If you're an aspiring musician in any genre, a teacher, or a parent, this book will help you discover ways to get better at music. What makes this book useful, unique, and worth your support?
All of the books and research on music practice focus on practice in the Western European classical music tradition. It's great information, but millions of people are interested in other meaningful ways of making music, from acid jazz to zydeco. Some of the professional musicians I spoke with say they never practice. So how do they get better? That was one of the driving questions behind the book.
This book was written to help aspiring musicians from any musical tradition, teachers with students of diverse musical interests, and parents who want to help their children with music. There is a very real need for a book that looks at music practice from a broader perspective.
The book covers practice strategies used by musicians in pop, folk, jazz, and other non-western musical traditions like Indian classical and West African music. The book also includes some universally useful strategies from Western classical music. These strategies, techniques, and mindsets will work for anyone in any genre of music, whether it's Rock or Bach.
There's a saying that goes, "A conversation with a wise person is worth a month's study of books." It that's true, the conversations I had with the wonderful professional musicians listed below represent over 1½ years of study.
Before speaking with them, I spent 3 years taking copious notes on over 220 peer-reviewed research articles, 120 scholarly books, and well over a dozen popular books on the subject of music practice. This preparation, in addition to my own 30+ years as a practicing musician, helped me understand practice enough to ask professional musicians interesting questions about how they get better.
I'm profoundly and humbly grateful for their generous contribution to my understanding of music practice. Please check out their music. I bet you'll discover a few new musicians to add to your listening list.
Nicholas Barron, voice, guitar, songwriter (vid)
Ethan Bensdorf, orchestral trumpeter (vid)
Bobby Broom, jazz guitar (vid)
Avishai Cohen, jazz trumpet (vid)
Sidiki Dembele, djembe (vid--Sidiki plays first)
Hans Jørgen Jensen, cello (vid)
Ingrid Jensen, jazz trumpet (vid)
Sona Jobarteh, kora, guitar, voice, composition/songwriting (vid)
Rupesh Kotecha, Indian classical tabla (vid)
Rex Martin, tuba (vid)
Chad McCullough, jazz trumpet (vid)
Erin McKeown, voice, guitar, bass, piano, drumset, songwriter (vid)
Allison Miller, multi-genre drummer (vid)
Peter Mulvey, voice, guitar, songwriting (vid)
Colin Oldberg, classical trumpet (vid--Colin's on the left)
Michael Taylor, djembe (vid)
Prasad Upasani, Indian classical vocalist, programmer (vid)
Serge van der Voo, upright bass, vocals, foot percussion (vid)
Stephane Wrembel, gypsy jazz guitar, songwriter/composer(vid)
What I've learned from this project has not only fundamentally changed the way I think about and do practice, it's also changed the way I teach. I know it will be useful for others, too.
About 1/3 of the way into most good good musicals, you'll hear the main character sing their "Desire Song," a tune that tells you the main character's greatest desire.
Here are my ultimate, pie-in-the-sky goals for this project. The want song I'd sing would have lyrics like these somewhere in the tune, rhymed in 6/8 time (also, there would be trumpets):
- Professional editing, and copious REDDITing;
- Hardcover books, that are also on NOOKs;
- 200 of backers, from slackers to hackers to epic boom-whackers;
- One hundred percent, a stretch-worthy event!
- Practice is best when it honors the rest.
Pledge! Lots of Options to the Right
Spread the Word: Send this link to a musician, parent, or teacher who needs it!
Thanks for your support.
The Practice of Practice is written in a creative, playful style that's conversational and interesting, but has also been rigorously researched. It's chock-full of useful information. My goal was to create a book that's fun to read, even if you're not a musician (disclaimer: I think everyone's a musician). I think I've succeeded. In addition to aspiring musicians, parents, teachers, and casual readers should also enjoy the book. Here's what's inside:
Typically, the question most people ask is, "How do I practice to get the most out of it?" But I've learned there's more to practice than just how it's done. Other factors profoundly shape the quality of your practice. To cover these other crucial components of practice, the book is broken into six parts.
- What (Part 1: six chapters): When you know what something is, you have power over it. This section covers what practice is according to more than just the European Classical definition, how practice changes the brain, and how you can harness the nature of those changes to benefit your practice.
