View Full Version : What is your practice routine?

Oct-11-2005, 10:29pm
I am curious how you all organize your practice time. For example, if I have an hour to devote to practice, I will spend 15 minutes warming up (right hand, left hand, tremolo), and technical exercises, 15 minutes of scale study (I practice a major scale for a week, then it's relative minor for a week, and move around the circle of 5ths). The next half hour is devoted to repertoire. I will practice set pieces for building memory, learning a new piece, and/or ear training. Something new I am trying is to spend some time composing a few bars per week in the key of the week and practice improvising.
If I only have 20 minutes I will warm up for 5 mins, practice scales for 5, then play a tune for 10.
If you have an hour to practice, what do you do?

Stephanie Reiser
Oct-12-2005, 4:58am
I usually start my 2 hour daily practice session with 2-octave scales, up the neck starting with key of G. Then I do 3-octave scales. After that I practice various violin practice arpregios in key of G, A, and B that I have memorized. Then I practice reportiore with heavy concentration on any particlar piece that I might be performing in the near future (most of the music that I play is solo stuff i.e. Thile and Bach). Then I wind down by working on new material and finally finishing with performance pieces for upcoming events, up to speed. I have found that I play the worst at night.

Oct-12-2005, 6:08am
Scale patterns, chord bopping, tune-of-the-day (right now, Bibey's Blue Room).

Oct-12-2005, 7:14am
Warm up with chromatic finger drills and Bickford and Wm. Place exercises
Cycle-5 scale and arpeggio sequences
Choro Pieces
Bach solo repertoire
jazz and swing play along
Bluegrass-songs, breaks, as well as vocal harmony parts
This takes at least two hours and I like it if I can get in three.
I do this in the morning and after work and it is by far the best part of my day.

Oct-12-2005, 7:50am
Apparently I don't practice enough and I need to get organized.

I might play something like Westphalia Waltz to warm up, or not.

If I'm really lucky and the family is awake and in a good humor I put a Monroe CD in the stereo, crank it up and wail away at it with Bill and the Boys.

This Sunday was pretty typical though, playing whatever came to mind while watching most of the first half of the Titans game on TV and taking turns drawing silly pictures on a magna-doodle with my daughter. Then I had some bush-hoggin to do before Sunday evening services.

Oct-12-2005, 7:51am
I tend to be less organized, though I do have 2 books that I am working through. I am using a blues rhythm guitar book and a mandolin crosspicking book in tandem to learn to play acoustic blues. I do lessons from the mando book exactly as written. I play along with the blues course CD doing some or all of the following: following directions for guitar from the book strumming a mando chord or double stop instead, but at the same time and in the same manner as requested, trying to solo over the rhythm track (basically this is a two part exercise - finding the proper blues scale and then finding a riff that sounds good with the rhythm). Then I try crosspicking on the chord progression and trying to mix in some melody. This is pretty hit and miss and often frustrating; there is no correlation between the progression I happen to be working on in the blues book or the roll pattern from the mando book so I mix and match others I have worked on. Pretty haphazard.

I also play whatever songs I am working on with my porch pickin' pals, which is generally a blues song. I have a handful of standard songs or snippets that I try to play fairly often that include a little classical, a Celtic, bluegrass and folk.

Sometimes I pick up a "general" (popular tunes with piano, vocal and chords) book and play a few song melodies from the vocal notation to practice sight reading.

Lately I practice crosspicking the most. If I just have a few minutes I will often pick up the mando and just do open G and D. This lets me concentrate on the right hand technique. This gets boring, but not as boring as it should be.

I always run some FFcP scales all the way across the strings; it is the first thing I do to check tuning and I do it every now and then between things. But I don't drill them.

Sometimes I will play a streaming station off the net (usually blues - big surprise) and practice trying to find the key and chords and playing along. I am not batting .500 on this yet; maybe .333 or so.

All over the map, huh? So are my practice times and duration. Mostly late at night, rarely over an hour at a stretch.

Rob Zamites
Oct-12-2005, 8:08am
Haphazard at best, at least for the time being. I'm very new to the whole mandolin world, so for a given hour space for practice, it's pretty much doing one tune over and over and over ("Julia Delaney" for now), then random explorations of chords and flatpicking up and down the fingerboard and seeing what's where.
I'm strictly an ear player for now, but glean some assistance with chords from some printed material from the 'net. Once I'm more familiar with things, and when I (eventually) get a hand-built OM, I'll start with McGann's book and go from there.

Oct-12-2005, 8:17am
This is fascinating to read what you all are doing, all very good ideas. Mandomax, what is a "Cycle 5 scale"?

