Here’s a fun video one of my students, Ralph, shared with me this week. It’s been out for a while, but I just saw it and thought it may make you smile:
Even though the video makes a good point about practicing, we all know that practicing alone won’t get us to where we want to get with our music. After all, countless aspiring pianists practice for years and never reach even the minimum level where they can sit down and simply play tunes the way they’d like.
Even more important than “what” to practice, is “how” to practice. And the “how” of practicing is all about “flow.”
All too often, playing piano becomes “40 years of never sounding good enough.” The ironic part of this is that the music we play usually sounds good to our listeners, but it doesn’t “feel” right to us as we play it. However, when we play with flow, this anxiety disappears. The great thing about playing with flow is that if the music flows, it always feels (and sounds) good!
Practicing with flow means that we intentionally learn something in a way that we can tap into a sense of flow right away. This may mean practicing a melody or bass line very slowly, and savoring the sense of flow. Or, it may mean learning 2 or 3 fancy chord voicings today (instead of 20) and trying them out with different rhythms. Since it’s more fun to play with flow, we’ll practice longer and also retain what we’ve learned better in the long run. All our senses become engaged when we play with flow.
Here’s practice assignment for you to do this week, if you wish:
Choose a tune with a relatively simple chord progression, and make it a priority to tap into “flow” while improvising over it. Try it every day and see where it takes you. One great thing about tapping into flow is that it helps us not worry so much about what notes to play. Additionally, we find ourselves having so much fun that we also don’t worry so much about “how do I sound?” The flow sounds good, so you know you’re playing well.
I did this myself while playing Jimmy Heath’s great jazz waltz, “Gemini.”
Listen to both how I start the song itself and also the improvised solo. I did it by tapping into flow. You can too.
Gemini: Journey Through The Real Book #132
Remember, make “flow” a priority both in the way you practice and in the way you perform. You’ll have more fun, you’ll sound better, and you’ll improve a lot more in the long run.
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