I decided to go in a different direction with my routine this week after three weeks of very regimented practice sessions.
Bill Lucas, Professor of Jazz Trumpet at the University of Michigan, once asked me if I ever sat in a practice room with no music and just played music. While this concept seemed a little foreign to me because I like to structure my practice sessions thoughtfully, I gave it a shot and was very pleased with the results. By introducing a sense of randomness to my daily routine, I was eliminating the voice in my head that would say: “Oh, you’re not so good at Snedecor #7, maybe you should just skip it.” Additionally, there was something liberating about walking into the practice room not knowing exactly what I was going to be working on that day.
However, I didn’t feel like this routine offered the same level of top to bottom maintenance that I was looking for in a daily routine. Simply put, it became a little difficult for me to remember exactly what I had done on Monday so as not to do the same thing on Saturday. I suppose I could have just written down what I had done, but I really wanted to feel like what I was doing was unregimented and somewhat random, so I tried to avoid writing things down or following a set routine as best I as a could. If anything, this proved to me that having a precise idea of a) exactly what I want to improve on and b) how I’m going to do it is by far the best way to ensure steady growth and avoid random practicing.
Here’s exactly what I did: I took two ziplock bags, and filled one with the names of the composers of the books I was working out of or the particular exercise (Arban, Kopprasch, Snedecor, Olka Giant Steps etc…) and the second with numbers 1-30. I then chose two exercises/studies from each section per day. Again, it was really nice to break away from having an extremely regimented routine, but I find that the regimented routine is a much better way to go in terms of ensuring growth and improvement.
BUT, it is important to not be a slave to a routine and simply do things because you think they may be good for you. I’ve found that the times I’ve felt like I’ve improved the most were times that I knew exactly what I needed to work on, and also knew exactly how to improve that part of my playing.
Two quotes I remember writing down from a Warren Deck/Floyd Cooley masterclass at ITEC a few years ago ring particularly true right now:
“It is important to remember a daily routine is not set in stone. It must be flexible to accommodate changes in yourself or your circumstance.”
“Your routine should be like home. Use it as a reference to gauge your needs, weaknesses and strengths.”