundup of practice tips and a fun poster for your practice room. I’m going to summarize a lot of that information today, but the articles are there if you’re interested in delving further.
In the meantime, I’d like to feature our first couple songs for today’s episode. First up, we have “The Second Round” from Reggie Padilla’s most recent album, They Come and They Go followed by “Remember” from saxophonist Adam Larson’s sophomore release Overdue Ovation.
I’ve heard one excuse more than any other in my experience as an instructor.
“I didn’t have time to practice.”
When you’re an adult with a family and a full time job, or a university student with a full workload, I can understand why one might use this excuse. At the end of the day finding the motivation to put in even just 15 minutes of practice can easily lose in a battle with exhaustion.
But if music is something you really want to do, you can find at least fifteen minutes to squeeze a bit of practice in.
There are tons of things we have to do – eat, sleep, go to school or work, spend time with family – but there are also a lot of things we can cut down – checking Facebook or Tumblr, watching tv or playing video games. I’m not saying that you have to give up those things completely, I’m only suggesting that you should do them less. And when it comes down to it, you won’t regret spending less time on any of those above things but you will regret not having put the time in on your instrument (especially if it’s something you really want to do).
It’s worth spending a little bit more time working on your instrument, writing music, reading about the music industry, and listening to your fellow musicians. It may be a lot of work, it will be frustrating at times, but if you really want to pursue music, it will all be worth it in the end.
A few ideas we have for squeezing in a little more practice time include practicing during your breaks at school or work. Actively listen to music while you’re driving (playing music in the background while ignoring it doesn’t count). Use the weekend to get extra practice time in or host jam sessions with your friends. Take shorter practice breaks. Sometimes we can’t fit in an hour long practice session, but we have four fifteen minute slots during our day where we can still get in an hour total of practice. Music is a creative art, so utilize that creativity you’ve developed when looking for time to practice.
But maybe you’re problem isn’t finding the time to practice, maybe it’s finding the motivation. If you’re experiencing a plateau and are unmotivated when it comes to practice, maybe you’re working on the wrong things. Try changing things up. You can play a different instrument (this is great if you’re a doubler), try a different style of music, or work on a completely different aspect of your playing – technique, articulation, improvisation, site reading, pitch, keys you aren’t comfortable in, or study theory, etc.
If you’re feeling really burnt out, you can either try to push through it. This won’t be your first plateau and it certainly won’t be your last, just keeping trucking and you’ll eventually see the light at the end of the tunnel. Or, you can always try taking a break (but not for more than a couple of days or you may find it hard to get back into the habit).
Sometimes we need an external motivator to keep us moving, and for this, a private instructor can be extremely beneficial. It helps to have someone to point us in the right direction, give us material to work on and they might be able to pick out mistakes we weren’t aware we’ve been making. Keep in mind, however, that a teacher can only give you the tools you need to improve and grow. It’s up to you to actually use them (in other words, work on them via practice).
At the same time, unfortunately, you cannot rely on outside sources for the inspiration to practice. It’s alright every once in awhile to get that extra push, but inspiration comes from constant and consistent hard work. I know that seems counterintuitive, but you aren’t going to get better and have breakthroughs in your playing if you’re sitting around wondering why you aren’t getting better. It’s only during practice (or during a performance after a consistent period of practice) that these breakthroughs occur.
Before I continue, I’d like to feature a few more tracks from our artists at Teen Jazz. The first track is from guitarist U-Nam, one of our Teen Jazz Influences. You can check out our interview with him at teenjazz.com. This track is “Something’s Up” from his upcoming album “C’est le Funk.” Following U-Nam, I’d like to feature a track from another guitarist and Teen Jazz Influence, Drew Simpson. This is “Fragile” from his album Noteworthy.
Once again the first track was “Something’s Up” from U-Nam. You can find more information on U-Nam at unammusic.com. The second track was from Drew Simpson, “Fragile.” You can get more information on Drew at drewsimpsonmusic.com.
My first tip is to create a dedicated space or time for practice so that when you enter that space or the hour strikes, your mind is already in “practice mode.”
Next, be accountable – tell others of your intentions so not only will they be there to support you, but they know not to bother you during that time or when you’re in your practice space.
Turn off your email, your social media accounts and focus. It’s easy to fall into the endless pit that is social media. Don’t be tempted by the easy distractions.
Be nice to yourself. If you are frustrated with a certain passage, idea, transcription or whatever, take a break. Beating yourself into the ground over something you can’t do will only discourage you and make practice that much more miserable. Have patience. If you keep working at it, it will come to you and unless you have a deadline, it doesn’t have to be today.
Keep a practice journal. Not only will this help keep you personally accountable, but it will allow you to keep track of your breakthrough moments, gather things you need to work on, give you a means to keep track of your progress, maintain your enthusiasm (if you note things you were excited about, you can read them again whenever you’re feeling frustrated), and it all makes finding things to practice that much easier.
If you’re still feeling frustrated or unsure, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Every other successful musician has been through this process so we know how you feel. Sometimes just sharing your frustration with someone who can relate can help alleviate whatever may be holding you back. Reaching out may also provide you with the solution to your problems – someone else looking at your situation from the outside may see something you don’t or have an idea you haven’t tried.
If you’re looking for things to practice, we have a growing collection of jazz lessons available on Teen Jazz. You can download the materials and access the lessons for free at teenjazz.com/lessons.
