by Bobby Steel

Hello fellow Treason Train passengers!  This week I’d thought I’d dedicate a short article all about the “P” word.  (No, it’s not what you’re thinking.  Get your mind out of the gutter). 

I’m talking about practice.  Yes , that’s right.  PRACTICE!  

What exactly is it? And how is it done?  

It seems like every musician has their own unique notion of what practice is.  I’ve seen advertisements in my Facebook feed for whole books dedicated to practicing and learning how to “get to that next level.” 

LEARN THE SECRETS OF THE PROS!” we are told.  How enticing.  

But a whole book written about practicing?  

I’ve actually summed up practice into one sentence.  But before I get to that, let me tell you what practice is NOT.   

It’s not noodling around aimlessly. (That’s free associating which is the embryonic stage of composing or improvising).  And it’s not playing something you already know (That’s called rehearsing).  

So then what is it?  Well for me, I’ve summed up practice into one sentence.  Here’s that “secret of the pros.” 


Find something you can’t do and force yourself to do it until you can do it well.

That’s it.  Simple.  

But simple doesn’t mean easy.

I’ve told many students:  “If you sound good when you practice, then you’re doing it WRONG!”  And I can still picture that puzzled look on their face.  

You mean you’re supposed to sound bad? Yes, but worse.  You’re supposed to suck when you practice.  

The other “secret of the pros” is: “You can’t learn something that you already know.”   

Once I posted the eyebrow raising comment on Facebook: “When I practice, my aim is to suck at something, to struggle, to get frustrated and push my way to the next level with a whole lot of profanity. Not many people can tolerate sounding bad. It takes discipline.

When you practice, have a goal.  There is an objective you want to accomplish.  Ask yourself: What weakness do you have that you want to strengthen?  What is something you can’t do?  Pick one specific thing.  And just go for it.  Don’t stop until you own it.  Your brain can handle more than you think.  

I once spent 48 hours in my basement with a metronome.  My goal was to internalize the beat to the point where I had tempos memorized.  That’s what i did,  taking breaks to eat, relieve myself and sleep. I walked out of my basement two days later with the beat internalized and tempos emblazoned onto my DNA.  

For acrobats, it’s going live without a net. For Elm Treason, it’s going live without a drummer.  

Okay, that may be a bit extreme, but I’ve always wanted to attempt the impossible.  Or rather, what was impossible for me personally.  My attitude is if it ain’t impossible then it ain’t worth doing.  

If it takes breaking things down to a microscopic level, then rebuilding every single component slowly until it becomes a coherent whole with that natural flow , then that’s what it takes.  It just depends on how much pain and frustration you can handle. How patient can you be with yourself?

The hardest thing to conquer is yourself. Always be mindful of what you’re doing.  Question and observe it like a scientist.  And above all,  remember what you did to the point that you can instinctively produce it.   Students ask me  how many times should I practice this?   Practice it until it becomes a part of your very being.

This is especially true for soloing.  That music is moving fast.  You don’t have time to think.  Thinking is for practicing not performing.  Performing is when the training kicks in.  Literally, wax on wax off.

At the end of the trail of smashed objects and profanity is success.

Embrace the struggle.  

Oh yeah…..use a metronome, or a click.  You will learn twice as much in half the time.  And if you’ll excuse the crude pun….if you’re not using a metronome , you’re wasting your time.

So there it is.  The “secrets of the pros” .  Now you don’t have to buy that book.  Just don’t tell them I told ya.  I don’t want to find any hate mail in my inbox.   

Now get busy.

E Pluribus Ulmus.

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