12 Rules of Practice, from Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis at the Lincoln Center for the ...
Wynton Marsalis at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wynton Marsalis is a musician who knows how to practice. As a younger man, he was equally at home in front of a symphony orchestra playing the Haydn concerto, or laying down some serious jazz with Art Blakey. Check out Wynton’s discography for more evidence.

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice by Jonathan Harnum is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

For a while now, he’s turned his full attention to traditional jazz and his own new compositions. Back when VHS was the only option for video releases, Wynton did a program called Tackling the Monster: Wynton on Practice.  In the video excerpt below, fast-forward to 3:00 to get to the practice tidbits. After that, check out Wynton playing some sweet choruses at the Jazz in Marciac festival in France, in 2009. So tasty and relaxed. After that first tune, the concert goes on for another 45 minutes. Worth hearing, for sure! That’s what tens of thousands of hours of practice sound like.

Here are 12 practice suggestions from Master Marsalis. Each one could be the subject of a book on its own.

1. Seek out the best private instruction you can afford.

2. Write/work out a regular practice schedule.

3. Set realistic goals.

4. Concentrate when practicing

5. Relax and practice slowly

6. Practice what you can’t play. – (The hard parts.)

7. Always play with maximum expression.

8. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

9. Don’t show off.

10. Think for yourself. – (Don’t rely on methods.)

11. Be optimistic. – “Music washes away the dust of everyday life.”

12. Look for connections between your music and other things.

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(start the vid below at 3:00 to skip the credits). I’ve found some evidence in my own research talking with master musicians that, instead of being something that is dreaded, as Wynton and YoYo Ma mention, practice is also something many musicians love dearly. It’s good to have a challenge and work toward it, even if that work is sometimes supremely demanding, and at times frustrating.

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Here’s Wynton and crew in 2009. Around 16:00 you can hear Wynton and Wycliffe Gordon sing.

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice by Jonathan Harnum is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

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