Local jazz trumpeter and arranger, Doug Kelly is a legend. I shall never forget when our orchestra accompanied him with his own arrangement for trumpet and orchestra of Rimsky Korsakov’s ‘Flight of the Bumble Bee’. Amazing skill and dexterity to play so many notes on the trumpet at that speed!

Doug said something profound when we were chatting after a rehearsal recently. “Don’t practice. Just Play.” I might have missed it, but I always listen carefully to Doug. After all he is 95 and knows his stuff!

What he said made me think about how I address my pupils in the area of practice. There is such a difference between the feel of these two verbs. One gives the impression of hard, unenjoyable slog; the other sounds like fun at the park. I really want my pupils to learn their music as the latter, while recognizing the fact they do need to work at it too.

It is building on the sense of satisfaction one gains by repeating an activity to develop a higher skill level.  The material being used is surely key here. If the music is interesting enough, practice will feel more like play and the regular playing is in itself practice.

I remember feeling that way when I first heard George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ in my teen years. I was so excited to have a go at playing it, even when it was beyond my ability. I learned the easy pages first and started picking my way through the harder ones, and finally managed the whole piece when I didn’t expect I would be able to.

Yes, I guess I wasn’t really practicing, I was playing the bits I wanted to and each success gave me confidence to want to learn another page.

Actually, all this came on a foundation of the skills I had learned in the early years: how to break difficult passages down into manageable chunks and get them accurate before moving on.  And back in those early years it was called practice.

But I like Doug’s point, we need to simply play more.

6 thoughts on ““Don’t Practice. Just Play!”

  1. This is helpful! I must say, practice is a word that I have often associated with ‘hard, tedious slog’. Perhaps the lack of guidance I received when practicing as a child, about what to do and why it would be helpful, led to me missing the sense of success and satisfaction which would have changed my mindset?

    • Thank you so much for this response Chuana!
      I think it is a challenge for all of us to know how best we practice. I think the focus on correct repetitions of a small manageable chunk at a time can not be underestimated. That’s the “what to do” part. The “why it would be helpful” part is that the small, correct manageable chunk is a building block to the next manageable chunk and little by little we can see it taking shape and become a piece of music we are proud to play. Then we’ll find the satisfaction that would hopefully, as you have rightly suggested, give the sense of success that can change our mindset about practice. I see a far greater sense of satisfaction in pupils who have done this. Their progress is quicker and because of that the practice becomes more a valuable tool than a burden.

  2. Carol Brocklebank says:

    This is a refreshing way to look at playing, making things fun by doing a bit of what you fancy as well as practicing exercises etc. If you find it fun then it is easier to have another go tomorrow. I’ve found already I improve best if I do a little bit every day, it is easier to keep being motivated if you enjoy your playing.

    • Hi Carol, Thanks so much for your input! I like your point that if you find it fun then it is easier to have another go tomorrow. I agree that this is so key for all of us because the thought of what was difficult or boring yesterday makes it so hard to get back to – and establish the pattern to keep getting back to it. A little achieved each day is satisfying while not taking up all the time we don’t have.

  3. Very interesting Delwyn. Made particularly interesting by having a photo of the chap in question! What a legacy at 95!
    I pass these blogs onto Sarah – hopefully she gets time to read them in between study.

  4. Thanks Margaret,
    Yes Doug is a lovely person and I always enjoy chatting with him.
    All the best to Sarah and her studies. Thanks for passing the blogs on. I’d be glad to include her on the mailing list if that is helpful.

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