Practice Pt II - Technique
One of the reasons why solid technique is important is because it seems to lubricate the pathway of musical expression from the brain to the horn. "Getting around the horn" is a vital aspect of this process. The time that is spent gaining technical mastery over the instrument is time that paves the way for personal expression. So what does this aspect of practicing look like? It looks like scale memorization, patterns, time spent with the metronome.
Here are some tips:
Use a metronome
The metronome is one of the most important tools a musician has. Obviously it is providing a consistent pulse, but it is more than that. It is really doing three things at once. For starters, the metronome provides a measure of objectivity to how well we are doing on our scales. If the goal is to perform faster, then being objective of where the tempo is at becomes of critical importance. The second thing a metronome does is help to develop an innate sense of time through our musical technique. The third, and often overlooked, benefit of using a metronome is developing an awareness of what pitches are falling on the beat. For developing good bebop language this is a skill that is absolutely critical. For instance, strong harmonic/melodic lines will have chord tones (1-3-5-7) on the beat and passing tones (2-4-6) on the up beats. Yes- that is painting with a broad stroke, there are of course exceptions to this rule, or places where it is bent to create tension. But the bottom line is the better improvisers are better because they understand their musical line in relationship to the pulse. So, use a metronome.
Technique practice is about honing the connections between mind and instrument. This process can't be rushed. There is an age-old adage that the good musicians practice slow, but the great ones practice slower. During this time, you are engaging in that "brain-wiring" approach that I reference in October is Practice Awareness Month
Not all, but much of technique development is practicing scales. To really gain from this, we need to have technique goals that continue progress us into different things. Once you have developed the ability to play major scales in all twelve keys, work on dominants, or dominant bebop scales. Add scale patterns to your practice. Or once you can play scales in one octave go for two! Too many musicians stagnate simply because they stop feeding themselves new technical goals.
Overall, I think this part of a musicians practice is pretty straight-forward. And, it is an area of practice that probably feels the most like....practice. The most salient point here is be be intentional about what it is we are working on, be aware of when we have reached a point of master, and keep finding new things to work on.