- Why (Part 2: five chapters): Without motivation, there would be no reason to practice. This section explores how your beliefs affect not only your motivation to learn, but how (and if) you practice in the first place, and how deeply you learn if you do. This part contains one of the most important and influential chapters of the book.
- Who (Part 3: five chapters): Many people have an impact on your practice, including your very own Self. Your attitudes and behaviors and beliefs affect your practice on the deepest levels. There are others who can help or hinder, too, like parents, teachers, peers, friends and frenemies. Especially frenemies.
- When (Part 4: six chapters): This section covers aspects of time and development. How much should you practice? When during the day is best? What’s the minimum you can get away with? How little is too little? Can you practice too much? How does music practice develop from beginner to expert? What about practice for older adults? It's all in this section.
- Where (Part 5: five chapters): A short section covering the practice space itself, including what makes one good or bad. This section also takes a look at the important ways the context surrounding you can help or hinder your practice.
- How (Part 6: eighteen chapters): How do you actually get better at music? What works best? This is what everyone wants to know about practice, and it’s the longest section of the book. The section covers not only tried-and-true (and research-tested) strategies from the European Classical tradition, but it also covers lots of other improvement strategies used by pop musicians, jazz musicians, and musicians from other musical cultures. These techniques, strategies and mindsets will work for anybody in any genre.
I've included lots of visual aids to help with the information that's in the book. A few of them are below. Visual learning conveys information that words can't.
Table of Contents
I've included the first sentence from each chapter to give a bit of a teaser and let you see that the writing style is kind of fun, but with a serious core.
Part One: What's Goin' On
1-The Chicken or the Embryo: Zing-Yang Kuo rubbed warm Vaseline over a clutch of fertilized chicken eggs.
2-Practice Is More Than You Think: Chicago singer-songwriter Nicholas Barron looks like Vince Vaughn, has a voice as big as John Lee Hooker’s, and he writes and performs in a style all his own.
3-Your Plastic Brain: The days when a ballet causes a riot are probably gone forever.
4-Slow Down, You Move Too Fast: Muscle memory has very little to do with muscles, and everything to do with memory.
5-Speak like a Native: Music has a secret language, and I'm not talking about written music.
6-Fail Better: You see more of what's easiest to see.
Part 2: Motivation Station
7-Growing Motivation: Your beliefs about talent shape your practice in a profound way.
8-Go With the Flow: Leo Kottke is both a fingerstyle guitar wizard and a hilarious story-teller.
9-Ass Power: You need ass power.
10-Goals and Goldilocks: The Goldilocks Zone is a place where everything is just right.
11-Silence is Golden: Independent musician and producer Ani DiFranco said, "There isn't much I would say that I wouldn't rather just shut up and do."
Part 3: The Who
12-Monkey See, Monkey Do: Pretend for a moment that you’re a budding jazz guitar player, living in Chicago.
13-The Blame Game: Two capuchin monkeys are caged next to each other, and each has a small stone in the cage with them.
14-Parental Units: When Sidiki Dembele wanted to practice his djembe, he had to walk several miles away from his home in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire in western Africa, so his father wouldn't hear him.
15-Hot for Teacher: Serge van der Voo plays upright bass in Orpheum Bell, a fun band with an old-timey vibe, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
16-Under Pressure: How would you feel if you had to perform Stairway to Heaven for the surviving members of Led Zeppelin?
Part 4: Time Is On Your Side (yes it is)
17-The Day is Long, But Time is Short: The late great trumpeter, Maurice André practiced early in the morning from 5 to 8 AM.
18-How Much is Enough: Charlie Parker—the brilliant jazz saxophone player and co-creator of bebop—had blinding speed, brilliant technique, and beautiful musicianship.
19-Guerrilla Practice: Giving rat-sized sea snails an electric shock might seem an odd way to test how memory is encoded in the brain, but just such a study earned neuroscientist Eric Kandel a Nobel Prize in 2000.
20-When No Practice is Good Practice: Clifford Brown was a jazz trumpeter who died tragically young.
21-Blame it on My Youth: Wynton Marsalis said, “The nerves are a problem on trumpet, because when you mess up, everyone can hear it. Just remember most people are too polite to say anything about it.”
