The Woodshed

The Quiet Loneliness of the Practicing Musician.

1

OK, maybe not so quiet, depending on what you are practicing, and how loud you like to play. But that is rather beside my point. Actually, the real question I'm asking is: How do you keep yourself motivated? To practice that is.

Now I've got a lot of great books, or rather, a few really good ones that it has taken me many years sorting through a lot of so-so manuals to find. And recently I purchased a couple of DVDs featuring the work and style of Wes Montgomery, that I find both useful and inspiring.

Still, on a day to day basis, it's always been a struggle to concentrate for extended periods of time. I haven't been in a band for a while, nor do I even belong to a practice troop at the moment. And of course, playing with others, or at least the prospect of playing with others, is one of the most motivating elements one can have for working on new songs and techniques. But what of those periods, long stretches of time, where there isn't much going on outside the woodshed? When the only one that you are face to face with is yourself, and you long term goals. Do you find yourself thinking of better things to do, or can you remain focused on the current task at hand? Oh, I know, things can, and do, change daily. Sometimes, I'm a jazz-charged demon who will not put down my instrument for several hours. Even the phone can go unanswered during these sessions. But other days, perhaps too often in occurrence, I find that practicing actually causes me to feel rather complacent and unsettled. Even lonely. Or is this state, this restive solitariness, simply a natural by product of artistic temperament? Wonder what Mozart did when he felt like this?

Uh oh, I'd better go now. I feel some blues riffs coming on...

2

Don't feel lonely General. The guitar is your great sounding companion. Most great players became great because they sat in their room playing their guitar while the other neighborhood kids were outside throwing snowballs at cars.

3

that's the nature of artistic creation…somtimes you feel a direct link from the gods…and other times cursed by them…the best way i've found is just to work your way through…everyday…the blessed days will make you feel great and often a cursed session can be rescued by the end…in any event, just the physical contact with instrument is always good…limber fingers…even if the brain is less than receptive

carry on

cheers

ps - on a practical level, some sort of accompaniment may help…whether it be some kind of beat machine or program..or even a looper pedal…heck even some of these small digi amps have fairly advanced beats now

4

I practise an hour every day on average: warm-up with arpeggios and fingerpicking exercices, then work on a specific piece of music. I tend to alternate musical styles (some jazz, some country, some classic rock, some Chet/Reed/Dadi tunes) and explore others genres (classical, bossa,gipsy, etc). Never played in a band though, so no pressure. Just pure unadulterated fun. That's what has been keeping me going for 35 years !

5

Often times practicing lately just feels like 'going through the motions', and I hate that. I haven't been in a performing band (or even one that wouldn't get to the performing stage) in over a year and not only do I miss performing, I miss the motivation to be a better player that playing with a group gave me.

Being primarily a horn player, and historically using guitar more for composition, I thought I should use this 'band hiatus' to improve my guitar skills. In some ways I have gotten better; most people who hear me play think I'm a pretty decent guitar player, but that was true a while ago and the truth is, I'm not; I really only know my own material. I have a pretty good ear so I can fake it, but the truth is I don't think playing guitar will ever feel as natural to me as sax does; where I don't hardly have to think about what I'm doing and can just play. I'm stuck in this place where I know lots of chords and patterns, but none of them are conventional and I don't have the patience or desire (without a band) to force myself to go back and 'fill in the gaps' in my guitar skill set. In other words (and in contrast to playing sax), on guitar I just don't play well with others. So right now practicing isn't very inspiring at all.

6

For me it's that same ebb and flow described by others. I find that there comes a time when you don't really need to practice per se as my hands do what I want them to do so it's more about perfecting performance and introducing new material to my repertoire.

I rehears with the band once a week and go busking, sit out on the balcony and play or go find a nice spot around the city and just play my acoustic and sing a half dozen songs or so.

When there is a technique I need to learn for a particular song, I work out the logistics of it, work through getting the neural pathways established and then play it over and over with a metronome until I have it locked down.

I find inspiration comes when I open up to the world around me and let it in. Often I find myself the cause of the doldrums and try and change my mood by changing my routine.

7

Get Jamie's new book, "The Deeper I Go, The Deeper It Gets". Jamie not only teaches the mechanics of playing, but also teaches how to train your mind to play.

http://www.guitarprinciples...

8

Thanks Hermitt, I'll keep an eye out for that book...

9

the best way i've found is just to work your way through…everyday…the blessed days will make you feel great and often a cursed session can be rescued by the end…in any event, just the physical contact with instrument is always good…limber fingers…even if the brain is less than receptive - neatone<

Well said neatone. Actually, this has been a lifelong mantra for me. Kind of a "play and it will come" philosophy. It doesn't always come (obviously), but I do try to keep on playing...

10

I find inspiration comes when I open up to the world around me and let it in. Often I find myself the cause of the doldrums and try and change my mood by changing my routine. - Jetrow<

Another fine example of a "thinking" musician's insight inward!

