Many musicians believe the best form of practice is with other musicians, would you agree?
Practising, Learning, Playing and Performing… I think these are the most basic modes, or contexts, we musicians find ourselves in. These modes can be seen and used separately, but many times occur simultaneously.
Growing one’s ability to think and execute tasks while also being spontaneous and creative is the highest level for any musician to reach, and this is where the four modes come into some kind of conscious relationship.
The correct execution of an action in time is the most basic level of practice for any musician, and this should be done slowly and quite consciously with a metronome (this is done to gain perspective). Correct execution is only a small part of playing music of course.
Rehearsing music with recordings and in your band context is the next obvious step in becoming a better player, in this mode we learn about form, dynamics and groove.
“Stream of consciousness” playing is also an important part of finding out “who one is” musically (on your instrument). This would be where you pick something to do with as little thinking as possible, and check what comes out of you. Recording these sessions can also be very helpful. One can experiment with sound and time and be creative in any way that comes up. I think this kind of “practice” is important and quite valid.
Learning how to play melodies is another very important part of being a musician, and this includes all instruments (percussion as well). The “meaning” of most music is in its melody (especially ethnic styles), so internalizing melody will promote good sensitivity and musicality in one’s playing in general.
Listening to great players (and even learning exactly what they played) is another very important part of learning about one’s instrument and how to play it. Playing with musicians that are more experienced than yourself and have better control of their instrument than you do is also very helpful.
With all of this said, I would have to say that Practice and Playing should be one and the same, the time spent alone and the time spent with others should amass to help one simply make good music. All practice is good, and very important. It seems that the best form of practice would also depend on the individual’s goals, but for me everything I do is a part of my musical growth.
Do you sometimes find it hard to get into the zone once the red button is pressed and it’s time to record?
The ZONE is simply the state of mind where control and creativity meet, when a musician can do what is needed, and more, at any given time. Getting to that “place” as a player mainly relies on proper preparation and a good state of relaxation (emotional freedom).
Preparing is fairly obvious; KNOW what you are going to do. Have a mental picture of what things should sound like before you start recording (unless spontaneity is the point of the session). Relaxation is a bit more difficult of a topic; much of feeling relaxed has to do with the environment and one’s confidence as a player and a person. I try to actually focus on being relaxed when I play.
How would you deal with this common problem?
I try to be as prepared as possible, I learn the material and also give myself possible options for grooves and fills (in case what I prefer to play is somehow not working). Also knowing that you are there for a good reason should keep one feeling good about what you are doing. For me life has destiny and providence, I don’t really believe that things are random, so this shapes the way I see the situations I find myself in.
That perspective on life also allows me to understand that if I don’t “feel” the way I want to feel at a session… that may just be exactly what should be happening (not so comfortable, but a positive way of dealing with emotions)
How do you go about remembering everything you would need for a gig/session?
If you mean musically, I write charts, even when I know the music by heart. I find that writing things down somehow internalizes them in a deeper way. I also don’t really trust my memory, so I like to know, on paper, things like tempos and numbers of bars and so on.
If you mean physical items… for me that has been experience… but you could make a list. List making is an important tool for achieving one’s goals in any field.
Do you believe in listening to as many varied genres as possible to become a better musician, could you give me some examples?
If one’s goal is to be a better musician one should be familiar with music in general, but self-definition is a very important part of life as well. Getting involved with music that one does not like is challenging and can be of great help in all kinds of ways (emotional and technical), but understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses is also important to musical maturity.
I think any musician really has to decide what he wants to do and take it from there. In the beginning that may include just looking around and seeing what’s out there… but I don’t think that works for everyone.
Excelling at a style usually takes a lot of discipline and dedication. This means spending time perfecting specific techniques and so on.
Obviously if you are the “sideman” type of musician (like me) you will enjoy mostly all styles and try to play them with passion and conviction… “do right by them”.
I did and do listen to many styles of music, but that is because I enjoy them. At this point I do not listen to things that I don’t like, I also try to not get involved in playing music that I don’t enjoy (but as a sideman that can be a challenge).
Finally, how do you continue to move forward with your playing
after many years being a musician?
I can’t imagine not moving forward, there is just so much music out there. For me technique and coordination are absolutely a never ending endeavour, and my creativity never ceases to amaze me… lol