22-When I’m 64: North of Chicago, the Glencoe New Horizons Community Band needed a trumpet player to fill in for a concert.
Part 5: Wherever You May Roam
23-Trash to Treasure: Growing up next to a landfill can be kind of cool.
24-Under the Influence: 1657 was a productive year for Dutch polymath Christiaan Huygens.
25-In the Zone: Getting my ass kicked musically for over two years in a smokin’ big band was difficult, and sometimes embarrassing, but it was an experience that forced me to stretch well beyond my improvisational ability at the time.
26-Annoying the Neighbors: Summer, 1937, Kansas City, Missouri.
27-A ‘Shed of One’s Own: Bae Il-Dong spent seven years singing into a waterfall.
Part 6: Let’s Get it On
28-Creative Practice: Singer-songwriter Erin McKeown was the first musician who helped me to see how creativity is an integral part of good music practice.
29-Practice Anatomy 101: Whether you’re writing a novel, composing a piece of music, living a life, or thinking about music practice, a beginning, a middle, and an end are essential to the process.
30-Stare with Your Ears: The opening chord of the Beatles tune Hard Days Night might be one of the most recognizable chords in pop music.
31-Drone Power: "What can you do with only one fold?”
32-Going Mental: Pandit Ravindranath Bellare, master of the Indian tabla drums, traveled to Berlin around 1950 to translate ancient Indian Sanskrit manuscripts that had been written on palm leaves.
33-Imitation Station: Forty thousand years ago, before YouTube, one of our Paleolithic ancestors learned how to play a bone flute.
34-Chaining and Back-Chaining: Unlike many practice strategies, chaining and back-chaining work the same for master musicians as they do for the neophyte.
35-Playing With Time: On a snowy February night in 1994, legendary singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley put on a stellar show at Uncommon Ground in Chicago.
36-Rhythmning: When confronted with a student who claims to have no rhythm, Taylor will often give the student an impish smile, and say, “Do this," as he places a hand over his heart.
37-Let’s Get Physical: Robert Schumann warmed his hand in the guts of a freshly-slaughtered cow.
38-Improve with Improv: Not long ago, I had a meaningful improvised musical conversation with a five year old girl.
39-Compose Yourself: Gustav Mahler liked to compose in the Alps.
40-Cover Your Assessment: On Friday morning, January 12, 2007, in a Washington DC train station, violinist Joshua Bell opened his violin case, carefully pulled out his 300 year old, 3.5 millions dollar Stradivarius violin, and prepared to play for the morning commuters.
41-Go Go Gadget Practice: Grandmaster Flash spent his teenage years in the junkyard, or in his room, practicing on the junk he'd scavenged.
42-Plays Well With Others: The Midwest Gypsy Swing Fest is an intimate music festival that takes place every autumn on a farm just outside Madison, Wisconsin.
43-Performance Practice: Remember Nicholas Barron, the Chicago singer-songwriter from Chapter Two?
44-Teach to Learn: Stephane Wrembel is a guitarist who wrote and performed Bistro Fada, the playful waltz that is the theme song for Midnight in Paris.
45-You and the Night and the Music: 40 winks, la la land, kip, saw wood, catnap, crash, doze, siesta, visit the land of Nod, get your head down, Bo Peep, snooze, catch some zees: the importance of something can be measured by the number of words we invent for it, like sleep.
46-Coda: Moving Forward: Overthinking practice is easy to do.
References: Read Between the Lines: I’m an avid and critical reader, and recommending books to others is a duty I take seriously.
The Stinger: Strictly Commercial: Fats Waller was paid 2 bottles of gin for his tune, Ain’t Misbehavin’, a song he penned on a paper bag in 1929 that went on to earn millions of dollars.
I've been playing trumpet for over 36 years, guitar for around 15 years, and I play a lot of other instruments too, like didgeridoo, djembe, conga, piano, various electronics, and small percussion instruments.
I have about 20 years of teaching experience both privately, in public schools, and in a university setting. I've earned a BA, MA, and PhD in music education, with graduate work done at Northwestern University, a leading institution for music performance and scholarship.
