Playing By Yourself: A Guide to Inspirational Practice Routines
Q: I have a hard time remaining interested when I try and practice at home by myself. I have no problem finding inspiration when playing with others, but I quickly get bored and want to stop playing when I’m home alone. Have any tips?
A: I think this is a common issue. Many of us are “reactive players”. We need to interact with the music – and with musicians – or we get bored and lose focus.
So, one path is to figure out how to interact with yourself, musically.
I suggest getting a looper of some sort – even just a phrase repeater, but a full fledged looper would be best so you can add layers. Personally, I have an affinity for the Boss Loop Station but also really dig the Jam Man.
With a looper, you can then create progressions to play over, loop rhythms or any sound you could conceivably create with your instrument. You can also feed other sources through it, like an MP3 player or drum machine, via the aux input.
To help, I’ve created a little pedal board with some fun effects so I can play with different sounds, try and solo like a guitarist, experiment with atmosphere, and so on.
I think you’ll find a looper will become the best thing to happen to your practice routine. Try not to get too caught up with the actual loops you create though. Try and decide on something to work on, and build your loops to allow you to explore that topic.
For example, playing over changes. It’s so easy to loop 8, 16, 32 (whatever) bars and practice different things over the chord changes. This is also when having some chord shapes together really comes in handy.
A second idea may be to work on your ears. Janek Gwizdala told me about a new thing he’s been doing, which I think is brilliant. He’ll create an iTunes playlist of music he doesn’t know, keeping it interesting and challenging. He then plays the setlist, using his ears to figure out the changes as the tunes progress.
Typically, if your ears are fairly developed, you’ll have the tune by the time you’re half way through. If not, start it over and don’t move on the the next tune until you’ve got the first one down.
You are not only working your ears and fingerboard, but you are also developing your repertoire at the same time.
It also beats practicing scales by yourself for hours on end. It’s all about the music anyway, isn’t it?
Hopefully these two approaches will give you plenty of inspirational practice time. Bottom line, if you’re bored, you won’t retain as much information. Find a way to keep yourself interested and have fun! That’s the best way to learn.