Practice, Do You? Part 3-3

Dom Minasi By

Sign in to view read count
Continued from Part 2

I began studying the guitar when I was seven years old. I hated my teacher and I didn't practice much, but when I changed teachers' and I went to Joe Geneli, I regained a love for the guitar that I first had when I was four years old when I first saw Roy Rogers sing and play. It was with Joe that I began to practice. I found an hour a day was sufficient, but as I got older and the music he gave became harder, I practiced longer.

When I was fourteen I switched to Sal Salvador. Sal was pretty well known in the fifties and sixties and it was the right move for where I was as a guitarist. Sal gave me a slew of books, which included the Arbans Trumpet Method, Johnny Smith Aides to Technique and many more. My practice routine during the school year went up to five to six hours a day. I would practice early in the morning before school. Two hours after, break for homework, sports and dinner and resume practicing at about 8:30pm. During the summers I was practicing up to twelve hours a day. I wanted to be as good if not better than Johnny Smith or Wes Montgomery or any of the greats of that day. As I got older my points of reference became John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Thelonius Monk, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler and all the players that moved me.

Through all of this, not one teacher taught me how to improvise or explained advanced harmony and theory. I took this upon myself to learn and it was part of my practice routine along with learning tunes and chord melodies.

When I became a full time musician and worked six nights a week till 4 AM in the morning, I would practice five to six hours before going to work. In 1963 with the emergence of the Beatles, every kid wanted to play guitar. Before you know it I had 110 students. It took away from my practicing, but I managed to get a couple of hours in before my teaching began and I always played with the students.

I'm 71 now and I still practice some days more than others. Through the years there were times when I felt I needed to go to another level and I would put in eight hours per if I had the time. And it's still the same. If I feel I need to get to another level, I go back to practicing longer hours.

I also spend a lot of time focusing on music. What I mean by that is, I hear music all the time in my head. I mentally practice all the time and before I re-harmonize or arrange a standard, or compose, I think about it and hear it first, so when I'm ready, it just flows through me. The same goes for writing this article. I thought about it for a long time and now the words are flowing on to the paper.

While I was thinking about this article, I thought it would be a good idea to contact some of my friends and see if they felt the same as I did. I asked only two questions:

1. Do you still practice and how much?

2. What do you practice?

I contacted a lot of musicians never expecting such a response. If everyone had answered me, this would have been a book instead of an article. Some answers were short and some were extremely long and some were hilarious.

I was amazed by some of the answers and I think you will be too.

Some of the artists are famous and some you may not have heard of, but that really doesn't matter. What matters is the dedication. I am truly touched and very hopeful for the future of jazz by these responses.

I placed the answers and artists under instrumental category. Because I am a guitarist and know a lot of guitar players, I posted the guitarists' comments last.

Bass, Cont.

Ken Filiano

I practice on average 6 days a week, with 1 day for rest and revitalization. If I have a session or a gig/concert, I'll get in 4 hours. If I've got a totally free day then I usually get in 6 hours, broken up throughout the day/evening. I have a circle of things that I try to get done throughout the week, keeping a notebook of what gets done so that I touch on all within the week's practice. They are, but not necessarily in this order: 1—Instrumental technique: 90% bow, 10% pizzicato; including long tones and "the basics" for body/instrument unification. 2—INVERSIONS—of scales, modes, intervals and chords 3—Avoiding convenient tendencies—working on tunes, etudes, orchestral excerpts, solo pieces; focusing on specific technical details. This objective challenge requires me to find a way to express the music that's not automatically coming from the instrument 4—Practice the music that's at hand for upcoming projects; pulling the music apart, see how it's constructed and find ways of expanding it. 5—LISTENING. Filling the ear with all kinds of music—studying scores; composing and sketching; singing along with recordings—filling my sub-conscious sound library for when needed in the musical situation. 6—Improvising and recording myself helps synthesize all of the above elements so that in the performance, the music has a higher chance of coming out in an organic and less preconceived manner. The irony here is that there has been preconception existing, but how it unfolds now, in the moment, may not be the same each time; getting closer to the spontaneous. Time spent on the musical awareness is what drives the needed technical abilities on ones chosen instrument