Oct-12-2005, 9:01am
Music school speak for running scales and arpeggios through cycle of 5ths

John Flynn
Oct-12-2005, 9:06am
Practice routine? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Oct-12-2005, 9:12am
I cycle 5 and play the anzo scales- it's all about getting my right hand relaxed before I play some tunes. Scales are just a vehicle to get my right hand going. I also play through the chords in a song first just to get some chord practice. I'm an older student, and I realize simplicity is the key for me. Elaborate practice regimens really turn me off

Oct-12-2005, 12:11pm
Sirtwangalot, what are anzo scales? I am an older student too (48). This practice regimen I follow has come as a result of a couple of years of trying to find a balance between developing technique and playing tunes. I also try to stay open to the feel of the moment, like sometimes I sit down and just want to play a tune or compose something, and on those days I just go with that. I find that having a regimen to follow helps me to (1) sit down with my axe and play regularly and (2) stimulate new ideas. I agree that scales etc. are tools to get the motor running. Having a routine to follow helps keep me disciplined.

Oct-12-2005, 1:06pm
The Aonzo scales are a set of scales studies from the family of classical mandolinist Carl Aonzo:

http://www.mandozine.com/index.p...._scales (http://www.mandozine.com/index.php/techniques/techinfo/aonzo_family_scales/)

Oct-12-2005, 4:22pm
My daily practice routine thus far:

1) Warmups with John Moore's Pciking Excerises (http://www.mandozine.com/index.php/techniques/techinfo/picking_exercises/)
2. Aonzo Scales
3. Strum Chord progessions (I,IV,V) two-finger and closed.
4. Scales and Arpeggios
5. Licks of the week for G,C,D from "Improvising Bluegrass Mandolnin" (There are 10 licks for each key, try to memorize within a week).
6. Weekly set list for mandolin ensemble group

If I have time, noodle around fiddle tunes I play at old-time fiddle jam.

Peter Hackman
Oct-13-2005, 12:38am
I've never practised, and maybe I should. When I started
playing in ernest in 1966 I did exactly that: started
playing. That was a valid approach since I already
played one instrument and knew something
about music in general

Today, when I pick my mandolin up it's usually
to complete some half-finished composition,
rearrange my old songs for a purely instrumental
work up an arrangement to record on my porta,
or just try out some stuff that might evolve into a composition.

In higher positions I notice that I tend to fall into set patterns, and lately I've been concentrating
on breaking away from them. I don't play as freely up
the neck as I do on guitar. Sometimes I pick pout something
in, e.g., the key of A flat, in order to liberate
my positions.

My general idea about "practising" is each time
to play something new.

I believe it was guitarist David Grier who said,
I never practice scales as I'm not going to
play scales on the gig.

Oct-13-2005, 2:34am
I don't really play scales and exercises anymore either. I usually warm up with a new fiddle tune and either work on a break for a song we are doing or try and learn something new. I will work on a good lick if I don't know it.

What is really helping me a LOT now is I am taking fiddle lessons and whatever I learn on the fiddle I learn the exact same thing on the mandolin. It has really opened up everything for me so far. Practice is once again exciting again!

Oct-13-2005, 3:28am
all this is great advise ... i'll start tomorrow ...

... yep'.

steve in tampa
Oct-13-2005, 4:59am
I had numerous lesson on trumpet in my youth, and the regiments were a good place to start, and some never leave. The goal of the instrument has to be defined in order to make sure you are going the right direction for you with it.

If the goal is to play scales well practice that all the time, and you will. Regurgitating previouslywritten and recorded music seems to be a common step in the musical direction , but can also be a long plateau. I had the pleasure(?) of studying ad nauseum baroque and classical styles because that is what my instructor(who was the best in the area) wanted to teach. I really did well, but also really did shine more on jazz.

The adulation poured out from the audience is much more enjoyable if they are recognizing your own creation, and the ability to express it, over a well done replica of someone elses work

If the goal is to be able to play along with others in a pick up jam, then improv skills come in to play.

The most useful skills to me seem to be the ability to pull your own ideas out of the instrument in a group situation. While the foundation of this lise in scales, theory, etc., it is like the joke about engineers, and how many does it take to make things more complcated.

Getting the musical ideas from the mind to the fret board is the ultimate goal. Practice then starts with putting what you want to play in your mind, and evolving the process that best lets you express it through the instrument.

Oct-13-2005, 7:20am
sit on the front porch, lite a cigar, pet the dog and entertain the neighbors.


