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How to Practice -- new personal directions

Posted by rrode on Sunday, March 31, 2013

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My musical 'career' is probably typical of most closet pickers.  I started playing guitar in my teens, mostly self-taught.  In high school and in college I performed at the occasional coffee house or church folk mass, but was never a regular performer.  I also performed as a singer, in choirs and other singing groups.  But as my career and family grew the performing, and even practicing, opportunities dwindled.  In recent years I've started playing more regularly, starting in on banjo almost 10 years ago.  Except for a few lessons as I was getting started, my journey again has been self-taught, self-directed.

And often mis-directed.  Or at least without much direction.  Lately I've been feeling a little frustrated with that, not feeling I am actually progressing.  And have been trying to build more structure into my playing time, with some set goals.  SoundCloud has become my virtual coffeehouse (, where I don't aim for perfection, but at least something that I am not too embarrassed about.  The community there is supportive -- nothing like having someone 'favorite' one of my tunes or offer an encouraging comment to lift one's spirits. 

Recently I came across The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness by Gerald Klickstein.  It was a revelation in many ways.  In the book Klickstein sets out a practice structure with different types of practice:  New pieces, developing, performance, technique and musicianship.  Each area has a different type of focus.  For instance when working on new material the regimen includes careful listening to recordings, background research on the piece, careful analysis of the score, visualization, vocalizing the major lines (singing it) and playing at a slow tempo.  As a piece moves to the development stage you gradually increase the tempo, innovate and memorize (made easier due to all the prep in the New section.)  You can find out more at his website - and an overview of the 5 areas here:

So I got myself organized with a set of folders, assigning pieces to each of the sections.  I dug through my old Banjo News to dig out all those technique articles that I always meant to work on.  Just reflecting on which tunes belong in which categories, and what I need to work on, has been really helpful.  And after two weeks I already feel like I am progressing in a direction.

It will take a while longer to see if this really sticks.  Any system is only as good as your continued adherence.  But if feels like a good start. 

2 comments on “How to Practice -- new personal directions”

BanjoBelle Says:
Sunday, March 31, 2013 @7:34:56 AM

Thanks for sharing this and I'll check out the Musicians Way....I too feel like I'm often either not progressing or that I'm close to leaping forward if I only knew what the next step was!

Tom Paglia Says:
Sunday, March 31, 2013 @4:14:47 PM

Thanks for the posting Randy! I bookmarked it and will refer to it also. I may purchase the book.

Thanks Again,


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