Francois Grillot

I do practice. Sometimes classical melodies and sometimes just a rumble of notes formatted into a continuum/walking bass line, and develop them into solos when appropriate. There's also bowing long tones, pizzicato with a metronome, when I have the time and feel inclined to; I'm still trying to figure out through an agenda using lots of various styles, applying my practice to what i have going on musically at the time. If I have time I go to Fauré, Schubert, St. Saens and Beethoven, bowing melodies one after the other. I also practice Charlie Parker and others great American composer melodies and chords changes. I consider myself lucky if I get the time to practice, but I make a point of not forgetting what my passion is; when I do, I make the best of it.

Part of my practice routine is also composing and playing my own tunes. Once a week I organize a session, in my kitchen, as part of playing with others, I assemble a variety of musicians to keep the flow interesting; we improvise and play tunes that the musicians bring to the table as well.

Chris Sullivan

Yes I continue to move with the insight of forever discovery within. Practice at this phase of performance expression is more of playing the instrument with an approach of not playing what I'm used to. Configuring the fingers, on both left and right hands, to move differently. This actually allows for other theoretical, choral, modal and hypo-modal structures, melodic and (so called) consonant structures to become placed under and around the figures, as well as, rhythmic time signatures of various meters to take on other approaches towards repetitive exercises. Of course, at such time of proficiency, this becomes part of the unfocused arsenal of performance, rather, more of what may happen within the feel of a performance, without premonition of thought. The bottom line I just pick up my instrument and play, as though it's not an instrument.


Shan Arsenault

My practice routine from an onlooker's perspective might look a bit haphazard as it is based on intuition and not really a definite set of guitaristic goals such as chords, scales etc. I usually play everyday, anywhere from two hours to ten or more. As Pat Martino says, " it's my favorite toy. " I tend to work on things that are specifically related to my desire to understand the art of improvising. I also tend to work on a single thing for months at a time.

For the last couple of weeks I have been playing with chord melody improvisations over the changes of Countdown by John Coltrane. I have no idea how long I will do this for. My approach to practice has changed much over the years. I am very interested in the concept of dissonance versus consonance and how there does not seem to be and objective reality to these sounds but more of a personal preference for certain sounds. I am very curious about music and the guitar is my tool of exploration. My attitude toward practicing the instrument can be best summed up by the cellist Pablo Casals, who at the age of 92 was asked why he still practiced 4 hours everyday. His reply, " I think it's getting better."

Tony DeCaprio

You want me to be serious. The word "practice" means different things to different people. Yes, I still practice, but I don't practice technique (scales, arpeggios, etc.). I mostly blow through tunes all day long and try to figure out various ways to raise hell.

Barry Finnerty

I still practice, a little bit almost every day. I try to work on things I can't do!

Frank DiBussolo

These days I practice every day in the mornings. I usually start by warm-ups with alternate picking finger exercises, then two octave scales through the cycle of 4ths. Maj, Rel. min, harmonic and melodic. Then I take Bucky's advice and just play tunes. I look at re-harmonizing, chord voicings,' transposing etc.

Solo guitar is one of the most beautiful things in the universe, so I try to keep up with you guys. Next, I keep a lot of literature, clarinet, trumpet, violin, and classical guitar and open them up to keep the sight-reading sharp. I'll spend about 90 min. to 2 hours every day. Then later I go to work! Playing with singers is a challenge, you've got to be able to transpose any tune to any key and make them look and sound good! I'm not getting any younger, so I feel I have to work hard.

John Abercrombie

To briefly answer your questions: Do I practice? Yes, but it's a bit more like playing. Not so specific in terms of technique and such. What I practice is difficult to answer exactly, but it's more like playing melodies, and ideas, usually in relationship to some harmonic framework, but not always. I like to come up with ideas/shapes/lines, etc., and practice those things in different situations. Some of my practice (many times) leads to composition. I also play things that i have played many times before, and try to get them better, or maybe phrase them a little differently.

Steve Cardenas
About Dom Minasi
Articles | Calendar | Discography | Photos | More...


Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.