There’s a few elements to this. Practise something at the correct level for you. This is usually something that is difficult enough so that you have to stretch and improve in order to learn it, but not so difficult that it is beyond your reach and you get frustrated trying and failing. **Sometimes of course you should practise something easy, to give yourself a break! Practise something that is beneficial to what you want to achieve. If you really want to play piano so that you can accompany yourself singing, then there’s not much point spending lots of time learning difficult melodies. **Sometimes it might be no harm for a break to try something different, but you need to focus most of your time on what it is you want to be able to do. If you’re not sure about what you’re practising, and whether it is at the correct level or beneficial to you, then ask someone who knows.
1-28 and the idea courtesy of Gabe Anderson, 29-56 courtesy of Matthew Carey. Hang posters around town with just your name on them Write a song with your agent Call your manager’s spouse to thank them Buy your bass player some strings Introduce two of your artist pals to each other Recommend a book to your fans and then do a FB live the following week to talk about it Make a playlist of your fifty favorite songs and share it Ask your PR agent or team what they would love more than anything Write a song with two different choruses that both happen twice Send an email to the drummer of your dreams asking them if they’d be interested in playing on a track Turn your phone off for an entire day Post every hour for an entire day Make a little video introducing your fans to your team Send your fans merch Get coffee with your producer just
So if someone is learning how to play tunes on the accordion by ear aged 4, gigging aged 5 and recorded an album aged 6, you’d assume they have to be naturally talented. Not so, according to our guest on this week’s podcast. He reckons that this amazing musical childhood was instead due to hours of him standing in front of the TV, hungry to learn tunes from videos of Mick Foster (Foster and Allen). What’s more, he says it only got him so far, because as he got older he hated practising, and as a result others who were disciplined with their practice passed him out in terms of skill and technique. Another chapter in the talent vs hard work debate can be heard on this week’s podcast. And so can this song – our version of Jumbo Breakfast Roll written especially for Luke!
I have been reading recently of a good way to find inspiration when it’s lacking. Because although the word ‘restrictions’ is not popular at the moment, putting restrictions on your creativity can work. If someone asks you to write a song, it can be hard to know where to begin. But if someone asks you to write a 2-minute song in the key of B minor about a baby giraffe finding it’s feet, it might be unlike anything you have done before, but all of a sudden you have something to play with, and a place to start. I didn’t ask Drew Maitland to send me a 15-second promo for tonight’s show with bold yellow writing and only 7 seconds of music, but he did. And it’s perfect.
I heard it said recently that you never really know what you’re working on. So for example, when I thought I was training and playing football matches all through the 2000s, I was also working on friendships that would last way into the future. And when I thought in 2019 that I was writing a solo piano piece, I was also writing something that would come to life in 2021 as a piano/violin duet. And when I thought I was working on two virtual Theme Nights in 2020, I was also working on building trust with two people with whom I would soon collaborate on a podcast. So work on. Because it’s leading you somewhere unknown and often exciting. PS the two lads mentioned above interviewed me on our podcast this week, and the piano/violin duet in question was featured. It was the first time I had been interviewed by two people who knew me so well, so it was
Music is nothing without context. Let’s assume for a moment that Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Oscar Peterson are all alive, and let’s now say you give them prime billing in Lola Montez (local niteclub) on a pre-pandemic Saturday night, the chances are that even this much-vaunted trio will bomb. Because what this particular crowd are expecting is chart hits pumped out at high volume, not jazz. Not even some of the best jazz that has ever existed. Put them in the local theatre, however, and the chances are that the gig will be sold out months in advance, and you would hear a pin drop while they were performing. When it comes to practising (so as you can be as good as Oscar Peterson (!)), similar rules apply. You need to remember the context of your practice. If it’s so as you can perform something professionally, well then you need to be able to play it without mistakes. Repeatedly.
On April 23, 2018 I wrote this. It was my first time to make a commitment to a regular blogging practice. Mostly daily, sometimes less regular, it has been a constant in my life and has produced almost 800 blogs in that time. I have no doubt that I’m a better writer now than I was then, and it has been a thoroughly enjoyable addition to my day. And I’m not stopping, I’m just changing emphasis a bit, and wanted to fill you all in. Because how we spend our time matters. It’s a finite resource, and one day it will expire. And recently I figured that I’d really like to put more time into writing music. And so most of the time I spent blogging will go to that. For the next while I’ll be writing music every day. I won’t necessarily publish everything I write, but I do look forward to sharing some of the results of this
I spoke to a colleague of mine the other day who at the moment is practicing a really fast tune on her instrument that she hasn’t played in ten years. The tune that is, not the instrument. It’s funny – as a professional musician, you may find that the majority of the music you are asked to play is well within your capability, but every so often something comes along that challenges you technically. And when this happens it feels like being a student all over again. And so – if you are a professional musician who also teaches then you may find yourself following (and therefore testing) the advice that you give students all the time. Play the difficult passages slowly and repeatedly; only then speed up. Work out a fingering pattern and stick to it. Know the music really well in your head. Learn the music technically before you try and mess around with it. Enjoy the challenge.
The story of a song… This eventually turned into this. Similar melody and chords, but completely different lyrics and vibe. Fascinating. So if your song doesn’t work first time out, it doesn’t mean it has to be discarded.
I reckon I must hold some sort of record for speed while running the length of Dublin’s O’Connell St. I was just home from Belgium one Sunday – after a great weekend of gigs with local band No Crows there, and I got a taxi from the airport into the city centre, planning on spending some of my weekend’s wages before getting the train home from Connolly station. Until I realised that I left my wallet in the taxi. Full of said wages. And at that point in my career, it was about as much as I had ever been paid for a couple of gigs. I looked up and the taxi was stopped at a red light a few hundred yards further down the street. I took off, determined to catch it, but just as I breathlessly approached, the lights changed and he sped off. Not to worry – thankfully there were plenty of sets of traffic lights on