Oct-13-2005, 8:17am
rmcintos, thanks for the Aonzo scales, that is good stuff, like lifting weights on the mandolin.
Fatt-dad, wish I still smoked cigars, I gave them up some years ago and still miss them.
Practicing scales , arpeggios, and exercises are for me a good way to get my fingers going and I will keep doing them, but many of the ideas here will hopefully help me take the next step to a more expressive way of playing. It is pretty cool reading about the various approaches to the original question.
"Science is discipline pursued with passion, art is passion pursued with discipline"-?

Oct-13-2005, 10:09am
A great classical guitarist once told me "If you want to play scales and arpeggios, play Bach- it's all the scales and arpeggios you could want, and the bonus is you are playing real music!"

Many people practice scales religiously...and I think it's a good idea to know your scales and positions, but as a means to an end. In other words-if you want to be a jazz improviser, you have to practice improvising, which means you need to know the vocabulary of the music, and it ain't scales. Same thing for any traditional music, be it Irish or bluegrass or whatever- the point Grier makes is that if you want to play Music, you have to practice Music.

Most people would be better off sitting with a metronome and playing their repertoire SLOWLY and not BSing...getting every note fat, sweet and in time. Now THAT'S music!

IMHO YMMV http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/blues.gif

Peter Hackman
Oct-13-2005, 10:25am
There's an enormous variety of practice routines.

I used to arrange jazz concerts in my home town.
Some players just unpacked their instruments, checked the
tuning and then started to blow (they were usually late ...) At the other extreme,
Roscoe Mitchell of the Art Ensemble of Chicago
took out a book and practised long notes on alto
saxomphone for the better part of an hour befor the concert.
And watching Albert Mangelsdorff (trombone) warm up
his lips was quite an experience.

I once collaborated with two very good jazz musicians,
a saxophonist and a bass player, on a recording project
featuring my own songs with extremely hairy changes.
They asked me to strum my guitar in even four, no
fancy stuff, just straight chords, and they
played some very basic things over and over
just to get the chords into their heads. I noticed that
the bass guy played almost every chord off the root.

They were not practising the music; they were pratising
their readiness, by indoctrinating themselves with the chord changes. They saved the music for the recording.
I might do something like this when I get around to
recording my trickier stuff on mandolin.

Oct-13-2005, 11:28am
In his workshops, Butch Baldassari teaches a four-part way to organize practice sessions:

Part 1: - Technique - scales, arpeggios in diff. keys,
w/ metronome, etc.

Part 2: Current Repertoire - tunes you can play well on
stage, jams, etc.

Part 3: In The Works - tunes or breaks you're working on,
not quite ready to play out.

Part 4: To Learn - wish list of tunes current and

I keep this info on paper to refer to when I get in ruts. I find it more productive to be semi-organized w/ practice. I also have 5 or 6 books that I rotate through - Goichberg's Etudes, Marshall's Choro, Mayor's Mastering/Mandolin, The Real Book, etc.

If I only had an hour to practice, I'd break it into two parts - maybe revisit old tunes for 1/2 hour, then work on a new tune for 1/2 hour. Of course it's fun to noodle/ramble too. So much music to learn...


Oct-13-2005, 12:22pm
One thought I had on this was no matter what you do, try to play a little everyday if you can. Getting a few hours on a saturday is harder than 20 minutes to a 1/2 hr daily in terms of making any strides. Also, scales are good especially in different patterns. The Ray Valla book was good for this (towards beginners) suggesting various patterns to play rather than a linear fashion. Some of us just don't have as much time to practice, some aspect of it just has to give.

Oct-13-2005, 1:40pm
I like the idea of playing Bach for scale practice. Some of his pieces I've worked on are very challenging. Also thanks luckylarue for the Baldassari practice organization. I've printed these out to put in the front of my practice notebook.

The idea of also practicing what you want to learn to play makes me reflect to my 15 old daughter who has been playing violin for the last 5 years. She takes private lessons and her teacher has her working on mostly songs, progressing to #more difficult pieces as she learns. But her teacher also has her practice her scales , with a metronome, but only until she knows them. My daughter doesn't really practice scales, arpeggios, etc. every practice. She mainly practices her music, both for school and lessons. And she is an excellent musician for her level.

I think that most of us here are learning music as a pleasant past time and have no plans becoming professional. But we also want to continue to move towad improvement so we can play for or with others in a meaningful way.

I know that I would like to be a much better player than I am now. But I also look back at when I started less than 2 years ago and realize I must be doing something right because I am so much better now than then.

This list has been a great resource and inspiration for me to continue pursuing music in playing the mandolin.

