Here I would like to add a few aspects and
observations that I find particularly important.
Focus | Focus in working with the instrument is a great challenge. One reason for this is also that today there is such a wealth of exercise material available in the form of sheet music, play-alongs and audio documents that this conveys the idea that one »has« the material, which makes it seem only half as interesting. The plentiful availability of material is no doubt a »service« of the times we live in, but we have to learn how to use the material in the right way for it to serve its purpose. More important than the question of what to work on seems to me to be today: What should we leave out in order to make time for devoting ourselves in depth to the really crucial subject matters? A quote by the pianist Fred Hersch seems to me very relevant here: »If you want to get a deep understanding for the music, you just need to go deep«.
Awareness of tradition | While taking great care in choosing your study material, books and methods that you decide to work with, you should see thesignificance of this material in relation to the many audio documents of the great representatives of jazz. This music is no longer part of everyday culture, which is why the diversity of historic audio material that would today actually be available is somewhat neglected. Whether it is necessary to study the performances of great musicians is a question everyone needs to answer for themselves. It is important to emphasize though that searching, i.e. listening, for the gems in the perfomances of Louis Armstrong, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Kenny Dorham, Roy Eldridge, Chet Baker, Booker Little, Miles Davis, Art Farmer, Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, Tom Harrell, Randy Brecker, Ralph Alessi etc is a very worthwile experience and at least equally important as the study of specialized didactic material. Transcribing (listening, notating and reproducing models) is an essential activity, despite the fact that much that is heard on audio documents can today also be purchased in print. The aim here is not to seek your artistic expression in the copy. Rather, it is the complex learning process that we undergo when listening repeatedly to pieces of music that have a particular appeal for us. Detailed reproduction teaches us more about melodic concepts, phrasing, sense of rhythm and auditory image than we can learn from studying books.
Repetition | Repetition is an essential principle for motoric and mental learning. This is however only valid as long as one is mentally involved in the repetition. Frequent repetition exhausts the mind and your challenge is to devise an exercise in such a way that you achieve the same results with a variation or a different task, or else recognize the right moment for a break.
Economy | Due to the considerable physical exertion involved one can only spend a limited number of hours practicing per day. Make sure to alternate the focus of your physical strain in your daily practice schedule, and taking a break at the right time is a key factor for ensuring learning progress.
Listening | From the perspective of playing together, virtuosity depends on being able to listen. That seems to be self-evident, but in a musical culture that relies heavily on play-along as an aid one has to work very consciously on active listening. Being able to connect with other people on stage in the sense of a dialog depends on this special quality. Being primarily concerned with yourself and your instrument often precludes this in practice. Presence of mind requires attention to your direct environment, as much as to yourself.
Session culture | A qualitatively meaningful session culture depends on a number of preconditions. They include, besides the common repertoire, impartiality, responsible action, openness, letting yourself be stimulated by others (in the sense of interaction), willingness to take risks, constructive error management - liberated from fear, reflective listening, awareness for the distribution of roles, shared joy in playing etc. A common repertoire (without sheet music on the music stand), with pieces in different tempi, a limited number of soloists per piece and concise solos can make a session culture interesting for everybody.
Error management | In improvisation, error management and willingness to take risks are two closely connected issues that have a direct impact on improvised playing. Taking an error (an unforseen event) too seriously sooner or later leads to a diminished willingness to take risks. Improvised playing with the ostensible aspiration to make no mistakes is the worst possible precondition for artistic expression. The process of one's own inner assessment15 is based on a mechanism by which perception is reduced to this one event and everything else is suddenly blocked out. It is this process of assessment (and not the »wrong note« in itself) that turns the mistake into a problem because it separates the musician from the further flow of the music. To be prepared free of fear for the unforeseeable is a question of confidence and inner bearing. In order to develop either of them you sometimes need to step outside your comfort zone.
Pleasure | Being able to enjoy the fact that the members of the band did some great playing is a special quality nowadays, in times where personal fulfilment is an essential motif. Showing emotional interest in a successful performance is an important element for the band and creates a team spirit among the ensemble on stage.
Copyright 2017 - Manfred Paul Weinberger