Think about the great music performances you have seen.
What is it about these performances that inspire you?
One of them is bound to be the ease with which the musicians play their instruments or sing.
When music flows effortlessly there is room for feeling and communication.
Sometimes artists make the playing of music look so easy you could imagine them being able to carry out a number of other tasks while playing, such as speaking on the phone or watching TV!
These artists have spent many hours becoming familiar with their voices and instruments, routinely playing through scales and exercises in order to get to know their instrument so completely that making music for them is as easy as eating or walking is for most of us (and remember we had to learn that too).
So I am here to tell you, there is no way around it. You must practice technique if you are going to achieve any level of musicianship.
Being a musician is like being an athlete.
You are using your body – your motor skills for co-ordination and dexterity, and muscles for strength and flexibility.
Athletes are constantly training in order to be able to give their best performance and so must musicians.
Warm ups and exercises should be a strong feature of your practice routine because without technical ability you will be limited in what you can express in your music.
But technical practice doesn’t have to be boring!
In fact, and I am not lying when I tell you this, I absolutely love doing my technical practice.
If you are doing it right, it will feel good.
The most important part of this type of practice is to be:
- Slow and Precise
- Working with Metronome
- Timing your exercises – because it is important to know how long you spend on each exercise and make sure you do not spend too much time on any one aspect of your music while sacrificing time spent on another.
I have found that the more I implement these aspects in my technical practice the faster the time goes and, honestly, it is easy to do an hours’ work just on technique.
John Coltrane, a famous jazz saxophonist was renown for his technical ability, and compositional ideas.
“A musician once recounted to me how Coltrane’s practice sessions went (I’m not exactly sure how the musician actually found this out, since Trane rarely practiced with anyone else, but it fits Coltrane’s personality and musicianship so well that I tend to believe it). First he played an entire hour of only whole notes, focusing exclusively on his tone. Then came another hour of just half notes, then another hour of quarter notes, working on scales, arpeggios, along with his tone. Next was an hour of eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and faster runs, incorporating everything he had done so far with speed as well. He would then spend a few hours working on exercise books for other instruments, such as violin and harp. Finally came time spent on actual songs or compositions, which would often consume a few more hours … What is most remarkable was his tireless dedication to the technical mastery of his craft, not for its own sake (which is what far too many musicians dedicate themselves to), but for the sake of expressing himself in ways he hadn’t yet found.” * Derek Wright
The reality for most of us is that we won’t be able to practice as hard or for as long periods as John Coltrane did but this doesn’t mean music goals can’t be achieved.
A simple rule to follow is just to dedicate at least a third to a half of your practice time to technical exercises and practice these with metronome to further develop your rhythmic skills.
Scales, arpeggios and chord inversions for tuned instruments (i.e. piano, guitar, saxophone, flute etc) are common technical exercises you need to become familiar with.
For drums and percussion there exist a number of technical exercises or rudiments on par with these.
Technical exercises help us to develop the muscles we need to play, develop a familiarity with the instrument and become familiar with keys for better understanding of music and gaining improvisation skills.
Lisa Brown, of Music-Made-Easy has 20+ years of teaching and performing experience and has developed a method of training which caters to individual needs for students and teachers of music. Her focus is on teaching students how to practice with the development of a Practice Diary so that learning can continue long after lessons stop.