Now it’s time to create your daily practice ritual.
There are 7 main components that make up the basic framework of a practice ritual.
Obviously, your goals and plans (from the last post) comprise a significant part of the framework.
But there are a few other pieces that will go a long way towards making your practice sessions MUCH more productive.
Word to the wise: ALL of the things we’re talking about in this series are very personal to you.
From your musical values to your big why to your ultimate vision to your goals, targets & plans…and right down to your daily ritual…
It’s all gotta work for YOU. There’s no ‘right way’ per se. If you take a look at Trane’s practice habits vs. Miles’ practice habits you’ll find two entirely different approaches.
This is an example of what is called personal mode. Everyone’s got their own best way of doing ‘the process’.
That said, if you haven’t yet figured out a good practice process – one that gets you the results you want and is also sustainable – I would recommend you just start with this framework and do it for a month.
Start with a time frame that you will actually stick with. I.E. Be realistic about the time you have available and the time that you actually WILL practice. In fact if you ‘THINK’ you’ll be able to do 40 minutes a day – start with half of that – do just 20 minutes a day.
You gotta think long term here. If twenty minutes a day is all you can do at first, do that. Set yourself up to win at first. When that becomes habit it will relatively easy to scale up and eventually put in the kind of time you want to.
Then work out your ritual and stick with it for a good month. After a month you can reevaluate things. What worked for you? What didn’t? At this point you can begin to experiment with your ritual, fine tune it and ultimately work out your own best way of progressing.
Make sense? Good. So…
Without further delay, let’s jump right in.
A Framework for Your Ritual
This framework is in order. In other words you’ll start with #1 each day and move consecutively through the entire ritual.
A lot of cats will say to them selves “I’m going to practice for 1 hour everyday.” Then they spend the first 20 minutes looking for sheet music, restringing their guitar, setting up their instrument, finding a good reed, downloading a practice track, etc. That’s all stuff for the entrance (and exit) ramps.
You must take these activities into consideration when planning out your daily practice. When I was at Berklee I had to set up and break down my drums every single time I wanted to practice. It was a pain in the butt. But it was the reality of the situation, so I did it. I also had to account for that time when planning my daily practice. If I wanted to start practicing at 12 I had to arrive at the practice room a good 30 minutes early so I could sign out a room, walk to the practice rooms, lug my gear over to my room, set it up, tune, get out my books, metronome, CD player for play-alongs, etc.
All of that stuff takes time. That’s just reality. So you must build in these entrance ramps into your daily ritual. This will make your practicing less stressful, less rushed and much more productive.
The alternative is to always fall short and run out of time. Thus you always fail to follow through on some aspect of your practice plan. That’s never a good idea. Instead build this reality into your daily process.
So, entrance ramps are technically a type of preparation. But in step two this is more of a ‘getting focused’ kind of preparation.
- Start by quickly reading and reviewing your foundation. Read through your Big Why and Your Ultimate Vision. Just to keep them ‘top of mind’.
- Then take a look at your current goals, targets and practice plan.
- Review your practice journal from yesterday. This will help give you clarity about where you left off, what you need to focus on and what you need to practice today.
- Then based on that information get clear about what results you want to achieve today.
Taking a few minutes to get clear about where you’re going, where you are and what EXACTLY you want to achieve TODAY will make your practice sessions exponentially more productive. AKA You’ll get better faster!
Warm Up/Get In State
This is where we get into the right state of mind, wake up our ears, warm up our bodies and get ready to get down to business.
This is totally personal. Every musician I know has a different warm-up up ritual.
- Yours might include stretching or meditation.
- It might include long tones or breathing exercises.
- It could include playing through a simple melody.
- Or you might play through super slow scales or arpeggios.
The only thing I will say about your warm-up is that it should be short. It’s meant to get you warmed up not fatigue your chops or mind.
I think a good warm up is about 10-15 minutes max. Save the practice for the next section. The warm-up is just to get into the practice state.
Main Body of Practice
This is what you might call your practice routine. This section takes up the majority of your daily practice ritual.
This is when you work on the practice plan you crafted earlier in this series. This is when you work on specific topics, targets and aim at getting a little better in each area, each day.
