A flexible approach to practicing jazz piano

As a jazz pianist, how many times have you enthusiastically put together a practice schedule, only to lose interest and abandon it after a short time? Sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone. I’ve done that too and I think just about everyone else has as well! The problem isn’t that we don’t want to practice, but in the way we go about it.

Here’s what I’ve found:

If you truly want to create an practice plan that you’ll stick with, it has to have two goals in order to be effective: 1. being disciplined enough for consistent improvement and, 2. being flexible enough to accommodate your daily interests so you stay interested in the long run.

The key is to find a good balance for you personally.

Let’s say that you want to get better at playing walking bass lines. Start by choosing 3 jazz tunes and try creating different bass lines, at slow tempos at first.  The reason I recommend choosing 3 tunes is that on some days you’ll gravitate towards one tune, and on other days you may prefer the other tunes. By working with a small group of songs like this, you’ll be able to take your daily interests into account in a flexible way while still keeping your eye on the overall goal. (If you pick more than 3 tunes, though, you run the risk of becoming unfocused).

Another way to incorporate flexibility into your practice routine would be to divide your time in half. Let’s say you have an hour to practice. Begin with 30 minutes that are the same every day, like practicing walking bass lines on your list of 3 tunes. Then do whatever you want for the remaining 30 minutes. For instance, you could stay with bass lines but play the 3 tunes as bossa novas. Or you could improvise solos over your 3 songs. Or you could play bass lines on other tunes. Or shift to something completely unrelated like playing through Charlie Parker transcriptions. Whatever you want to do on that particular day.

I’ve found that this combination of continuity/flexibility helps me best in the long run. I improve consistently while staying motivated and interested on a daily basis.

What type of practice routines have worked for you? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll compare notes!

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2 thoughts on “A flexible approach to practicing jazz piano”

  1. This is really useable advice, Ron. I’ve made up so many elaborate practice schedules that were abandoned after two days, or two weeks at the most. I’m going to rethink my schedule, incorporating your idea of flexibility. I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂


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