Posts Tagged practicing

Super-Basic Practice Routine

Not long ago, I posted about “Courting the Muse.” I that post, I said that I was trying to practice every day. When I wrote that, I had a plan to do some reading, some scales, some tunes, and some solo transcribing. Well, that’s not really worked out. I’m not in a place where I have time to really focus on that many different areas. However, where I ended up has been good because it’s both fun and productive. I have been basically been working on 2 things.

On Mondays and Tuesdays, I’m working on the Double from J.S. Bach’s Partita for Violin No. 1 in B minor at the suggestion of my friend Sean Gilbert. This thing is a beast! By working on this, I’m covering technique, scales, reading, arpeggios (galore!), harmonic development through single note lines, the list goes on… I’m not yet at performance speed and I haven’t even learned the whole thing yet. I’m getting about 2 measures a week. Still, the improvement in my chops is definitely showing. You can download the Partinas here.

On Thursdays and Fridays  I’m working on systematically reviewing jazz repertoire. I’m doing this by taking the University of Tennessee Jazz Jury repertoire list and going through all the tunes from that list that appear in the Real Book starting with Level 1. I first play the melody and the changes by myself, and then I turn on a YouTube play along and go with that (it takes 30 seconds to type “[song title] play along” into google to find what you need). When I feel sufficiently comfortable with a tune, I move on to the next. Play alongs are the closest thing to a live set so I’m working toward being able to play tunes (not from memory but with help from the chart) as if I was on a gig. This is helping with reading, scales, licks, changes, comping, repertoire, and more. It’s fun and it’s giving me a workout.

Wednesday is my day off at home and I’m changing diapers. Sometimes, I can sit down and play while my 1 yr old bangs on the guitar and grabs the strings. Saturday and Sunday, I’m playing worship tunes.

I should add that it’s always good to set a 30 minute timer for myself to help encourage me to go ahead an practice even when I’m busy. In reality, once I get started practicing is so rewarding and fun that I need the timer to make me stop.

What I like about this routine (or maybe what has kept me successfully following this routine) is that it’s very simple and fun. Like a good physical exercise routine, the less barriers to getting started and doing it every day the better.

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Courting the Muse

In my personal life, I am coming out of a long period of several years of foster care. We are still foster parents, but our current case is moving toward another adoption in a way that has taken a lot of the pressure off. We have also been struggling pretty intensely with being parents of kids from hard places. That struggle has forced me to become a student of trauma, child development, brain chemistry, and more in order to embrace this struggle as the new normal. Graciously, God has blessed us in this trial and He has also blessed me as a songwriter and performer with a number of songs that come from the context of this authentic kingdom journey.

As we come out of this time, I’ve realized that there’s something that was lost along the way that I long to recapture. What I lost was intimacy with the muse of music. I have been playing all this time and doing my job faithfully for the church, but in all the time taken up with the struggle, I’ve not been delighting in and soaking up music as much as I once did. I have decided recently to begin to “court the muse” again in order to restore that joy of performing music that I had. Here’s a list (listicle) of things that I’ve been trying to do to court the muse.

  1. Buying musiccarnegie-hall
  2. Practicing daily
  3. Listening
  4. Teaching
  5. Reading

Buying Music

This is actually hard to do in the world of parenting. I find that I feel guilty about spending the money as well as the time it takes to chose a purchase. Wading through everything that could possibly be purchased on Amazon or iTunes is daunting. It’s not the same to stream music for me. Spotify, Pandora and YouTube are handy but buying a recording involves more commitment for me to take the time to focus on the recording and really digest it. Lately, I’ve been trying to buy a new CD once a month.

Practicing Daily

This has been much harder of course. I’ve also struggled with feelings of guilt that I am being selfish to spend time practicing anything that is not worship songs. However, this guilt is not from the Holy Spirit. Besides, I’ve realized that I waste MUCH more time on social networks and TV that is not productive in the least. So, I am reading, doing scales, playing tunes, transcribing, and all the other things that I learned in college make you a better player. This has been DEEPLY therapeutic and joyful for me. My brain, my emotions, and my body almost buzz with delight after practicing for even just 20 minutes.


A natural outcome of buying new music, but it also takes effort. My car has a 6 CD player and I have kept it loaded with good stuff all the time. I can’t listen to music at home (there’s too much kid and dog noise to even attempt it). But in my car, I crank it up and let it soak in. Again, it’s handy to have a device that plays 10,000 songs on shuffle, but it’s also helpful to focus my listening to one CD and letting every track play instead of skipping to the “singles.” I’ve found that this kind of deeply listening allows me to hear things every time a track repeats that I hadn’t noticed before. Just this morning, I was listening to a song and I noticed that the drummer would leave out the last 8th note in the measure on the high hat every 4 measures. It might be my 20th or 30th time listening to the track.


This requires students obviously. I have a couple of students right now who are starting their journey with the guitar. It’s so exciting to introduce them to music and joy of performing together. Giving them just a few notes that they can play, all of a sudden they are musicians having their first experience with the muse. It’s a rush! Challenging them to work on getting past their technical and cognitive barriers reflects back on me to do the same and to not be content with letting my playing become plateaued.


I love books! Don’t you? Why do we look at our phones or whatever for hours and hours? Books are so much more satisfying. Reading about music has been a good stimulation for wanting to play more. Even just reading good stories or learning about history has the effect on me of wanting to connect with the muse and respond to these ideas with producing something instead of just being a consumer.

In all of this, I want to acknowledge though I’m using the Greek term “muse,” what I mean is that aspect of the Maker that I reflect when I make music. He created the physics of the universe that makes music possible. His word even says that HE sings over me to quiet me with His love. That is what I want to tap into and become intimate with again. The Maker – the WORD – is the muse and I don’t have to strive after Him because he has courted me into a relationship in which music is one of the amazing ways that I can be close with Him and to know His love and joy more deeply.

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