Oct-13-2005, 3:49pm
I also like the idea of playing Bach for scale practice, and the Baldassari layout is sort of what I was trying to achieve. I always use a metronome when I practice techical studies and scales etc and have found it useful when learning a new piece or working through a difficult passage of a piece of music. I am intrigued by the idea of "practicing what you play". I think I will shift my emphasis in that direction and see what happens. I also think it is important to practice with other players as often as possible. These are all great suggestions.

Oct-14-2005, 9:16am
I just thought of something. Remember that scene in "Glory" right after the 54th got their guns, and that squirrel-hunting kid is showcasing some fancy bottle target practice? Then Hayes comes over and commands "Load. Faster. Faster!" and shoots a gun behind the kid's head? And the kid falls apart, can't hit the target literally to save his life.

I guess it's obvious what I'm getting at. It's good to woodshed, but you have get out and jam or perform.

Brad Weiss
Oct-14-2005, 4:20pm
Great to read these ideas!. I work on two areas, and would love ideas for a third.

First, technique. I start with John Moore's right hand exercises, then I play scales in twelve keys - usually playing in broken thirds. Then arpeggios in a circle of fifths, including, major, minor, m7, dom 7th, 9th, diminished and augmented arpeggios. I used to work on playing through the LIMDAPL modes, less rigorous about that now.

After "technique" I work on different genres. Good ol' reliable Bach, for clarity, dexterity, and some cool harmonic ideas; then usually some choro (which can be pretty close to Bach in all sorts of ways) Then, I work on my jazz repertoire. I lay down rhythm tracks and play heads and improvise over a range of standards, bossa nova, some bebop. What I'd really like to improve on - and what I'd love some exercises for- is building a better jazz vocabulary, and playing more lyrically- more conversationally. Transcribing tunes has been good for that- so has all of those arpeggios ( I do think practice is different form playing- and good practice gives you good stuff to play!!) but I wish I could just play what I'm hearing on the fly, and know where I'm going as I play (all relevant to jazz improv).

Keep the ideas coming! I'm a sucker for useful exercises - just playing may be fine for David Grier- but that's why he's DAVID GRIER!! - but some discipline is needed for us mere mortals.

Oct-21-2005, 7:43pm
Thanks to this post I have been digging out my Bach to warm up before chording/picking my usual Bluegrass/Oldtyme tunes. I was cutting down my practice time to one hour a day because I was getting so BORED with picking tuneless arppegios, chording to the same 4 or five songs, and picking out another 4 or five tunes, then putting the little mando "to bed" with a grumble. A little change to one's routine can really refresh the spirit. I am currently digging through all my old music and re-playing the stuff I first learned when I picked up the mando in April, 2004. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/tounge.gif

Peter Hackman
Oct-31-2005, 3:42am
This is from marcusmiller.com. Sounds like a very productive approach. It's a different instrument, but I think
it translates to any instrument or genre.

How do you practice?

These days I usually begin practicing by improvising - just playing whatever comes to my head and enjoying that for a while. Usually, in the course of improvising, I'll find myself attempting to play something that I can't really execute well. At that point I'll make up some exercise involving whatever that problem is and try to work it out until it's more fluid. Then I'll usually move on to some related patterns and make sure that they're ok too. This assures me that I'm working on techniques that are important for me, since in the course of improvising I found myself needing them.
I play a lot of bebop lines when practicing, figuring if I can play that stuff, technically, I shouldn't have a problem with anything else (As a kid I did this too - just learning John Coltrane solos, Sonny Rollins solos, Wynton Kelly, anything that caught my ear.)
Then I turn on a drum machine and just get my groove on - just playing all sorts of bass lines - simple, crazy, all eighth notes, all triplets, anything.
For me the most important thing is to have fun. When in the course of having fun you find yourself lacking in some technique that's preventing you from really having fun, take that technique to the woodshed and work it out........... then go have some more fun!!!

Oct-31-2005, 10:47am
messing with some basic scales practicing the up down pick pattern, simple Soldiers Joy from Tab, simple Blue Moon of Kentucky from Tab...and some "Wild Thing" G-C-D 2 finger chords. And if really inspired I try to squeeze in some 4 fingered chords to practice the "chops" dang I need a tutor... http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Oct-31-2005, 10:54am
By way of updating this thread and thanks to all of the replies, especially from jmcgann and Peter's last post, I have lately been practicing more "musically", i.e. ear training and improvisation on chord changes. I have been using Roland White's bluegrass book to hear the tune and play it without looking at the tab, then using the tab to check myself, and listening to songs then playing the melody. This seems to be getting easier as I do it. I am trying to free myself from the printed page as most of my repertory is arranged music. Also, lately when we have group practice for our ensemble we have been focusing our collective concentration more on how the group sounds as a whole than on "getting the notes right", and this has been very beneficial. I still use scales and exercises to warm up, and I have also been playing and improvising on chord melodies and the harmonized scale. Thanks so much for all the great ideas so far.

