Since starting to learn bass guitar I am approaching practice different than before. A lot of the things I am doing now I should have done when I started playing trumpet. I would even dare to say these things were suggested to me but I either stopped doing them or dismissed them. Now that I?ve been working in this new manner for the past few weeks I see tremendous value in it. As of late, I’ve been amazed at my retention and the quality I’m getting out of my practice sessions.
In the past I would just practice until my chops got tired. I would play my exercises and work until I started to feel that familiar burn at which point I would put the horn down. One thing I never took into account was mental fatigue and focus. With my new practice routine I play for a maximum of 15 minutes. I set an egg timer and once it rings ? I put my axe down and wait 5 minutes before I continue. The important thing is during those 15 minutes I am mindful of what my brain is doing. If it is not totally and completely engaged in the exercise, time for a break. A good example would be this:
Practicing major scales descending?. focusing on tone?. focusing on the notes and their relation to the chord? I wonder if I can squeeze in 18 holes of golf Sunday morning? *What are you doing Eric?? get your head back in the game*?. Ok, Ok? Good clear tone?. When does the new season of Sons of Anarchy start again?
At that point I have completely disconnected from the exercise. Even if my chops or fingers (when playing bass) feel good ? it?s time to stop. I give myself another 5 minute break and then I jump back in. If I were to continue to play while not focusing I would get muscle benefit but not much else. Tomorrow I would start in the exact same place that I started. While a certain lack of concentration is OK for some exercises, most require you to think about technique, feel, tone, etc. To not be mindful of all aspects of an exercise defeats the purpose. A lot of times we grind on the same exercises or drills over and over again wondering why they haven?t been completely absorbed. Sure ? we may be playing the exercise from a physical standpoint but are we 100% engaged? I can speak for myself and say I was not until recently.
In meditation we call this being mindful – fully and completely engaged with what you’re doing. I teach a meditation class on Saturdays but in all honesty I never really applied those principals to my music. Since I have started approaching practice this way I am amazed at my retention and ability to improve.
Try practicing mindfully. Try to really connect with what your mind/brain is doing during exercises. If you find it drifting outside of the practice room ? time for a break. When you come back and make sure that everything is fully engaged in the process ? mind, body and spirit.
The trumpet community recently lost one of their shining champions. Laurie Frink was a teacher who helped so many players develop their command of the instrument. Ingrid Jensen, Dave Douglas and countless others have all shared tales of how she helped them become one with their horn which opened the door to true expression. I had the pleasure of studying with her and my current teacher Jon Crowley was a student of hers as well. Facebook was flooded with stories and tributes to Laurie when she passed. It was then that I really grasped how much she meant to so many people – not just me.
Curious about how many people she touched? Do a Google image search for “Laurie Frink trumpet” – you will see a few pictures of Laurie but even more pictures of the countless players she has helped over the years. She was and always will be a blessing to us all.
Rest in peace Laurie…