As you progress on your instrument you’ll no doubt expand the number of topics you’re working on and typically be able to practise everything in one session as a result. This is where a structured program can be handy. Group these into sections, such as scales; technique; improvising; repertoire; transcribing; learning new tunes, and rotate through them. You will find that not every topic needs to be always practised in depth – your technique portion may be just working on a four note lick that you need to get up to speed, while your repertoire work could be memorising the chord changes to a jazz standard. This idea of having a program keeps all the topics you want to work on in view, yet rotates through them to create an even spread.
JUST DO IT
With any form of practise you really just need to make a start. This can often be the hardest part due to motivation, time, and lack of a good rehearsal space, but once you get started everything will fall in line. Have you ever forced yourself to get up early to go to the gym/for a run/walk the dog, hated life as you’re dragging yourself out of bed whilst thinking ‘what the hell am I doing’ – but then 10 minutes into it, felt so much better for doing so? Practise can often be the same. Restrict those distractions and get a start – then things will hopefully flow from there as you focus and get in the groove.
ONE THING AT A TIME
Another handy approach is to break things down into smaller sections. If you want to transcribe a solo, don’t get overwhelmed with the whole form – take the first couple of bars and look at them as a starting point. Work out the rhythm first and then add the notes, or vice versa. This takes lots of rewinding and listening to the sections repeatedly, which is completely normal. You might make use of a ‘slow downer’ app or the like to make faster passages easy to manage too. Everyone starts somewhere so don’t worry if it takes you half an hour to learn one bar – that’s a start, and the more you do it the quicker the process will become as you get better and better. Of course, if you have minimal transcribing experience – start with something accessible and manageable rather than jumping straight into Victor Wooten playing ‘Giant Steps’. The same goes for technique, scales and whatever. Learning and practising scales takes focus and repetition. You need to memorise the notes and make up of the scale, but then also get used to the sound and possible fingerings. This takes time, so work on one scale or one position as a start and give that time to sink in – then you can expand on it when you feel you have a solid understanding.
Most people will have periods in their life where practise time becomes less and less possible, so the need to practise effectively is paramount. I think it’s always better to keep it regular, even for shorter periods, rather than one massive block of practise. Try and squeeze sessions in whenever you can – even if it’s 10 minutes here and there.