Nov-17-2005, 4:56pm
I know most of the simple chords should i focus on mastering the chop or start to learn picking and trying to learn songs.

Nov-18-2005, 12:13pm
sit on the front porch, lite a cigar, pet the dog and entertain the neighbors.

Now yer talkin. I need to get me a routine. Right now I leave my cheapo mando out, so I will be inclined to pick it up.

I need to work on scales a bit. I am a chordal player and picker for the most part.

Nov-19-2005, 7:20am
I'm impressed by how organized some of you are but can relate to Fatt-dads post above.

I don't have any regiman other that I get up an hour early for work and play either mando or accoustic guitar (or a bit of each)while drinking my coffee and listening to npr. After work I set aside a couple of hours to play too. Normally I don't do drills but work on learning new material but a couple days a week I do a quick run through of all the songs I play. Right now its about 53 songs that I'm comfortable with on both instruments, playing the rhythm, the melody and a few solos.

It seems to me that the most important part of playing music is hearing it in your head. If I can hear it I can find a way to make my hands do it.

Nov-19-2005, 7:22am
I know most of the simple chords should i focus on mastering the chop or start to learn picking and trying to learn songs.
Do everything you said.

Kevin Briggs
Nov-19-2005, 11:41pm
When I practice I always start with teh fiddle tunes I know best, and which I deem to be the hardest songs I can play and conformatbly improvise on.

For example, I usually start with Blackberry Blossom and Whiskey Before Breakfast. I play them through in standard fashion to get my tone and loosen up my fingers, then I play them through a bunch of times improvising on the melody a bunch here and there.

Next, I run through a bunch of fiddle tunes I know well, like "Cotton Patch Rag," "Red Haired Boy," "Dixie Howdown," "Fire on the Mountain," etc. Just standard fiddle tunes really.

Then, I work on tunes I am trying to get uo to speed, like "Ragtime Annie," or any songs I'm learning for the first time, like "June Apple," the other day.

I always end by just singing some songs and workign out touchstones for breaks. I never work the breaks out too much though, because I don't want to feel like I'm screwing up when I play live. To me, the fun part is the improvising, and memorizing notes and things is for building vocabulary and dexterity.

I want to learn some Bach songs, and am hoping to get some instructional material to help me do so. I've only been playign about five years now, so I'm still young in the game, so to speak.

My biggest challenge is using traditonal licks and things that I know are good to use in bluegrass music. I've listened to Monroe pretty closley, but mostly just on beginnings and endings, same with Skaggs, and Bobby Osborne. I love Grisman, of course, and Sam Bush (who I use for fiddle tunes), but I don't see much point in memorizing all of their improvising. They are so awesome because they studied the classci stuff so closely, then did their own thing with it, and more. I guess I want to emulate that process a bit.

I've also used Steve Kauffman, when I was building my fiddle tune vocabulary, but I would skip that part if I could do it all over again. It's basically paying money to listen to songs and figure them out.

I want to get into scale work, but it gets boring for me, which I know is no excuse. I should suck it up and study some scales. I just need to find something other than the Alonzo's or whatever. They are too rote for my ADD brain, I guess. Maybe the Bach tunes will help with that.

Nov-21-2005, 3:33pm
Great info. I can understand why I'm not improving at an alarming rate. I like to practice the Jeopardy theme, Andy Griffith's Fishin' Hole song, and whatever commercial tunes I hear.
On serious nights I like to put the metronome on about 80 bpm and do a bunch of tunes as a medley in the same keys, i.e. Huckleberry Hornpipe, Big Sandy, Salt Creek, Red Haired Boy, Bill Cheathum; Soldier's Joy, St Ann's Reel, Arkansas Traveler, Liberty; Blackberry Blossom, Wheel Hoss, Dixie Breakdown, then C tunes,etc. Then I move it slowly up to 140 bpm, or as fast as I can get it clean. Then I really work on trying to get precise melodies of specific tunes at different places on the mandolin. I'm working hard at trying to come with bluesy sounding "ghost notes" in between the melodies. And that's about it.
Thanks for the kick in the pants. I've printed a lot of the tips in this thread. I can see that I really need to start some kind of meaningful practice, and also learn some new stuff. Thanks again for all the good info.