I structure my main body of practice using a simple work/rest cycle. I’ll explain in a second.
Remember, the quality of your practice is directly proportionate to the level of concentration and mindfulness that you bring to the practice room. And most people can only hold a high level of concentration for somewhere between 30 and 90 minutes. You’ll have to experiment to find your sweet spot.
The moral of the story is that you need to take breaks in order to get the most benefit from your practice sessions.
Too long without a break and you will go numb and enter into ‘zombie practice mode’.
Again, it’s not the amount of time spent practicing that matters per se, it’s what happens during that time.
That is what I call a work cycle. It’s what I use to practice. And it’s also what I use to work on my teaching business – to write blog posts like this one, create courses, make videos etc.
It helps me to be ultra productive by giving my brain a little rest. I also benefit greatly from having structure in my day. I use a timer to keep track of my practice/work cycles. Without structure I tend to flit around from thing to thing getting very little done.
So I build intense structure into my day and week. But I also leave plenty of totally unstructured time to do WHATEVER I feel like.
There’s no right way to practice or produce. You’ll have to experiment with your process and find what works with you. I’m merely sharing what works for myself and a lot of other musicians.
Play for the Spirit of the Music
This is when you simply play for fun, for the spirit of jazz. So not everything you do is ‘work’ and practice. I think it’s important to remember to do this.
When I was a kid I played drums purely for the fun of it. I loved the sound and the energy. And jumping behind the kit really made me feel great.
Overtime I became serious about music. And I began to practice more and more and more. And after awhile I had all but lost touch with the feeling I used to get ‘playing’. When that happens music becomes an uninspired dispassionate drag.
Working hard and being disciplined about your music is important. But we all know how ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. You need to keep that playful spirit alive. Because you need to tap into it on the bandstand.
Therefore I believe it is very important to make ‘playing’ a part of your regular process. You can put it into the beginning, the middle or the end of your practice sessions. Typically, it’s the last thing I do so I end on a joyful note.
No matter how you choose to do it, just play. Play free. Play a tune you love. Play a long with your favorite records. Whatever you have fun doing.
This is the opposite of entrance ramps of course. Having a good exit ramp will go a long way in making tomorrows session productive.
Your exit ramp should only take a few minutes. This is the time when you put your axe away. Clean your horn, wipe down your strings, turn off your amps, wrap up your cables, etc, etc.
You’ll also want to straighten your practice area, put your sheet music away so you can find it easily tomorrow, etc.
Your practicing and your practice area is sacred. So take a few minutes to close down your practice session the right way. So that tomorrow you can easily pick right back up and get started. So you know where everything you need is, and so you’re taking care of your axe over time.
Reflection and Preparation
Now it’s time to reflect on what you’ve done today. Again, this last section should just take a few minutes. But over time this will make you incredibly productive and help you dial in your process.
Get out your journal and write a few notes about today’s session. This will give you a log of your progress over time. And it will also help you pick up tomorrow at the exact spot you left off.
- Did you hit your practice targets?
- Where did you hit and where did you miss?
- What’s working?
- What’s not?
Reflect on your session and jot down a few notes and some new/updated targets for tomorrow. Again, quickly review your big picture goals and get clear on what you’ll do when you pick up in the next session.
There you have it.
Now, it may seem like a lot. But once you have done it a few times it will go very fast. In fact most steps of this ritual will only take a few minutes. Especially once you get the ball rolling. With the exception of the ‘Main Body’ section of course.
When you’ve got a good ritual in place and it starts to become habit, it can be truly breathtaking how fast you can learn and progress with your playing. And there’s just about nothing that feels as good as continuously getting better as a musician.
Table of Contents
1. The Ultimate Secret to Learning Jazz
2. The Core Philosophies of Musical Success
3. The Big Jazz Puzzle: Part 1
4. The Big Jazz Puzzle: Part 2
5. The Big Jazz Puzzle: Part 3
6. Mindset & Mental Clarity
7. Laying Your Foundation For Musical Success
8. Creating Your Master Practice Plan
9. Putting Your Daily Practice Ritual In Place
10. Maximizing Your Musical Progress