In the meantime, a few of our suggestions include: play everyday even if you don’t feel like it, just put a couple minutes in. Go out and play in the real world. Practicing alone in your room with cds and/or books is not the same as playing with other musicians. Transcribe. Listen to recordings and figure out what other musicians are doing. Play with musicians who are better than you – jam sessions can offer just that. And lastly, record yourself. You may notice inconsistencies in your playing on a recording that you don’t hear when you’re playing.
One thing that I notice quite a few talented musicians are guilty of, is that they often start out relying on their natural talent rather than practicing as hard as their peers. It’s an easy trap to fall into so I understand why so many musicians do it, but it’s something you really need to be aware of. It’s like studying for a test. Sometimes we have a nack for passing tests without ever studying, but when you think about it, it’s not really to your benefit. How much of the material do you actually retain?
To use another metaphor, the same goes for foreign languages. I took a class my sophomore year in high school and there were a number of native language speakers in the class who were hoping to get an easy A. The teacher warned us at the beginning of the semester; more often than not, the students who are unfamiliar with the language do better than the native speakers because they study more and actually learn the rules and grammar whereas the native speakers rely on intuition. Hard work pays off and is far more reliable than hoping raw talent will get you where you need to be.
Our last music set for today’s show is going to feature the music of pianist David Sparkman with “I Wish You Were Mine” from his album Livin’ for Love followed by “Know You Better” from the Braxton Brothers.
Once again that was “I Wish You Were Mine” from David Sparkman and “Know You Better” from the Braxton Brothers. You can learn more about David Sparkman at davidsparkman.com and the Braxton Brothers can be found at braxtonbrothers.com.
For those of you who follow Teen Jazz, you know I recently completed a Project 365 where I committed to practicing at least an hour everyday for entire year whether I was home, sick, on the road, or overcommitted. The last year was a huge learning experience for me, both musically and personally and my progress was worth every minute of practice regardless of how I felt that day.
I wrote an article on Teen Jazz where I shared some of my experience doing the project but I’ll share the two most important with you.
The first was that it’s easier to do what you love when you’re comfortable doing it. I love music, but there are shows, songs and techniques that I still have yet to wrap my head around. That’s not to say that I can’t do them, but I may feel ready to do them. The more I practiced, the more I worked things out and the more I devoted myself to my craft, the more comfortable I became stretching myself musically. In result, I began to enjoy the experience that much more (even practice). I started looking forward to working things out, studying certain styles or artists and learning new music. The frustration was no longer something that discouraged me, but something that motivated me because I knew that I could do it if I spent the time working it out.
The second most important thing I learned was that hard work and focus really pay off. I’ve heard people say that the older you get, the harder it is to learn. I’ve heard that excuse for languages, for music, and various others skills, but I really don’t think it’s true. Sure when you get into high school or college (or after), you don’t have as much free time, but that doesn’t mean you learn less. The block comes from that lack of time, from fatigue, etc. but if we try to find the energy, dedicate ourselves to regular intervals of focused practice, we’re actually better equipped to learn more quickly and efficiently than we were capable of in our younger years. It’s just a matter of making the time and not allowing any distractions to pull you from your dedicated practice time. You’ll be surprised how much and how quickly you can improve at any skill when you do this.
A third bonus tip is that I found that once I had started practicing everyday, I feared missing a day more than I did the actual practice itself. It became second nature, almost like brushing my teeth. It was just something that I did everyday and the idea of missing it just felt really strange.
Keep in mind that you won’t be aware of the improvement you’re making on a day-to-day basis, it’s something you can only see after the fact. As an experiment, try recording yourself at your next performance, then record another a month or two down the road. If you spend the time in between really practicing and working on things that you feel you need to improve upon, you’ll see a difference in you’re playing between the two videos.
Before I close out the show, I’d like to invite you all to check out Teen Jazz if you’re interested in learning more about me, Shannon Kennedy or the community. It’s TeenJazz.com. Stop by and check out teenjazz.com/practice. I’d love for you to share your thoughts on any of the aspects of practice we’ve tackled (or even that we’ve missed) in this week’s episode.
Or if you just would like to say hello, come and say hi at our Facebook page – that’s facebook.com/teenjazz. I promise to say hello back!
All the links that I’ve mentioned as part of the show will be up on Teen Jazz Radio, so if you’re interested in learning more about these talented artists, please stop on by – I know they’ll appreciate the love! You can leave comments on any of our posts at TeenJazzRadio.com.
A very special thanks to Jazz and Bossa Radio for featuring Teen Jazz Radio on their web radio station. We recently partnered with them at the beginning of this month to share our artists with a wider audience and we are excited to have joined the Jazz and Bossa Radio family. You can visit them at jazzandbossaradio.com. All of our Teen Jazz Radio podcasts are featured over at Jazz and Bossa Radio on Sundays at 3pm EST and on Wednesdays at 5pm EST.
And last but not least, we appreciate your iTunes reviews! If you’ve enjoyed our podcast, please help us get noticed on iTunes by writing us a review. Let us know if you’ve found our podcast valuable or if you’ve enjoyed some of the music we’ve featured as part of the show. We’re so very thankful for those of you who have gone in and taken the time to write us reviews for Teen Jazz Radio.
Thank you again for tuning in the Teen Jazz Radio podcast from TeenJazzRadio.com.
- Reggie Padilla – They Come and They Go
- Adam Larson – Overdue Ovation
- U-Nam – Something’s Up – E.P
- Drew Simpson – Noteworthy
- Braxton Brothers – True Love
- David Sparkman – Livin’ For Love