Saturday, May 05, 2007


It has been requested that I post something about my practice regimen. I'm happy to do so but I'm not sure if I can really say anything that will illuminate the process of improvisation.

Derek Bailey said in an interview with John Corbett (published in Corbett's book Extended Play), 'I'm an obsessive practicer at home, but I don't think anything happens for me as regards development or picking up new habits or whatever you want to call it, except in the playing situation. And it's always from other people, I think.' I feel like that. Not that I'm an obsessive practicer, though. I try and manage about two hours five or six days a week. My regime also changes quite a bit but at the moment it's like this: half an hour of warming up, including all major and minor keys both arco and pizzicato, and touching up on certain extended techniques, particularly multiphonics and subharmonics. Then half an hour of pizzicato jazz work, at the moment focusing on the music of Thelonious Monk - mostly playing along with records. The third half hour is classical arco work - I'm working on Schubert's The Trout at the moment, which is interesting because I have no classical training at all! Then the final half hour is on improvisation - sometimes I explore particular preparations or focus on certain extended techniques or concepts for a while but usually I just play.

Once again Derek Bailey expresses it best (from his book Improvisation). The quote is lengthy but very apposite. Bailey refers to 'woodshedding' and observes that '[i]t is the bridge between technical practise and improvisation. As personal as improvisation itself, it approximates to it but is really quite different. Aurally this different might manifest itself in a greater
deliberateness, occasional stops and starts, and perhaps repetitions for obvious technical reasons. Or the differences might not be aurally apparent at all. But it will be there and it lies in the improvisor's relationship to what he is playing. He listens to himself in a different way. He might be much more analytical and much less involved in aspects of playing created by the impetus or the tension of performance. The playing might be much the same as when improvising but the focus of attention will be on the details of playing rather than on the totality, and what is being exercised is choice.'

So that's it, at the moment. A given practice regimen for me tends to last a few months before I rearrange things but the broad categories remain the same. Certain things I plan to do but only do sporadically - such as really investigating certain techniques systematically. But the regime has to feel fresh for me to feel excited enough actually to pick the bass up, and the best way to do this is change things about periodically. And I don't really practice improvisation - I don't think you can. You practice certain specific things (which have varying degrees and kinds of relevance to improvisation), and you improvise. That's it.


Dominic Lash said...

The following comment from Alexander Hawkins (who seems to have trouble with blogger!).

Dom - I'm feeling inferior...I used to do all major and minors, until...well, I stopped. I'd like to think it was to do with not practising familiar shapes; that'd be a lie however...
On a more serious note, it's interesting that you go for the majors/minors route, whereas at the moment, I'm fairly obsessive about not playing familiar patterns. Yusef Lateef's book is great for this. I know we've talked about this, but for any other readers, in the recent past I've been inspired by Pat Thomas' comments in response to a question about practising in a recent symposium published at the 'Point of Departure' website.
That said, I also agree with what's implied by what you say, about practice regimes being fluid. I have recently been through phases of practising very familiar patterns: Hanon, which most pianists know well, and the more useful (in my humble opinion) Dohnyani exercises, which I find are also more entertaining than Hanon.
I'm also steadily rehearsing a stock list of Cecil Taylor phrases, to keep a hold on the kinds of technique which classical treatises simply don't address (fast, even runs of planned clusters, in this case). Of course, the trick then is to avoid employing them verbatim, but...;)

bech said...

I'm an obsessive practicer at home, but I don't think anything happens for me as regards development or picking up new habits or whatever you want to call it, except in the playing situation.

He nailed it!