Friday, December 14, 2012

Wynton Marsalis's Twelve Rules of Practice

My wife was digging through some papers when she pulled out a hand out and showed it to me. "Yeah, I think he came to our high school," she said. I'm not sure if Wynton Marsalis made up the hand out himself or if it was just based on a clinic he gave. No matter, it has some great advice. Though these practice guidelines were aimed at younger players, I think they apply well to players of all ages.

  • Seek Out Private Instruction
  • Write out a practice schedule. Practice fundamentals of your instrument.
  • Set goals to chart your development.
  • Concentrate when practicing. If you can't concentrate, stop and come back later.
  • Relax; Practice slowly. Play it a slow tempo, then increase the tempo each day.
  • Practice the hard things longer.
  • Play everything with expression. Use the maximum of expression. Always invest yourself; participate. Don't be a cynic.
  • Don't be too hard on yourself. If you make a mistake, it's not the end of the world. You learn from you mistakes. Also develop your sound; allow your personality to come through. Work on special effects. Listen to good sounds.
  • Don't show off; always play music. Those who play for applause, that's all they get.
  • Think of yourself. Methods are just a way to do things. You may think of better ways.
  • Be optimistic. How you feel about living in the world is who you are. There's nothing worse than pessimism coming through your instrument. Things will get better.
  • Look for connections to other things. No matter what you're doing, everything is connected.

Think for Yourself

Some of you regular readers might notice the variance between Wynton's recommendation to use maximum expressions and Walt's recommendation to lay off inflection (embedded in this previous post). I personally find myself someplace in the middle, but I think the most important take home from these guidelines that resolves the issue on expression and opens up many avenues for growth is Wynton's tenth piece of advice, "Think for yourself." I have made my best musical discoveries using my instinct and thoughts as my guide while experimenting with technique and musicality.

Upcoming Posts on Modal or Vamp based Improvisation

Vamps and modal tunes can be some of the easiest settings for first learning to improvise. However, they can also be some of the hardest for developing an interesting solo that feels like it goes some place. I'll be starting a series of posts in the near future that will explore different diatonic and chromatic methods for creating a feeling of motion in that setting. Each post will include a technique, an in depth explanation, a written music example, and some recorded examples. Come back and check it out! 


  1. Thank you for this very useful info!
    : >

  2. All very useful tips, thanks. That one about playing for music, not applause, that really changed the way I think about playing. I enjoy it more now, thanks!