Good stuff as always gents. No, we are not alone...

11

Well General, I guess I'm in a different boat. I play in a band, that keeps me inspired to practice. Also get together with a couple of buddies during the colder months for some finger picking. I got the chords to "Ain't Misbehavin'" out of one of those sessions and am working on a Chet style arrangement of said piece. And then there's the occasional one-off solo gig where I have to provide a couple of short instrumental pieces. And there's a CD in my future, which I haven't done much with in the last couple of weeks. But it's hanging over my head. A couple of weeks ago, there was the Kansas State Fiddling & Picking championships where I entered the finger picking guitar contest. No, I didn't place this year. But the thought of next year should keep me in the woodshed for the next 11 months.

I need projects, goals, to keep me working. Short term stuff like those one-off gigs, and jamming with my finger picking buddies; continuous stuff like the band, long range stuff like next years' Fiddling & Picking Championships, and longer range stuff like that CD I mentioned. And I hope I've gotten better since last years' KC Roundup. Oh yeah....a Roundup, that would be something to keep me in the woodshed. 'Cause it sure was a treat to trade licks with Richard Hudson.

12

General- I haven't played in a band in years and only stand in on occasion with groups I know out there. The other side of me is a solo acoustic musician and that's tough to do because of work.

What keeps the flavor, juices flowing, or the spice hot? Simple. I love music so much I want to be a part of it. I love playing. Call it what you like.....practicing, noodling, figuring things out, structured sessions, etc..... I just love playing. Add to the fact that my taste in not only listening, but "being part of it", means that I need to learn more to be a part of it. The greatest thing yet is that the learning part is on my terms.....my classroom, my rules, my curriculum.

For example, take tonight......I've had some jazz quartet/quintet music stuck in my head. Certain melodies came from that and I've felt the need to get my abilities to create some music for that genre. It doesn't matter that I don't have the acoustic hollow body I want for it yet, my Taylor and my Black Phoenix proved to be useful tools that helped me create some music that I liked being able to create. It gave me pleasure and satisfaction.

The jazzy stuff lasted just over an hour tonight and that led to another 45 min. playing some acoustic Springsteen and learning the songs as I might need to if I were to play them in a coffee house.

I don't need a gig to kick me into gear. I dream of he music and since that isn't good enough......I play it.

13

Having upcoming gigs is the only thing that makes me practice in a way that meaningfully improves my playing. Otherwise I play a lot, but really just noodling a few minutes here and there when I get the chance; enough to maintain a certain level of playing, but doesn't really push it on. A few more spare hours in the day would help.

14

What neilclasper said.

I am, therefore I gig, although there have been periods in my life when, due to various circumstances, band activities have ceased, in which case so did the playing. In fact during the '80s I don't think I even owned a guitar.

Unless I'd developed as a solo performer (heaven forbid), the idea of endless guitar playing at home just to play to myself or the wall would drive me nuts, although I appreciate that's a choice quite happily made by many others. Different strokes etc.

What I'll do when the band kicks me out for being too old and doddery, or when I realise I can't do it anymore, I don't know what I'll do.

15

Teach someone. You will help someone,your playing will improve as a result. Just a suggestion.

16

Teaching! That's a great comment! There's nothing like getting a new appreciation of your home town like giving somebody a tour of it. I try to practice somewhat oddball stuff that stretches me. I'll learn a gong I know I'll never play out, or steal licks from sax players. And discover the difference between playing and practicing.

17

I get there sometimes. The Human animal wants to be with the Human animal and when you're off alone and learning it does get a little lonely. Sometimes I'll just put the guitar down and turn on the TV just to get break the funk. After a few minutes I'll hit mute and go on my merry way or just do a little more the next day.

18

I've worked alone, for an inordinate amount of time, to learn how to sing, adequately, while playing my guitar, horribly.

19

Great comments from honest men. I do appreciate it...

20

I recently came off of antidepressants after a few years on as I've felt a lot better in life generally lately and have had loads of energy, but have found that while the rest of my life is pretty fantastic now, I've been horrifically neglecting my music. I haven't written anything, learned to play anything new, or barely done any practice at all in months now.

I'd like to blame it on not having an acoustic anymore (and waiting for the ones I have on consignment to sell so I can get a 9550 because that's what I'd love) but I think that's just an excuse.

Lately when I pick up the guitar, the 'mojo' isn't there. I think mostly it's this weird thing where I want myself to be better than I am. I see all my muso buddies finally getting their shit together and getting albums out, and that's just made me feel more down about being so slack about mine. Working out how to get this home recording thing going just seems like more effort than I have time for, and the whole thing just gets me down a bit.

I'm certain that my playing has gotten sloppier again too.

