IBMA Workshop: Maximizing Practice Time

lil_mike_reedThis post is a contribution from Mike Reed, one of our 2010 IBMA correspondents. See his profile here.

The IBMA workshop on “Maximizing Practice Time” was held today, presented by Ned Luberecki with Megan Lynch and Ryan Cavanaugh as panelists. As we have come to expect from Ned his approach to the workshop was light enough to make it entertaining, yet substantial enough to be quite beneficial.

Ned began the workshop by stating that it is relatively easy to maximize your practice time. All you need to do is quit your job, cancel the cable and get rid of your kids. I was a little concerned when a lot of the folks in the audience were nodding at that recommendation…

Megan Lynch, fiddle player currently touring with Pam Tillis (but with a background that includes contest fiddling, bluegrass and singer-songwriters), explained that each phase of her career required different approaches to practicing. In contest fiddling it was all about precision with long hours sitting next to a metronome. In working with singer-songwriters she had to be very “in the moment,” since most of it was created in real time, resulting in not much benefit from a strict practice routine. In bluegrass she had to emphasize the chord structure instead of working on scales. She noted that in bluegrass you really have to learn to listen to the other musicians and jam, jam and then jam some more. In country music you have to be able to play what’s on the record, so practice and preparation are essential.

Ryan Cavanaugh, banjo player for the jazz Bill Evans, noted that jazz is a language and you have to practice the language to create words as you go. He said that it is important to listen to yourself and make sure you sound human, playing with passion and emotion. He practices a lot (for one stretch more than 6 hours a day) to learn variation in his musical vocabulary.

Ned Luberecki, banjo Player for Chris Jones & the Nightdrivers, noted that too many students want to learn an instrument but are not willing to listen to those who do it well. He used as an example a banjo student who wanted to learn the banjo, but when asked who he listens to stated he didn’t listen to banjo music or own any banjo records. Megan added that “you have nothing to say if you’ve heard nobody speak.”

All three emphasized that listening to music has to be part of your practice routine. You have to know how it is supposed to sound. Megan recommended to listening for licks you want to learn over and over until you can sing or hum them before you try to play it.

Ryan reminded everyone not to measure your progress by what others have accomplished, but measure yourself against the goals you’ve set for yourself. Ned added that it helps to tape yourself playing so that you can both hear how you sound and how you present yourself when you’re playing. Megan added that she videotapes herself every January 1 and then watches to find one thing she needs to work on over the coming year.

Finally they all made the point that there is no substitute for putting in the practice time. Too many people want to be great players but are unwilling to put in the time, effort and sacrifice necessary to reach their goal. You can ask about what picks, strings & instruments the experts use but the bottom line is that they achieved that level of performance through long hours of practice.