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Johnny Tone
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Club Wood is the band, Johnny Tone is the man!
Club Wood is the band, Johnny Tone is the man!

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How To Practice Your Instrument

Most of us using Logic Pro are probably coming from a musical background. It’s more than likely that we play at least one instrument with at least some modest level of ability. When I started out, I was fortunate to have some great teachers. I think one of the fundamental roles of a music teacher is to show you not only what to practice, but also how to practice your instrument effectively and efficiently. For those of us who are self-taught, we’ve developed ways of practising that work for us. But if we are being completely honest with ourselves, we can all always find ways of getting more from our practice time.

Schedule a Regular Time

Let’s face it. A large part of becoming successful at knowing how to practice your instrument, is being disciplined. I’m personally a big believer in the value of routine. So much of our lives is constantly changing and in flux, that I personally value any part of it that I can keep regular and hold onto amidst everything else.

So, try and find a regular time that you can practice. Make it “your time”, just for you and your instrument. Try not to book or plan anything else at that time. Keep it sacred. Think of it as quality “alone” time for you and your passion – music. It doesn’t have to be every single day, it can be a couple of times a week. Or even a couple of times a month. And it doesn’t matter if it is twenty minutes, or two hours. Find what works best for you, your lifestyle, and your level of interest in furthering your playing abilities. But try and keep it regular. Personally, I find a certain degree of satisfaction in the mere act of the routine aspect of it.

Don’t Practice Stuff You Know. Practice Stuff You Don’t Know

This may seem obvious, but it isn’t. It’s so easy to get into the habit of picking up your instrument and just running scales, riffs, exercises, or tunes that you already know. While this is still useful, it’s better than not picking up your instrument at all, it’s not usually the best way to optimize your practice time.

Instead of practicing things you already know, focus the bulk of your practice time on the things you are less up to speed with. This is how you grow as a musician and develop new repertoire of licks, riffs, songs, etc. To give you some ideas: try playing what you know in other keys. Hell, try playing them in all twelve keys! That’ll keep you busy for a while. Try taking things in major keys and practice them minor keys, and vice versa. If you don’t read music well, maybe try some simple reading exercises. If you do read music well, try transcribing something you don’t know by ear. If you need some new exercises or scales patterns, or other things to work on, you are never more than a Google search away from a  treasure trove of ideas for inspiration.

How To Practice Your Instrument – Take it Slow

Again, this may seem obvious, but it’s not. One of the first lessons I learned was to practice whatever I am working on slowly, and make sure I am getting it right before bumping up the speed. On a technical level, it’s important to make sure you aren’t learning things “wrong” and developing bad technique habits that will be hard to break later. It’s tempting to get excited with a new idea and to want to play it fast right away because it sounds so cool. But take the time to work out the optimal fingering, sticking, positioning, or whatever technical aspects apply to your instrument.  Any bad habits you inadvertently incorporate into your playing will take tenfold the amount of time to undo later on.

How To Practice Your Instrument – Get the Notes Right

I know – obvious, right? Not so much. When you are learning something new, make sure you actually have all the right notes. This applies to scales, riffs, patterns, song, and solos you are learning by ear or reading from a page, whatever. Make sure you actually have all the notes right before you start committing what you are working on to both mental and muscle memory. This ties in with the previous point about practicing slowly. When you bump up the speed too quickly, it is easy to miss a few notes. And before you know it, you’ve spent weeks playing or practicing something wrong.

How To Practice Your Instrument- Practice Mindfully

Depending on what you are working on, repetition is one of the most valuable forms of practice. We need to run exercises over and over in order to incorporate them into our playing. It’s a fundamental part of learning to play music. The problem is, it’s all to easy to just zone out and mindlessly run up and down scales and patterns.

Make sure to stay focused instead of letting your mind wander. Concentrate on what you are doing. Are your fingers, or hands moving precisely as they should be? Are you getting all the notes right? Do they all sound even in tone and volume? Are the accents and dynamics all being executed correctly? Are any of your muscles hurting because of bad positioning, posture, technique, etc. Are there specific little sections that present technical problems? If so, slow them down and work on them.

How To Practice Your Instrument – Set Goals

I think it’s good to have an eye on the prize as incentive to stick with your practice routine. Set goals. They can be small or big. For example: aim to play something you are working on at a specific tempo by next week. Or aim to memorize a song you are working on and play it without music at your next practice time. Or, maybe just a section of a song. Or aim to play something you are working on in a few different keys by the end of your practice session. Or, set a goal to practice your reading and get to the bottom of the page without stopping.  There all kinds of small goals you can focus on. Don’t make them unattainable or set them so that they will take years to achieve. Focus on small goals to start with.

How To Practice Your Instrument – Record Yourself!

If there is one thing that we are all set up to do, it is record ourselves! Don’t worry about the click, and the mic, and the levels, and the plug-ins. Hit the record button in Logic and then listen back. Does it sound the way you thought it would when you were playing it? And I don’t mean the EQ or room ambiance. I am talking about your performance.

Maybe you’ll notice that some notes don’t quite sound as even as some others. Maybe your timing or tuning is off in certain places.  As you listen back, you are hearing the sound of pure naked truth staring you right in the ears. The recording doesn’t lie. That is what your playing sounds like. I think most of us tend to be overly self critical at this phase. I used to hate hearing myself back on recordings. Be gentle to yourself. It’s not as bad as you may initially think. The more you can focus in on what the specific problems are (rather than just taking an “it sucks” attitude), the more you can zero in on what you need to work on to correct them.

If all of this seems a little overwhelming, it isn’t. Just put aside some time, log out of Facebook, put your cell phone on mute, turn off your email alerts, close the door, pick up your instrument, and just play. That’s ultimately the bottom line on how to practice your instrument!
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We had some weekends ah just chillin. Now it freezing outside and we gotta get to work! BIG gigs comin up!
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