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Practice Session Tips

In recent months I’ve been practicing a lot.  My father and I have spent a lot of time talking about Arnold Schultz and his techniques and concepts and some of it has resonated very strongly with me.

As I work on it, and as I record every practice session and listen to it, I continue to make interesting discoveries about my playing.  I think some of these things would be helpful for many other musicians so I thought I’d share a few.

My left hands leads. 
For many years I’d focused my attention on my right hand as the culprit for time and articulation issues.  I discussed it with Dave Weckl once and he suggested maybe it was my left hand.  After all this time it seems he was correct.  I’ve spent a lot of time practicing very softly, sometimes only articulating every 2 or 3 notes in the course of a fast passage (say 8th notes at ¼ note=300bpm) and realized that my left hand was kind off in…well…left field.  After clearing the confusion the right hand was causing out of the equation I was able to hone in on the left hand and realized that it hadn’t been carrying it’s own weight at all.  Now that I’ve brought the left hand into it’s proper role in the big picture, my right hand is left to play loud or soft, staccato or legato, warm or harsh…whatever.  It also really evens out the notes when you’re playing lines that are part right-hand articulated, and part hammered.  For me…for now…this starts happening once I exceed 1/8th notes at 1/4=300~320bpm.

Account for every note.  This is something else Weckl brought up with me and one of Anthony Jackson’s mantras.  I understood, of course, but was never able to wrap myself around the applied reality of it.  Now I see, though.  In the context of the Schultz paradigm, the consciousness is the conductor of what you do, and the motor nervous system is the executor.  In other words, you may consciously will a result, but the task of actually doing it needs to be delegated to the motor nervous system in order be done with accuracy and predictability.  In fact, this seems to me to be an absolute truth.  It’s hard to accept that we don’t directly consciously control our muscles…but we don’t.  Anyway, another thing the conscious mind does WHEN IMPROVISING in particular, is to establish WHAT to play and sort of reconcile it with the music.  I’ve been amazed at times when I’ve played lately that even in the context of an extremely fast or complicated line, I’m consciously aware of every single note that I’m GOING to play a split second before I play it.  Not groups or patterns, but every single detail.  This doesn’t happen constantly and in every situation yet as I haven’t really nailed the nervous coordination yet.  My goal is to be able to do that with everything all the time.

Legato seems to be the path to control.  For me, once I’m cool to play something very legato and perfectly in time, I can put any kind of articulation, dynamics, feel, etc. on it.  This is, again, more of a left hand issue.  Regardless of how you time the plucking of the note with the right hand, your left hand has to hold a note down as long as is possible before the next note is struck.  I know, it seems intuitive.  But when you’re really wailing around, the notes tend to get shorter because, I think, of an urgency to get the note sounded and get to the next one in time.  That tends to leave you relegated to playing the note however you can get it played, which often means the note name is the only factor that plays into your musical statement.  I believe this is part of where Victor Wooten is coming from with his “2 through 10” concept which points out to players that just the note name itself has only a small role in music.  Integrating other factors like articulation, dynamics, timbre, feel (and 5 more that I can’t remember…sorry Vic), and more specifically variations thereof, give the music much more meaning.

I hope this is helpful for somebody.  Keep working and remember, there’s no substitute for knowing what you’re doing!

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