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Thread: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

  1. #1

    Default Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    From prior experience, I know that I make the most progress with an instrument when I am intentional and specific in my practicing. I'm about two months into playing the mandolin now (coming over from guitar and violin), and I'd like to create an outline of the different aspects of my mandolin playing so that I can focus on them in order to continue progressing.

    I came up with 9 categories, but I'd love to hear some feedback on these and/or advice of what to add. I'd imagine that focus on two or three of them in any given day.

    1. Right hand technique (grip, position, movement, crosspicking, etc)
    2. Left hand technique (finger exercises, pinky, shifts, etc)
    3. Chords
    4. Tremolo
    5. Knowledge of the fretboard
    6. Music theory knowledge (notes in keys, forming chords, note relationships, etc)
    7. Song projects
    8. Improvising
    9. Ear training / learning by ear

    How does this look to you all? I know it seems very analytical, but that's kind of what I'm after. I'm really hoping to push myself on this instrument because I absolutely love playing it and, frankly, I want become a solid, well-rounded player!
    Last edited by MoreThanQuinn; Mar-04-2018 at 12:50pm.

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  3. #2

    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    I would be inclined to approach each of your goals as song projects.

    For example
    • Practice tremolo by learning Ashokan Farewell.
    • Practice cross picking by incorporating it into licks that you can use over Foggy Mountain Breakdown.
    • Expand your chord knowledge by figuring out voicings to a swing tune.
    • Etc.


    I think you can be intentional and specific while doing this. When you compartmentalize so much, you end up with lots of technique, but little repertoire.

    There is a blog where a guy challenges himself to learn a skill in one month. He goes through his strategy and thought process as he adapts his strategy. You can see how he is being analytical and intentional, but more in the service of making music, when he takes on learning blues guitar.

    https://medium.com/the-mission/how-t...h-d05a1afcb465

    I have watched a lot of kids learn music, and the ones who progress the fastest are the ones who focus on performance goals, rather than skill acquisition.

    You might be an exception.
    Last edited by JonZ; Mar-04-2018 at 1:51pm.
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  5. #3

    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    @JonZ, That is a great idea. Thank you. I will still probably do exercises for specific things, but I will certainly try to make my song projects coincide with these goals. I appreciate the advice! I will put it to use.

  6. #4

    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    I remember reading this article a while back on the late John McGann. I think it really sums up the idea of focused intentional practicing. I love the idea of him getting a mirror and playing into it to ensure he was achiving optimum technique...I also felt validated when he mentions how his hours of practice of technique would fall apart when he was gigging in bars...there may be some hope for us all...

    http://jazzmando.com/tips/archives/001774.shtml

  7. #5
    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Well, you've listed a bunch of stuff we all could spend a lot of time working on.

    Like all the basic tools.

    P. S.

    #4 !!!!!!

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    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    I've taught lots of musicians how to fiddle and mando, and I always stuck by the notion that playing songs is not the path to progress...intentional exercises and technique studies develop skills much faster than songs. It's not as much "fun", but the path is shorter.
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  10. #7
    Registered User Louise NM's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    You don't specifically mention scales, but you will want them in there somewhere.

    If you read standard notation, Marilynn Mair's book, The Complete Mandolinist, has most everything on your list.
    1988 Reno mandolin, Trinity College mandola, Kentucky KM 272 oval hole mandolin, a few bowed string instruments and some stray woodwinds

  11. #8

    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Thanks for the responses everyone.

    @Louise, you're right. Scales are in there definitely. I figure between knowing the fretboard and learning about keys I will do them. This week I started every day with G major scales (open) and A major scales (closed), just to get familiar with the shape of major scales on the fretbaord. I'd imagine I'll move on to others as I start to feel these become more automatic.

    @MontanaMatt. Thanks for the input! You're right, sometimes it seems more fun to just play the songs haha. I will say, though, that when I take the time to warm up properly and do regimented exercises to begin my playing, I am able to play the songs a lot better afterwards. Now that is fun in my opinion.
    Unrelated, I'm from Missoula. (Though I'm in Seattle nowadays.)

    @Noah. Thanks for the link, I'll be sure to give it a read! The mirror technique is something my violin teacher employs a lot. I think it's really effective. If I had a large mirror in my apartment I'd do it for sure.

    @David. Thanks for the input. Yeah. Right now (two months in) tremolo feels daunting. But I know it's important and I know it's only a matter of time, so long as I practice it. Good tremolo is so fun to listen to, I don't want to shortchange myself by not learning how to do it myself!

