Practice Journal

Here I want to make a record of my experience practicing. Sometimes I’ll list what I’m doing, sometimes I describe issues and weaknesses and successes. With an understanding of how I work, I predict it will neither regular nor uniform.

11th May 2015

Recently, I read Ethan Iverson’s interview with Nicholas Payton on Do The Math. From there, I discovered a blog called A Horizontal Search by Kevin Sun. It’s a great site and there was one video in particular that I really enjoyed, which was a masterclass with Ambrose Akinmusire. He comes across as a very humble, warm and intelligent person and mentions some great things about practice. Here it is…

 

Ambrose Akinmusire – Master Class from Monterey Jazz Festival on Vimeo.

 

10th September 2014

Recently, I was contacted by an organisation about being nominated for a scheme (both of which shall remain nameless). This time last year, I had the same experience. Part of the nomination requires you to describe your work and your ambitions. Answering the same questions one year on, it provided a very useful opportunity to check in and think about what I’ve done and where I’m going.

Last year, I wasn’t confident that I was at the right stage to benefit from the scheme. This year, I am confident that I am. So…that’s a good start! Perhaps the most important change since last year is that I feel as if I know myself better. I’ve taken time to think about the way I learn, what motivates (and disheartens) me, the way of working and practising that suits me best, why I like the music I do. Through speaking on panels and at conferences, I’ve considered my views and opinions on things and feel very certain as a musician and a professional in the jazz world. None of this is to say that I’ve made it or that I’m telling myself that I’ve perfected anything. Not at all. But I’ve made peace with my weaknesses and developed pride in my strengths and that means I’m much better at working on improving.

Where do I want to be in 5 years time? A better trumpet player. A better improviser. LOCUS and Apollo to have grown. Four simple goals. And although they represent four mountains of work, I feel like I’m much better equipped to climb them.

7th April 2014

I am lucky to live with a very talented and knowledgeable saxophonist (it’s something I would highly recommend). This can be inspiring and intimidating in equal measure and it highlights the need to address psychological barriers within your practice. It is only since being in the US last year that I’ve really started to address these myself and I have realised the need to establish a positive and relaxed frame of mind during practice. I’ve made a number of decisions relating to this recently –

1. Bad, unfocused practice is worse than no practice at all. If I don’t feel like playing one day, I will not play and I will not allow myself to feel guilty about it.

2. Letting go of ego and pride is hugely important. Each time I practice or play with others, I will work hard to focus my attention outward instead of in; I must be open to critique and to advice.

3. Being aware of my strengths is as important as being aware of my weaknesses. I will take time to consider both of these when I practice and be proud of what I can do, as well as resolute about addressing what I can’t.

4. I will take advantage of living with another musician and make every effort to practice together, play together and to ask for help and advice when I need it.

These 4 things might sound like common sense but they are easier said than done and they aren’t always the issues that are addressed by teachers and other musicians. With those in mind, Riley and I have been playing together with a drone a lot, trying to do it for at least 5 or 10 minutes a day when we’re both home. Just picking a key and improvising together, listening and reacting to what the other is playing. It’s relaxing but it’s also highly focused; I am prone to over-thinking and playing with a drone is one of the few times when I can honestly say that my mind is on nothing but what is happening in the music.

Aside from that, I’ve been looking at strengthening my musical vocabulary through small building blocks of language and trying to commit them to memory not as specific phrases but as general language. Again, none of this is groundbreaking stuff but sometimes you need to strip everything back to basics to make sure you’re filling in all the little gaps in your playing and being honest about what you can and can’t (yet) do.

 

31st January 2014

Since the last entry, I’ve had the chance to study with two incredible trumpet players – Ingrid Jensen and Ralph Alessi. It makes for a very strong start to the year practice-wise because I’m armed with hours worth of notes, recordings and exercises from those lessons. The theme of most of the things I learned from Ingrid and Ralph was DETAILS. It’s now time in my playing life to focus in on micro-elements of playing to improve and move to the next level. I’m now keeping a very comprehensive practice diary of each session, listing the details I want to focus on, the exercises I’m doing to work on those and some reflective notes. I feel as if I’m learning a lot about myself and the kind of player I am. From that, I’m developing more control over musical decisions, which is very empowering.

As well as Ingrid and Ralph, I saw some more world-class trumpet players gig in NYC. Scott Wendholdt and Alex Sipiagin were big sources of inspiration for me. In fact, Alex Sipiagin is taking up most of my listening time in 2014 so far.

Having lessons after 2 years of going it alone made me realise how important it is. We’re planning on going back to NYC in September for some more lessons but until then, I have a LOT to be getting on with.

