As a music major, I am intimately familiar with the questions that haunt all music majors daily. Am I practicing enough? Am I practicing correctly? How does my practice schedule compare with my peers? Do some people really have time to sleep?
My name is Isaiah Sanderman, I'm a jazz saxophone student at Roosevelt University, and I started this website to understand how musicians are practicing in colleges and conservatories. While there are many books and several websites that discuss practice, here I will document the real practice routines of real musicians. If you are a musician of any level, regardless of instrument or age, you can understand exactly how individuals like you are progressing through repertoire, technique, transcriptions, and much more by reading the content provided on this site.
Here's what my practice looked like today.
The short version:
40 Minutes of Scales
20 Minutes of Licks
30 Minutes of Tunes
I began practice with melodic minor scales. I used the "Jim Gailloreto" method*. I progressed through each of the 12 scales according to the circle of fifths. Lately I have been using scales as a way to practice my "swing feel" via articulation. The articulation I use is a combination of a slight tongue and slight breath accent used on every off beat, or "and". In order to develop a deeply fundamental grasp, I isolate both components. Ascending the scale, I use only the breath accent and no tongue. Descending, I use only tongue and no breath accent. Only the second scale (a fifth lower) do I combine the two for full effect.
The breath accent in isolation is taken at a slightly slower tempo to account for the bodily mechanics of it being slower in general. When I combine them, I begin at an even slower tempo in order to be sure I am practicing the method correctly. I gradually sped up when I felt I was nailing it.
After I hit all the flat keys, I put on a metronome for the sharp keys and played them all at 152 beats per minute, in eighth notes. I no longer isolated the breath accent vs tongue accent, so I could play at an even tempo.
Next, I pulled up my transcription of Dexter Gordon's solo on "Cheesecake". After finding two short (4 note) licks that were really hip, I broke down the way they functioned in relationship to the chord over which he played them. They were both dominant chords, so I practiced playing the licks over each of the 12 dominant chords. I focused intently on playing the licks with my best tone, rhythm, and articulation. Also, to stretch myself, I arpeggiated the dominant chord in 8th notes to lead into the lick, all in-time.
That took about 45 minutes, after which I took a break.
Coming back two hours later, I began with diminished scales. Again using the Jim Gailloreto method. This exercise only took about 10 minutes (as there are only three distinct half-whole diminished scales). My emphasis was, as before, not so much on the notes as it was on tone, rhythmic feel, and subtle techniques such as keeping my fingers close to the keys.
And finally, I closed the day with "Jordu", a swing tune by Duke Jordan. There is a simple Play-Along on Youtube that I used. There is a feature on Youtube that allows users to change the speed of a video, so I was able to practice it slowly and fast. Because I am already familiar with the tune, I experimented with the head, at times slightly bending rhythms and adding melodic inflections. While improvising, I gave myself themes to follow such as playing exclusively chord tones, using fast/slow rhythms, staying in the upper/lower ranges of my horn, and using certain licks in certain places.
*The Jim Gailloreto method is a way to organize scale practice. In its most basic form, you begin on the lowest diatonic note in any given scale on your horn. For me on tenor sax, if we were in C major, that would be a low B natural. In time (typically 8th notes), you ascend up an octave one scale degree higher (in this example, I would play from low B to a C an octave higher), there is then a small turnaround. Drop two scale degrees, rise one scale degree, then descend to the scale degree one. In other words, low B to C, drop to A, rise to B, and descend to low C. Repeat the pattern, and you rise one scale degree every repetition. This means you practice the scale and every mode within it across the whole range of the instrument. There are many modifiers to this which I will explain in a future post.
Happy practicing! On Monday I will be posting an interview with another jazz student on their concept of practice, their schedule, and other related thoughts!