  12. #9
    Mandolin Friendly Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Focus is crucial: analyze what you're doing in your practice and work on improvement in each area. One practice technique for doing this is to play v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. Notice I wrote that this is one way, definitely not the only way, and some here may denigrate this idea from time to time, but it is one good way to improve. You can implement this practice technique utilizing a tune, a scale, an arpeggio or any other exercise.

    How slowly? How about so slowly that an observer wouldn't be able to guess what it is you're playing? Anyway, speed of course is variable, so experiment. Play it slowly enough that you make no errors in playing the notes, and then, slowly enough to have time to analyze as many aspects as possible about what you're doing. Right hand motion, pick grip, relaxation vs. tension, amount of pressure exerted on the strings by fretting fingers, left hand position, attack of the fingertips, economy of motion, and list goes on and on.

    Focus on areas where you perceive a problem. Try to become aware of everything that impacts your playing. Pick stroke direction, varying your dynamics, etc. etc.

    In actual practice, you'll be able to focus most on areas that you are most aware of. One thing at a time, if necessary.

    Of course all your practice cannot be like that. It is one practice technique, and can be employed from now on throughout your music career. Practicing and rehearsing at performance speed is equally important. And you shouldn't think much if at all about these things when performing. This is strictly a practice technique, and you can grow to love it and enjoy it, along with your old friend the metronome.
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  13. #10

    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    >Practice tremolo by learning Ashokan Farewell.

    Maybe an Italian restaurant tune instead? I find the elegance of Ashokan is near-ruined with tremolo.

    Then again, I'm inordinately non-tremolo. So take my comments with a grain of salt.
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  15. #11

    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Quote Originally Posted by MoreThanQuinn View Post
    ......

    I came up with 9 categories, but I'd love to hear some feedback on these and/or advice of what to add. I'd imagine that focus on two or three of them in any given day.

    1. Right hand technique (grip, position, movement, crosspicking, etc)
    2. Left hand technique (finger exercises, pinky, shifts, etc)
    3. Chords
    4. Tremolo
    5. Knowledge of the fretboard
    6. Music theory knowledge (notes in keys, forming chords, note relationships, etc)
    7. Song projects
    8. Improvising
    9. Ear training / learning by ear
    Well, those are great items, but developing the habit of getting into your practice chair DAILY and doing the work is probably the most important item. And how much time do you have and can manage in 20-30 minute blocks?

    I would also keep track in some fashion, I use a spreadsheet, as most people practice the fun stuff and ignore the hard stuff. Learning the 6 inversions of chords (3 note chords across all 4 strings) is a nontrivial task and will take more than a few sittings.

    I would add 'warmup' as well, just something relaxing to free up the right hand. Don't kill the joy in the mechanical work, and be careful of injury in left hand work, ie, 5 minutes may be good but an hour may be trouble.

    The song question is interesting in that you can learn repertoire or learn to play more broadly, using specific repertoire as a vehicle to practice specific concepts learned in exercises. I prefer the latter, in that if I learn a technique it will be transferable, while something mostly specific to a song may not be. Even if the song has the correct elements, you'll probably spend more time on the easy stuff than the element you want to master.

    My $.02. ymmv
    Play it like you mean it.

  16. #12

    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Quote Originally Posted by MontanaMatt View Post
    I've taught lots of musicians how to fiddle and mando, and I always stuck by the notion that playing songs is not the path to progress...intentional exercises and technique studies develop skills much faster than songs. It's not as much "fun", but the path is shorter.
    If you have always stuck by that notion, what are you comparing to?
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  17. #13
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Getting realistic for a second. This is not meant for the OP, or any individual in particular, just the general mandolinner looking at this thread for practice suggestinos.

    Yes there are things to practice, yes there are ways to practice. And they are all important.

    But the most important thing is to practice.

    If you can get behind a mandolin every day, regardless of what you play or work on, you are miles and miles ahead of the person who does the perfect practice every now and then, and light years in front of the person who never practices.

    Using the 80-20 rule, practicing something every day is 80% of the benefit. To most of us. To 80% of us. Those with professional ambitions of some sort, the other 20%, I will bet you dollars to donuts, are not sitting around reading this, they are practicing.

    Figuring out the best way to practice - is - not practicing. Making time charts and graphs and index cards - is - not practicing. All these things have their place certainly, and can be very helpful, if you are already in the habit of practicing.

    I think the first thing is do something every day. Once that is like breathing to you fine tune it with intentionality and all the resources and advice you can. But until you are in the natural habit of doing something mandolinny ever day, the rest of it doesn't matter.

