Practicing With Focus

One of my biggest weaknesses when I was a kid was practicing without a specific focus. I wanted to do it all, play everything, be the best. I wanted results now. I would spend endless hours in the practice room practicing everything. My problem was I wasn’t focused. I didn’t set goals. Instead of getting excited that I was getting good at the one thing I was practicing, I would feel anxiety that I was missing out on something because I was too focused on that one thing. I would bounce from one thing to another. Learn bits and pieces of things but not truly master them. The greatest thing I’ve learned as I’ve grown older is that I do best when I focus on one thing and set goals. The times I’ve grown the most are when I did this. ex. 1.) One summer I spent the whole summer practicing my Major and Dominant bebop scales 2.) One time for 4-5 months I just practiced my Major approaches in every key. 3.) One time I practiced my Major and minor scale patterns in every key for 2-3 months………. These times stick out in my memory because I focused on one thing. Set some goals and practiced like crazy. I have them down. I might get a little rusty but I can still play those things I practiced even 20 years later.
Many of my students tend to make the same mistakes I made. They just play to play or they have a list of twenty different things they are working on everyday. If you can do that and it’s effective, great. As the teacher, I recommend getting focused on one thing and getting it down. I tell my students they have to learn things so well that they don’t even have to think about it. It’s an exaggeration but my point is that jazz happens at such a fast pace it has to be almost like a reflex. You don’t want to spend all your mental energy thinking about scales or chords or licks. You want to be spending your time thinking about what you will play or listening to the rhythm section your playing with so you can communicate musically.
My advice is to usually work on three things. 1. Ear training 2. Learning a tune 3. An improvisational device. For me, this has been the most effective way to practice. If I do those three things everyday I keep moving ahead and growing as a musician. Thanks, Steve

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

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