As we walk down the street many sounds come into our reality. We hear buses accelerate, laughing, shouting, fire truck sirens, motorcycles… a whole array of auditory stimulants. The awareness of these sounds is not a matter of choice but a matter of biology because we hear these sounds whether we like them or not.
Listening, on the other hand, is a matter of choice. If you are talking with someone you have the option of just hearing the sounds while you think your own thoughts or actually listening to what you are hearing. To listen means that you are carefully considering everything that is being said and responding to it.
If you are a musician and you are only hearing what others are playing without listening, the results will be chaotic. The dynamics won't match, some notes will be inappropriately louder or softer than the others, the timing will not be in synch, and other problems will occur. In affect, you will not be playing with others, you will only be playing simultaneously as others play.
The potential for musical or social intimacy becomes possible when you listen to others, and impossible when you don't. A bad band sounds like they are playing in the same building but not in the same room.
In a great jazz band, everything that is played is listened to deeply in order to assess the inspirational and navigational value. While the sax player is soloing, the drummer, piano player, and bassist have many response options. They may imitate, play against or just play time without any dramatic response. When musicians listen at this deep level they are opening up access to the moment, talking musically with each other as new ideas occur.
Nothing of value can happen between musicians (or civilians) without listening, a mandatory prerequisite for successful intimate human interaction.
Everybody knows that in order to improve any skill, practicing is critical. But what constitutes practicing is quite variable. Some think that if a guitar is in your hands while watching TV, you are practicing. Others think repeating the same exercises you have been doing for years or sitting in on a jam session is practicing. There is a huge difference between playing and practicing. Although some people can improve while they’re playing a gig, most improve while practicing effectively. There are four secrets great players know and use when they’re practicing:
1. Know exactly what you are going to practice before you begin.
With so many options, especially with jazz, it is important to understand what needs
to be practiced now
. A good way to determine this is to assess what the weakest areas are. If memorizing tunes is weak then that needs special attention every practice session. If technique is sloppy then give it proper attention.
2. Know how are you going to practice.
There are numerous ways to practice a C major scale. The masters know you have to practice with total relaxation, no tension, and very slowly. Only this way can you meticulously control what you are trying to do. Also, you must determine and execute what dynamics and articulations you will work on. Practicing for speed without total control will not yield a musical result.
3. Know how long are you going to practice.
Many people practice the right things but not for the right amount of time. It takes some people longer to master skills than others. Time needs to be allocated to insure mastery. As you start the process of practicing thoughtfully you will be able to gauge how much time it takes to accomplish your goals.
4. Monitor the quality of your practice.
It is critical to record, analyze and assess the quality of your practice. Your practicing is negligible if it is inaccurate, sloppy and conducted without careful attention to keeping time. Focused practicing demonstrates how good you feel at developing your potential. You should feel pride while you are developing your musical skills.
Once you can practice for even 15 minutes with total commitment and relaxation you’ll want to practice more and quality control will already be in place. Practicing with purpose yields the most effective results. That should be the goal every time you practice.