    IMO. Don't ask me how I know.
    Last edited by JeffD; Mar-06-2018 at 11:43am.
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  19. #14
    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    If you have always stuck by that notion, what are you comparing to?
    I am currently on sabbatical, but taught for ten years, around 100 students over that decade. My evidence is from student self reporting of how they practice, if they take my practice advice, and their development speed. No confidence interval or chi square associated with my observation biased anecdotal evidence , just my gut understanding.
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  20. #15

    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Have you ever met a music teacher who said that students who did not follow his practice advice made the most progress?🤔

  21. #16

    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Quote Originally Posted by MontanaMatt View Post
    I've taught lots of musicians how to fiddle and mando, and I always stuck by the notion that playing songs is not the path to progress...intentional exercises and technique studies develop skills much faster than songs. It's not as much "fun", but the path is shorter.
    Quote Originally Posted by MontanaMatt View Post
    I am currently on sabbatical, but taught for ten years, around 100 students over that decade. My evidence is from student self reporting of how they practice, if they take my practice advice, and their development speed. No confidence interval or chi square associated with my observation biased anecdotal evidence , just my gut understanding.
    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    Have you ever met a music teacher who said that students who did not follow his practice advice made the most progress?��
    That's an interesting question, especially if one is a conscientious teacher. If so, what would such a teacher *not* give the best possible advice?

    I had the opportunity to teach a techanique class for a week at a music camp, and I advised everyone to practice the drills between sessions, and only as fast as could be played perfectly. If they made a mistake, they had to ease up two clicks on the metronome so as not to internalize the mistake, only advancing once they were capable of playing something 10 times perfectly at that speed.

    For what it's worth, the students who felt they didn't need to master the basic building blocks (because they could bull their way through with what they had) later admitted they were wrong by the end of the second day's morning session.

    I'm not sure if the students learning (and admitting) that they were only denying themselves an opportunity to improve is the same as a teacher thinking that.

    Regarding mastering technique instead of just tunes, it's like someone wanting to learn to be a complete artist or musician, as opposed to somene wanting to learn to draw draw in a favorite comic book's style or play one genre's tunes. It's completely okay to focus only on the latter, of course.
    Playing a no-point 14-fret-to-the-body oval-hole with scroll, a Flatiron 1SH mandola (original owner), a McNally Ukulele Strumstick in CGDA mandola tuning, a McNally 4-string Chromatic Strumstick in GDAE octave mandolin tuning, and rocking my six-course, unison-tuned 12-string Ovation mandophone/extended cittern in CGDAEB Full Fifths Tuning...

  22. #17

    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    The funny thing is that my sons generally ignored any musical advice I gave them, and became really good musicians. I was never their actual music teacher, but always threw in my two bits (as dads will do).
    Last edited by JonZ; Mar-09-2018 at 9:07pm.
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    Mandolin user MontanaMatt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Quote Originally Posted by JonZ View Post
    The funny thing is that my sons generally ignored any musical advice I gave them, and became really good musicians. I was never their actual music teacher, but always threw in my two bits (as dads will do).
    Perhaps your advice wasn't from a place of observation, whereas an astute teacher analyzes a players technique, weaknesses, and provides a guided path to proficiency
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  25. #19

    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Yet, above you have offered advice on how to practice without observing any of us.
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    Some Ability - No Talent MikeZito's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    As a songwriter, maybe my approach is different. I am constantly 'noodling' in the hopes of finding something new and interesting that I can turn into a song. Occasionally I will make a brief attempt at learning some other 'song', just to get an idea of how it is chordally structured, but overall, I am a noodler. The art of noodling (if done correctly, IMHO) does give one a fairly respectable overview of the 9 categories that Quinn listed above. Granted, this technique may never make me into Jethro Burns or Dave Apollon - but, that my never my intent in the first place . . . I am just an average guy who simply wants to be able to lay down usable tracks in the studio, and not be completely lost when do impromptu jamming with friends.
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  27. #21

    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Quote Originally Posted by Explorer View Post
    Regarding mastering technique instead of just tunes, it's like someone wanting to learn to be a complete artist or musician, as opposed to somene wanting to learn to draw draw in a favorite comic book's style or play one genre's tunes. It's completely okay to focus only on the latter, of course.
    this this this so much this. I have a friend and, to a lesser extent, my Dad, constantly pushing the learn by ear/hear it in your head and play that whereas I am working hard to learn scales, intervals, passing tones, etc.