Writing, too, is a creative practice that takes many hours of effort and attention. In addition to publishing 4 music-related books, I've written a chapter in a scholarly book, and in 2009 I won a fellowship for my creative writing to attend Fishtrap, a well-respected (and super fun!) writers conference in Washington's Wallowa mountains.
This is the bare-bones minimum I need to get the project off the ground. The actual cost will be about double this amount. If we make this modest goal, here's what your support will allow me to do, roughly in this order :
- Professional editing: I'm a good writer, but even the best of writers needs an editor. This is one of the most important steps to fund so the book can be as polished as possible.
- Publication setup fees: Paying to set up accounts with a distributor will allow the books to be available through the big book distributors: Baker & Taylor (primarily bookstores), Ingram (primarily libraries), and select others. Also covers paying for the ISBN number and LCCN catalog setup.
- Hardcover printing: At this level of funding, the hardcover print run will be quite small, around 500 books. If there is enough interest, I can print more books, which drastically lowers the production costs per-book.
- Warehousing and freight fees: Storing that many books takes up a lot of warehouse space, and because they're so heavy, shipping them from the printer to the distribution warehouse isn't a trivial expense.
- Press Release and Review Copies: Paperback copies and press releases will be sent to get some initial attention for the book. Copies will be sent to bloggers, reviewers, teachers, and other influential, knowledgeable folks.
- Print Paperbacks: I'll be using Print-on-Demand to avoid the expense of shipping a lot of books. This way, only books that are paid for will be printed. It's a bit more expensive to print them this way, but the quality is great, and there is less financial risk.
- Most Importantly: In addition to all of the above, your contribution will pay for the shipping supplies and postage to get the book into your hands, wherever in the world you might be.
Want to See How We're Doing?
More funding will not only help to fund the project in its entirety, it'll also go a long way towards increasing the quality of the final product. I hope we can fund the heck out of this project so that we can make it even better. Here are some stretch goals I'd love for you to help make them a reality:
- A Printed Poster: I commissioned a graphic for one of the concepts in the book that is one of the most important ideas in the whole book. The idea is so important that I believe it needs to be shared. When the book comes out, I'll be giving away a full-color, high-resolution printable 8.5 x 11 PDF of this graphic on the book's web site, so teachers and students can print a small version for free. I'd love to print up some large high-quality posters of this graphic and make them available, too.
- Hire a top-notch professional editor: For those who don't know, books often make use of several editors: copy editors, line editors, and editors who help with design, style, and overall cohesion of the text. A top-notch editor is more expensive, but will give the text an even higher polish.
- Larger Print Run: Printing more books dramatically reduces the cost of each book. The first bump from 500 to 1,000 books reduces the per-book cost by 59%!
- Paperback Offset Printing: Print-on-demand technology has grown by leaps and bounds in the 10 years I've been publishing books, and the quality now available is excellent. However, traditional offset printing still produces a more consistent, better book, and it's slightly less expensive in large volumes. If enough people are interested in the project, it makes sense to go with this more labor-intensive, but higher quality option for paperback books. That would be awesome!
If you've gotten this far, thank you very much for your time and attention. I do very much appreciate it. I hope you'll help me get this book out into the world to help musicians practice in a smarter way, no matter what kind of music they want to make.
If you can't donate, I'd be honored if you helped spread the word by telling friends, musicians, or teachers you may know; send a shout-out up on your favorite social media program, or throw up a blog post.
Risks and challenges
The book is 99% complete, and will be 100% by the end of March. Then several rounds of editing. As it stands now, it's 288 pages. The challenge will be cutting material, what Ursula LeGuin calls "killing your darlings." Still, that's a lot easier than creating new text. I hope to get the book down to 275 pages before it goes off to the editor.
Finding the right editor is my greatest challenge because I'm looking for someone with expertise in both non-fiction editing and music. I've begun looking and asking around and am wide-open to suggestions.
Printing is the final challenge. I've done this multiple times for four different book projects, so although there are always bumps in the road, it's never anything that could stall a project completely.
So, barring meteorite strikes, alien invasions, a zombie apocalypse, or some other epic disaster that requires Will Smith, the books will be ready to ship in July, 2014. Maybe earlier.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)