Practice: Just Do It

There isn't a person that I've met who truly and fundamentally enjoys practicing.  They may enjoy the results, the satisfaction of working hard, or be used to the routine.  But if you get down to the core of it, practice is unenjoyable.  The least glamorous aspect of music (or anything that demands it).  As a disclaimer it should be known that I am not a paragon of music nor practice, so please take my words with a heap of salt.

I wanted to discuss this today because despite any misgivings I may have towards practice, it is absolutely necessary.  As the wonderful Shia Labeouf said, "JUST DO IT."  The impetus behind this entry is two-fold, an experience I had at a concert and my own practice experience.

 I'll start with a concert I went to a month or two ago.  It was a singer-songwriter event where the acts were wonderful, but there were certainly moments of apprehension as well as some internal embarrassment for one of the acts.  That is the absolute worst feeling to have when you're watching someone perform.  (If you are an artist reading this, you should know that everyone watching wants you to succeed, as do you!  Also, there's a lot of feelings that go into performing, to hear my perspective, check out my journal post "After a Show.") Overall, they did fantastic, but the moments that went unrehearsed were apparent.  Speaking to them afterwards, they told me that they only prepared that week for the show.  Before that, for whatever reason, life had kept them from practice, and it showed.  For someone who has such high expectations of themselves but no discipline, it was a guarantee for the disappointment they felt after performing.  

This is such an avoidable issue.  Put in the time, and you will get the results.  For me, developing a routine is instrumental (yuk, yuk, yuk).  In a sense, I felt both bad for them and upset by them.  Bad for them because no one should get up on stage and be ashamed of their performance (I know that feeling plenty well.  Just ask me about my junior year elective recital at college), and upset because why the fuck not put in the fifteen minutes a day it takes.  Watch one less episode of 30 Rock per day and you can improve exponentially on whatever you want to get better at!  

This brings me to my own practice experience and why I gave the disclaimer above.  After reading all that, I can faithfully tell you that I don't practice everyday.  But wait! I do make time to do something that improves me musically everyday.  So even if I can't sit down at my guitar or mandolin, I make plenty sure to listen to some new music, read a blog, or look up some future things that I can use when I'm able to sit down next.

But what do I do when I am practicing?  Depends on what I'm working towards.  Sometimes practice is reviewing the songs I've written but haven't performed in a while and making sure that I can pull them out at any moment.  Sometimes it's writing a song.  It can even be trying to do something totally out of my comfort zone like make a beat. (Fair warning to anyone who clicks that link, it is a dumb song and I rap on it.  Listen at your own risk)  Most of the time, if I'm rehearsing for a show, I will make a setlist and play it relentlessly with banter until I don't mess up.  In reference to my conversation with the other performer, I usually only get to practice the week before, but because my practice is consistent I can afford to do that to my standards.  

As for what I get out of practice the most, the absolute best ROI for me, is learning songs from other people.  Right now, I'm trying to learn Familiarity by the Punch Brothers on mandolin.  It is way beyond my current skill level (Damn you Chris Thile), but because of how much I love the song it pushed me to do the more dreaded aspects of practice: Scales and Arpeggios with a metronome!  Of course the mandolin part is all arpeggios so that's kind of a give in.  But after working on that for a couple of hours this past Sunday I was able to significantly improve my skills.  When I began, I had the tempo at 100 BPM and by the end it was at 120.  That's only the first 10 measures, but who's counting?  The song is at 146 so there is plenty of work left to be done, but I am satisfied with the results and how I've pushed myself.  And that for me, is the bottom line.  That sense of improvement towards what I want to sound like motivates all of my practice.  It becomes tangible and meaningful, cathartic.  


So go practice! You'll thank yourself.


Thanks for reading and much love,

- Ian