A Fresh Approach to Practicing by Greg Fishman

I recently bought two of Greg Fishman’s books and am waiting for them to arrive as I write this. Greg sent me this article and I thought it was a great one so I’m posting it here. I’ll let you know what I think of Greg’s books after I get them and play through them. I’ve heard nothing but good things about them. Thanks, Steve

“Students often ask me how to develop a good practice routine. A good practice routine is essential in order to take your playing to the next level. When I think about the way I used to practice as a young player, all I can say is: “If I only knew then what I know now about the art of practicing!”

Throughout high school and college, I put in many hours per week of practice time, often eight hours a day. Much of it was productive, but often I was just spinning my wheels by practicing things that I could already play well. I wasn’t always challenging myself. Today, I can accomplish more in one hour than I used to in four hours. This is because I’ve learned what to practice, as well as how to practice.

It took me many years to understand the ways in which I internalize musical concepts. It was a very slow and tedious process of trial and error, but I finally learned the techniques that got the best results. To this day, I still use those same techniques to keep my own playing level up, yet now use only a fraction of the practice time I once needed.

That being said, there’s no denying the fact that at some point in your early years as a student, to really get on intimate terms with your instrument of choice, you’re going to need at least a three or four-year period of many hours of practice per day.

In this article, I’ll outline the techniques that have worked well for me over the years. You’ll find that practicing can be one of the most rewarding aspects of playing.

Some people tell me that they’re putting in an hour of practice a day, but they’re not improving and they’re frustrated. Practicing your instrument shouldn’t be like punching a time clock at work. If you force yourself to sit there with your instrument in your hands and practice while looking at the clock every few minutes to see if you’ve “put in your time,” you will not improve. As a matter of fact, you’ll start to dread picking up your instrument, because you’ll start to view practicing as a chore rather than an adventure.

Sometimes I’ll encounter students who tell me that they’re putting in an hour of practice per day, yet they’re not making much progress. In these cases, I’ll ask these students to show me exactly how they practice during that hour a day they’re spending at home. Inevitably, they’ll play through their scales, playing the easy ones quickly, then they’ll struggle through the harder ones with bad time and many mistakes, and then they’ll go on to a piece of music, which they play from the beginning to the end, full of mistakes, in a mechanical manner, with no feeling or interpretation. Then, they’ll play the song a few more times. After that, they usually lose their focus and start playing random licks. This is what I call “Time- oriented” practicing. The student doesn’t actually work on improving anything. He’s just playing what he can already play. Of course, any time spent on your instrument isn’t totally wasted. You will improve, but I think that this type of approach is the least efficient use of practice time.


Result-oriented practicing improves your productivity in the practice room. Your focus is now shifted from clock-watching to paying close attention to your progress on each musical goal. When practicing in this manner, it could take you four seconds, four minutes, four hours, four days, etc. You work on the musical goal until you start to hear improved results, and then you move on to the next item on your practice agenda.

Result-oriented practice focuses all of your energy on one musical goal at a time. This is a very efficient way to practice. For example, when working on scales, it might seem logical to think, “There are twelve major scales, and I’m going to work on them for one hour, dedicating five minutes to each scale.” In reality, you might need forty minutes worth of work in the key of Ab, Db and Gb and only twenty minutes or less on the remaining scales. A great solution for this is what I call the “Five Time Rule.” For the rest of the article go to Greg’s site at http://www.gregfishmanjazzstudios.com/practice.html

This article is © 2007 by Greg Fishman. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.

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