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October is National Practice Awareness Month

Let's get one thing out of heads from the very start. Practice does not make perfect. There is no such thing as perfect. It is myth, it is illusion, and it is a destructive concept because it will never be obtained. I have seen too many musicians cripple under the perception that perfection is an ideal that should be pursued. Practice is about making habits permanent. Our goal is to be excellent. Excellence can be achieved without being perfect. And of course, practice is the key!

This months focus in is on practice habits. Not just that as musicians we should practice, but also highlighting specific things to practice. Upcoming blogs will focus on specific areas of practice - Warm-Up, Technique, Jazz Language, and Repertoire.

There are some pretty interesting things that we know about developing skills. We know that we get better at what we repeatedly do. We also know that there are some people that seem to know how to do this more efficiently than others. Painting in broad strokes- Athletes and Musicians seem to have wired their brains to know how to efficiently develop skills. It is a process that Daniel Coyle in his book, The Talent Code, calls "Deep Practice." Deep Practice means that we are breaking something down into small parts (Chunk It), repeating it many, many times (Repeat It), and analyzing our process to correct any mistakes that we detect (Learn to Feel It). Part of the point is that this process generally isn't fun. If it was fun, everyone would do it! Everyone would have their scales memorized, everyone would transcribe, everyone would improvise on Confirmation, and everyone would be a great jazz musician. The truth is that only those that seek out intentional improvement develop the skill to be successful.

Think of it this way. If I were to tell you I was going to practice basketball, you might ask me what I was going to work on. If I answered, "I already told you, basketball!" You probably wouldn't think real highly of my answer. But if I answered, "Freethrows," you might feel more confident that I would make improvement (Chunk It). So, if I stood at the line, took one free throw and decided I was done with that aspect skill set- was that practice? No way. I will take 100 free throws (Repeat it). And along the way you would see me visualize my shot, focus on just my arm movement, my folllow-through, or even my lower body (Learn to Feel It). This is practice, and it is the same process musicians go through. Being specific about small chunks of our playing, building repetition into our practice, and actively detecting and correcting mistakes.

When we go through this process, we develop myelin in our brains. You see, most of our brain is full of this fatty substance. When one neuron fires across the synapse another catches the signal. The myelin is attracted to its pathway- forming kind of a circuit. Think of the myeline as forming a wire between two nuerons. As we repeat motions and concepts this wire becomes thicker, more define. The circuit is more efficient. Suddenly, a skill is developed. Biological that is was skill is - a well develop neural pathway! It might sound boring, but this is what your practice time does, it wires your brain and improves existing wiring. The better wiring you develop, the more "skill" you have on your instrument.

So that is a relatively quick rundown of how and why practice works. Throughout the month, posts will dissect specific parts of a practice session and highlight things that are especially good for jazz musicians to practice. If you got this far - make sure to subscribe to be notified of future posts- or click on the membership tab to take full advantage of online lessons, practice resources, and improvisation guides.

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