    I have found so much value in doing so in that I can sit down at a piano having taken zero lessons and plink out the basic outline using intervals. I can pick up a bass and run a 1/3/5 with a little walking line. Going to the mandolin, I will not confuse anyone into thinking I am a good picker but I can run a basic melody line just based on my theory knowledge.

    It takes longer to learn overall but it has helped me understand so much. When "playing by ear" I just ended up frustrated and could do nothing except play the specific version I knew. Learning music has opened doors wildly.

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    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    At the moment I'm practicing arpeggios, but i want to know where all the notes are (I, III, V etc) just by feeling my way around the fingerboard. So I'm going through Pete Martin (great) online book at petimarpress.com. I have my eyes closed, start with any root note on the fretboard -C# why not, and go through some of the arpeggio patterns with just left hand hammer-ons, metronome (cool drum machine) soooo slow, and no right hand for the moment. First finger starting on the root for an hour or so, then second, then third...

  30. #23

    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Thanks again for the responses everyone. Really great to hear a variety of approaches to practicing.

    A little personal context: I played my last violin recital for the time being. I'll be putting down the fiddle while I travel for the next 6 months and focusing only on mandolin - which means all my practice time will go to the mandolin. I'm really excited.

    @atsunrise I also just downloaded Pete's book and played through the first chapter. I actually took a lesson with Pete last month and he is an awesome guy and a fantastic teacher. I think I'll paypal him the 10 bucks and use that book as my "theory" tool for the time being.
    I've also been watching his series on improvisation and I enjoy it quite a bit.

    Man, there's just so much to learn on this awesome little instrument. I want to be able to do it all!

  31. #24
    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    Lots of great suggestions here for sure. Focusing on specifics is important, but equally important to take breaks.

    I've found that I can practice perfectly for about 30 minutes at most. What I mean is, if I'm practicing a new skill or really working a rough patch, I will only play that for about 30 minutes at a clip before taking a short break (walking outside, watching something on TV, read something interesting etc). I could practice for longer, but I find the benefits fall off sharply and the risk of ingraining bad habits rises quickly. If I do play for longer than ~30 minutes without a break, I try not to be repetitive (i.e. I'll play something once through only - maybe twice - to help reduce the chance of getting a bad habit)

    Good routines are all about how much you can stick to them IMO. I think you have a lot of skills listed out, but I would suggest setting the routine to something more tangible with practical uses. You probably are doing this to some extent already I'm sure.

    My routine takes me about 1 hour to get through (sometimes 2) - but keep in mind, that includes breaks. I usually focus my practice around specific songs that I'm either trying to learn or that have a skill / lick I want to practice - IMO that helps ensure that my practice time is well spent (and helps me get in shape for bands I play in at the same time)

    + Arpeggio's to start in the key I'm going to practice. I start with the I IV V, then move to VI ii V I. Set the metronome to 70 - 100 BPM and play quarter notes through until perfect, then eighth notes, then triplets, then 16th notes. I shift positions starting usually with open position and moving from there. I also start with 1 octave then move to 2. Takes about 30 minutes right there

    + Play the chords of the song in every variation I can. Typically I'll do 2 note "chords" on G & D strings up the neck, then on the D & A strings, then the A & E strings. After that, I'll play across the mandolin in open position moving up the neck. After that, I'll combine the two. Setting the metronome to about 70 - 100 bmp. Takes about 20 minutes

    + Play the melody of the song - typically start at half speed and move up to 120% speed (thanks to the Amazing Slower Downer for that). Play a harmony in the same way (usually a 3rd or 5th based parallel harmony to keep it easy-ish). Takes about 20 - 45 minutes (but I usually will break it up in two segments anyway)

    + Study / steal a solo break (or two) from the masters - I find my favorite version, loop the mandolin breaks, slow them down, and practice them until I got it or have to break.


    IMO this routine allows me to focus on all the hot points you talk about (i.e. right & left hand techniques, theory, grip, fretboard knowledge, etc) while improving my practical playing.

    Also, I've heard great things about the book The Practice of Practice though I have not read it so I can't endorse - https://www.amazon.com/Practice-Boos.../dp/B00KVP372M

  32. #25
    Registered User MissingString's Avatar
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    Default Re: Practicing Intentionally - Things to Practice

    The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness
    by Gerald Klickstein (Author)

    Another excellent book. Great section on practice with a recommended diary-style page for planning and showing progress in practice. Just started using this format and look forward to looking back on entries a year or two later. Thanks to David Benedict for introducing this to me! Seems his practice routine has worked out quite well LOL!
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