Once You’re In, You’re in for Life, part 2

Practice opportunities follow you everywhere you go.  Do you notice them?

Last month we discussed the ‘when’ part of musicianship, and discovered that opportunities to practice music go way beyond the confines of the practice room.  We explored practicing The Big Three: melody, harmony, and rhythm.  This month we will explore even more ways to practice without your instrument.


I. Music Theory

Practicing music theory is an ideal thing to do when away from your instrument.  You could write out theoretical things while waiting for an appointment, or as an alternative to mindlessly scrolling on your phone.  Can you, for example, write out the Circle of Fifths without looking online?  Can you recite that the key of Ab has 4 flats and they are bb, eb, ab, db, and therefore the Ab major scale is spelled ab, db, c, db, eb, f, g, ab?  Can you spell its relative minor scale, Fm?  Can you spell an Abmaj7 chord as ab, c, eb, g?

What about modes?  Can you name the intervals of the Locrian Natural 2 mode (the sixth mode of melodic minor)?  Can you spell it in 12 keys?  The list goes on and on.  Depending on how well you know the material you are strengthening, you could even practice some of this in your head while in the car.  Just don’t miss your exit.


II. Technique

Technique may seem like one of the toughest things to practice away from the instrument, but you may be surprised when you think about all the possible ways there might be for your instrument when you use a little imagination.  Since I am most familiar with guitar, let’s use that as an example.

Guitarists could carry a pick and practice things like: holding the pick; playing certain combinations of alternate, economy, directional, or hybrid picking; strumming patterns; raw speed, etc.

For the fretting hand they could practice things like: finger independence; finger strength (through the use of an exercise ball or equivalent); visualize doing the tip-and-roll technique; etc.


III.  Visualization

It has been proven that athletes who visualize themselves performing at their peak do better than those who do not, even when their physical training may be equal.  Thus it is a powerful thing to visualize playing scales, arpeggios, licks, riffs, patterns, etc. on your instrument.  Guitarists and pianists could even write out certain intervallic relationships such as scales or chord voicings on paper.   Wind instruments can visualize the fingerings for scales or arpeggios.  Percussion players can visualize themselves playing different drums, cymbals, or other instruments with whatever kinds of sticks or mallets they would use.


IV.  Repertoire

Another thing that is easy to practice away from your instrument is memorizing songs.  In every genre there is standard repertoire, that every pro musician in that genre would be expected to have at least some degree of familiarity with.  In the jazz world, pro musicians have often memorized dozens, if not hundreds, of ‘standards.’  In the rock world there may be a less widely-agreed-upon bulk of music that musicians should know, but I would think that there are certain songs everyone should know.  (Email me below for a short list.)  Even in the classical world, where reading takes the precedence over memorization, there are still many pieces that are simply much more common and musicians may be called upon to play sections of by memory.

Can you play the chords from memory?  Can you play the melody without sight-reading it?  Have you memorized the form / arrangement of the tune so you can perform it start to finish?


V. Ear Training

You hear a song in supermarket.  Is it in a minor or major key?  What is the chord progression?  What are the intervals to the melody?  Once you have memorized the sound of the 12 intervals (yes there are only 12, but they can be ascending or descending from the ‘tonic’ or root note or tonal center), you can begin to analyze melodies much more readily.  (For more on hearing melodies in intervals, see my article, Music by Numbers.  https://supertonicguitar.com/music-by-numbers/)

Ear training is one of the most powerful and expansive ways of improving your musicianship, so we saved what is potentially the best for last in this article.  When you hear a car horn, how many distinct pitches did you hear?  Two?  Three?  What were the intervals?  Perhaps the easiest way is to find the lowest of them and see if the others are in that key’s major or pure minor scale.  Even if you can’t decipher them right now, the very act of trying will make you more motivated to want to learn ear training.

What about training for melodies in your imagination?  You don’t have to physically hear sounds in order to analyze them.  For example, you know the melody to “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  Can you figure out the intervals?  (The answer is 3 2 1 2 3 3 3, 2 2 2, 3 5 5 etc.)  This is a great way practice when you’re away from your instrument.


VI. Big or Small Commitment is Up to You

In part 1’s discussion of practicing melody, harmony and rhythm away from your instrument, I concluded by saying that once you start to see all the opportunities around you, you’ll be forever committed to developing your musicianship for life. Perhaps that was a little extreme, and you’d rather play games or watch videos on your phone during periods of downtime outside the home. There is nothing wrong with that, but if you keep your mind and ears open, you’ll learn to have fun with enough stimuli, from both inside and outside yourself, that can keep your musicianship developing without your instrument for many lifetimes.


If you want to set up a free trial lesson either in person or online, simply fill out this form and we’ll get back to you within 24 hours.  You’ve got nothing to lose and an amazing musical world to gain. 🙂