I also often feel that I have nothing to write songs about (which I am pretty sure is untrue). Perhaps it's just the creative beast and I need to get back into The Artist's Way or something....

I'm thinking forcing myself to practice for at least a certain number of minutes every day is looking like a good option. I miss regularly performing with people (even when it was just open mics/smaller events and I was on my own, but around other musos).

21

Practice, per se, is actually new to me on the guitar. My folks forced me into piano at seven. When I switched to trombone at eleven, lessons were in the cards. I took bass lessons starting around 14. When I picked up the guitar at 19, I mostly screwed around, played along with Neil Young, Fugazi, Sabbath and Jawbreaker albums and jammed with friends.

Suddenly, at 38, practice has become something that I want to do. I play every day that I'm home. There's usually plenty of mindless widdling and sound-making. Rarely, these days, do I play actual songs. But I also work in whatever new skill I feel I need to develop. Whether that's a new scale or chord (yeah, I got by for nearly 20 years on power chords, octaves and a couple of other shapes involving three strings, max), familiarity with a new area of the fretboard (I'd rarely felt comfortable above the 12th fret before), or simply playing in time at various tempos, I make sure to work in some greens with my dessert. Of course, I may practice dilligently for ten minutes, then play freely for 10, then go back to practicing. It's not really defined or set.

But I will tell you this, at 38, I'm a much, much better player than I ever was. There was a decade where I barely played at all and now, suddenly, it makes sense to me. And if it doesn't make sense, uncovering the mystery is a new, exciting thing, not a ball-breaking exercise in anxiety. I've always been a decent-to-excellent musician (depending on the instrument and genre), but I've never been a particularly good guitar player. It's really nice to feel that beginning to change. The fact that I'll never master it has become a joy, rather than a deterrent.

Sometimes, aging is kind of great.

22

Often times practicing lately just feels like 'going through the motions', and I hate that. I haven't been in a performing band (or even one that wouldn't get to the performing stage) in over a year and not only do I miss performing, I miss the motivation to be a better player that playing with a group gave me.

Being primarily a horn player, and historically using guitar more for composition, I thought I should use this 'band hiatus' to improve my guitar skills. In some ways I have gotten better; most people who hear me play think I'm a pretty decent guitar player, but that was true a while ago and the truth is, I'm not; I really only know my own material. I have a pretty good ear so I can fake it, but the truth is I don't think playing guitar will ever feel as natural to me as sax does; where I don't hardly have to think about what I'm doing and can just play. I'm stuck in this place where I know lots of chords and patterns, but none of them are conventional and I don't have the patience or desire (without a band) to force myself to go back and 'fill in the gaps' in my guitar skill set. In other words (and in contrast to playing sax), on guitar I just don't play well with others. So right now practicing isn't very inspiring at all.

– Rhythmisking

Trombone was far and away the instrument I was best at. I really never had to think to play it. I had a teacher who was a tone junkie, so he made sure I got that wired. I think about hauling out the horn now and then. It's been over 20 years since I've picked it up. I totally feel a lot of what you're saying, Rhythmisking, and I only feel like recently that I've finally hit the other side of the divide, where I don't feel like a complete fraud on the guitar.

I'm actually really enjoying filling in those gaps.

23

The fact that I'll never master it has become a joy, rather than a deterrent. - DoubleFourValve. <

I find your experience in music building and discovery most inspiring DoubleFourValve.
Sounds as though you've got a serious grip on what and how to practice. I too have discovered various hidden inclinations and developing skills along the way. Outside of guitar playing that is. For instance, I was focused for several years on the art and mechanics of song writing and probably attained my highest level of a kind of "natural" musicianship through my experiences within that process. Producing and arranging were natural extensions of that particular craft and I've spent many more countless hours honing those skills.

Of course this has given me a lot of new and valuable insight into my first love - the guitar. Returning to that discipline with a vengeance rather late in my journey. Ironically, I find that I'm probably the least talented in that particular art. An insight that causes me no end of self doubt on a daily basis. Still, I persist. I gotta keep believing that this elusive mistress I call my "career" in guitar, will give up at least a few of her more deeply hidden secrets, before I become too old to translate or really understand them. And as you so aptly point out - the joy is definitely in the chase. But then so too, is the frustration...

24

Certainly I could be better. There are songs to learn, techniques to master, sounds to be found. Play with CD's use a looper, the computer, anything that forces you to keep up. Even just a delay can impose some rhythm to keep. But if you don't feel like it... I know very good players who don't practice. But they do play out more. Lately I just look at it for a while, clear my mind, and play whatever comes out. Maybe there's a song in there. Then I can work on lyrics and a beat, and THEN I will beat myself up about practicing so that I can execute.

25

I found inspiration and good advice on practicing from a new book called The Practice of Practice. I found out about the book on a Django web forum. I haven't had time to check out the website, but here's the link: thepracticeofpractice.com


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