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Sage Wisdom

"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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February 19, 2009 | Are you improving?

Two thoughts to approaching practicing, and they are somewhat in conflict with each other:
1.) Variety is the spice of life.
2.) One can be a jack of all trades, yet a master of none.

This issue came up in a water cooler discussion with one of our research assistants, Charlie Jones, while pondering self-improvement. Granted, there are many who just want to pick up a mandolin and play. God bless you if this is your only goal, just to play for the sake of enjoying a moment of music. Nothing wrong with that at all.

However, if one is to seek self-improvement, to invest in the achievement of superior ability in playing the mandolin, one must find that fine balance between well-rounded variety, and the honing of very specific skills. There are so many resources at your (literal) finger tips, printed material, discussion boards, videos & DVDs, and of course free online materials like we have here, but is it possible tackling too many projects at once can impose the Law of Diminishing Returns? The more variety, the less you learn?

It's so easy to look at a shelf of dusty materials, filled with books that looked so good at the time of purchase, computer print-outs of that great online exercise you found stimulating, magazine article drills and songs that never quite made it to the music stand, not because of a lack of plan, but a lack of follow-up. Variety is good, but if you keep moving from one project to the next, and never really finesse, you are denying yourself that perpetual improvement synonymous with individual mastery.

What's the answer besides the simple "one thing at a time?" Build into your practice time a minority percentage of "warm-up" time to get the fingers and brain going, but try to think of the rest of your practice as sequences of projects. Something like "Right Hand picking technique" or "Minor ii7b5 V7 I" chord progressions," "learn a new Choro," or "tremolo." Take that one concept and work it for three days. Work it, finish it, move on. You can always come back, recycle and work up the next level.

If you have enough time (say more than 30 minutes) you could try working three simultaneous concepts, but don't get carried away. The more you add to those three, the more it will detract from the healthy learning you can get from that focus. Over time of course, you can rotate in at out of all your minor goals, but work on intensity, mastery, rather than trying to do it all.

On Perfection
The Regressive Method
Practice Regime: A Balanced Diet
Stricken with Pickin'--Improving Pick Technique
Osmosis and Effective Practicing
Practicing with Limitations

Posted by Ted at February 19, 2009 1:42 PM

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