So I was recently thinking about the difference between being a young student learning the very basics of music from the ground up and being an advanced player, whether that means being a college student, professional, or really skilled hobbyist.
Very young students, no matter how talented, have not had the time on this earth to develop through their weak points and regardless of their talent and work ethic, they have to approach the music as a beginner.
As an "advanced" player, different concepts apply. Hopefully, advanced students have been able to mature into a solid awareness of their skill set, including strengths and weaknesses. All the best players I've ever met have been completely aware of their weaknesses and will readily admit it. While we all still have holes in our musicality, as nobody is omnipotent, we have likely developed a good "core" set of abilities that
spans a broad range of skills. We can sightread at a certain level, improvise at a certain level, we have a certain amount of "vocabulary" that we can work with, and a decent level of stylistic flexibility.
When that core skill set is at a "professional" level, meaning that we can confidently learn new music to perform at most any gig that comes our way, we adopt a different practice mentality; rather than treating ourselves as beginners who know nothing, we simply have to effectively take what we can do and then build upon that.
I believe that you can summarize the process into four categories: BUILDING, ADJUSTING, EXPANDING, and REACHING YOUR VISION.
Adding technical ability, new vocabulary, new extended techniques/tricks, learning new music, etc. Basically we are adding new sounds to our repertory of things we can play.
Making adjustments to the things we're already able to do in order to make those things better. We continue to strive for better sound, more awareness of intonation, more control over expression and articulation, etc. We try to get scales and technical patterns more even and relaxed. Improve breathing, etc. We adjust.
Expand our awareness of the music that is out there, past and present. Listening to records, finding new artists, getting inspiration.
4. REACHING YOUR VISION
Building our own vision and voice. That could mean playing with our own groups, writing music, exploring new sounds. This is the part where we record and perform our own music, or arrange other peoples' music. We develop our improvisational and compositional voice.
If you continue to work on these four things, there is no option but to improve. This method allows us to develop the technical skills we need to reach our creative peak, which for me is the goal.
Keep practicing and stay inspired!!!
is a saxophonist/composer residing in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.