Rate This Article
Rate from 1 (poor) to 5 (best)

Practice Your Listening

Practice, Practice, Practice. The words spin around your head at all times of the day. How much? How often? Who knows! So you say you have no energy on the day? You don't have a spare 14 hours to practice today? The sight of your guitar is making you sick? You just don't feel like it! Now, now, now, my little whipper snapper, don't fret and don't despair. To put it simply, don't force it. You can miss a couple of days of practicing without the guilt, the heartache, and the stomach-gripping apprehension. Sound like a commercial? This article is not really an article on practicing nor is it being written with the hopes of rehashing any past lessons or articles that cover the subject of practicing. In fact, this article will attempt to enhance your practicing - maybe not the physical side, but we'll get those ears in line and in shape. I'm going to touch on the "mental" or the aural side of practicing.

"Open your ears and take a couple of days off from the rigors of physical practicing."
I have a student and just the other day when our session was about to begin, he explained how he had a very bad week: term papers, illness, and a car accident. Murphy's Law was in full effect! After sitting down and alleviating any problems with his past lesson, I told him to pack up. For the next hour we kicked back and listened to some tunes, but we listened constructively. We let our ears do the walking instead of our fingers. I suggested, for starters, some blues. So I grabbed some CDs like John Coltrane's "Plays the Blues", Modern Jazz Quartet's "Blues on Bach", Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island", which is a blues with a bridge, and then some down home traditional blues a la Big Bill Broonzy. Then we switched to some up-tempo tunes in the "Rhythm Changes" form: "Oleo" and "Anthropology" to name a few. We followed these tunes with our Real Books not only to see the changes but to hear them. After checking out these songs, I threw him a screwball and played a Metallica CD and played the song "Master of Puppets." After jamming to that I played the same song by a cello quartet Apocalyptica who have transcribed Metallica songs for the cello. Very interesting!

When listening to songs, its always fun to visualize yourself playing, especially if you know a song. I happen to be a master, a guru, a god on the "air" guitar. I'm not ashamed to play my air axe in public, I might add. Try listening for the form, melody and progressions in the song. Tap the rhythm. Try picking out the chord tonality: major, minor, diminished? Listen to music that doesn't include the guitar. Try listening to the guitar in different musical situations: as an accompanist, with a string quartet, in a rock band with another guitar versus a band with only one guitar. How about the guitar in a swing band? Try listening to other instruments. How about Yuseef Lateef on the jazz oboe or bassoon? Eric Dolphy on the bass clarinet?

Try listening to different music: country, classical, bluegrass, contemporary jazz, world music, etc. Try out one of my favorite country artists, Roy Clark (that dude can wail on the banjo), or maybe Bela Bartok's (my favorite classical composer), "Miraculous Mandarin". The whole point is just to listen. Open your ears and take a couple of days off from the rigors of physical practicing. Get those ears in shape.

Good Luck!

Frederick Burton is a Philadelphia-based jazz guitarist and teacher