11th October 2013

It’s just over a month until we go to NYC and I have the chance to study with Ingrid Jensen and Ralph Alessi. I’ve been thinking a lot about what to ask them and what I’d like to get out of the sessions. For a while, I tried to figure out specific goals. For example, I have some technical things I’d like to talk to them about; my bottom lip moving behind my top as I move into the upper register, ways to address language in improvising. Thinking about my weaknesses then made me worry about the lessons – what would they think of my playing? What if I’m way behind the point I should be in my career? What if they don’t respect me as a serious musician? And recently, I realised how these thoughts can hold back your development. I realised that a very real aim for me is to spend time with wonderful trumpet players, talk about playing and feel inspired to work hard. It needn’t be about ticking boxes and planning to great detail what to work on. All that I need to do is accept that I am where I am as a player and I desire to move forward and a willingness to work. This trip is a snapshot in time. I want to study with both Ingrid and Ralph more than once and this is just the beginning of the journey. Once I came to this conclusion, I felt so much more excited about the opportunity. For me, and I suspect many other musicians, I am my own worst enemy. Now, where is my copy of Effortless Mastery…?

5th June 2013

I’ve just returned from a few days away in Ireland, which was lovely and relaxed and also involved some practice. Riley and I worked a bit on the LOCUS music, though without the 3rd horn line it’s a strange experience! Having a transatlantic band means our approach to rehearsals need to be creative. All of us working on our own parts wherever we can are only going to help when it all needs to be put together.

I finished a transcription I’ve been working on, of Ryan Kisor soloing over Fly Me To The Moon. There are some bits of the solo I want to isolate and develop so that’s my plan over the next week or so.

I’ve been listening to a lot of music recently. There are some things that I’m really excited about –

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – This band is incredible. Their first album, Infernal Machines and their 2nd, Brooklyn Babylon, are really special recordings. Ingrid Jensen and Laurie Frink are both in the band and every listen makes me more excited for our lessons later in the year. Saxophonist Sam Sadigursky is beautiful, too.

Tom Harrell – I saw Tom Harrell at Ronnie Scotts last week and it was amazing. I really love that quintet and to see Tom live was wonderful. I’ve just heard that his new quartet is with Mark Turner, Ugonna Okegwo and Adam Cruz and I seriously can’t wait to hear that!

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2nd April 2013

I made a new practice regime today. It’s split into 4 1-hour segments – technique, scales, repertoire and improvisation. This is less structured than my previous routines so we’ll see how it feels after a few weeks.

Technique – Flexus, Arban and other classical studies.

Scales – major, harmonic minor, diminished and altered in various patterns and improvisations.

Repertoire – refreshing previous learned tunes and learning new ones

Improvisation – patterns, transposition of ideas, transcriptions and other exercises.

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March 6th 2013

February was a busy month with gigs, having people to stay and other work, so practice became a bit fragmented. I don’t think there’s any use in beating yourself up for that sort of thing – life happens and stuff gets in the way. If the reason you don’t practice as much is because you’re busy working, that’s a (partial) positive.

I’m focusing mainly on repertoire and improvisation at the moment in my practice. I’m learning a lot of new tunes and working on fragments of language to add to my playing. I listened to a Joel Frahm masterclass recently and it was very insightful. He echoed the Clark Terry approach of asking yourself “is there one thing I can do better today than I could yesterday?” rather than a regimented practice schedule. His description of improvisation practice was very helpful too. I’m enjoying the change of practice approach and I anticipate I’ll edge back toward a more structured routine at some point – a bit of both is the way forward I think.

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February 3rd, 2013

Yesterday was woeful – practice felt bad, couldn’t focus. Today, however made up for that – everything felt nice and open, had a great practice session and that improved my mood enormously. This week I have a Mingus collective gig and the week after an album recording in a sort of Art Ensemble of Chicago kind of vein. Then an Apollo tour with a singer. February’s looking pretty varied!

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January 2013

I think it’s been a good month for practice. We moved into our own apartment, which has been a great experience. Our flat is small but perfectly formed and best of all, we have a walk-in wardrobe which we have converted into a practice booth. It means we no longer have to use our bedroom as a workspace, which is healthy. (although it took some getting used to.) It also means that we can both practice simultaneously without distracting each other. The booth muffles the sound, so is great for tenor. As a result, I usually use the living room, while Riley uses the booth. There are many advantages to living with a partner and no-one else, but my favourite is not having to consider anyone else when we choose to practice. Of course, there are limits but from 10am until 7pm, we can do as we please.

My practice (and my motivation to practice) fluctuates. This month, it’s good. Playing is moving in the right direction. My technical practice is mainly derived from Flexus and the Arban, as well as a few exercises I’ve picked up along the way. I guess my focus is on wide intervals.

In terms of jazz and improvisation – one of my best decisions of 2012 was to set-up a weekly meeting with two fellow musicians in order to learn tunes together. It nudges my tune-list up a bit every week and there are few things as pleasing as ending the week 3 tunes better off…

I am lucky that I live with an incredibly dedicated musician. I’m also lucky that our relationship is open enough that we can talk about and work on music together. I’m pretty sure I get the sweet end of the deal, but there’s no complaints from me. It’s interesting to understand how a saxophonist considers improvisation, because of their different technical limits. He’s given me some diminished patterns so I’ve added those into my practice.

New videos of Ingrid Jensen playing at the Monette factory are pushing me to practice – she sounds absolutely incredible.

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