Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Creative Use of Drills

Back when I first started taking piano lessons, I spent a lot of time on drills. I felt (and still feel) it is important to continually work on the technical aspects of piano playing, and since my instructor and I are focusing mainly on learning "jazz", per se, we don't spend a lot of time or effort looking just at the instrument and accomplished playing of it. (Maybe we should. Jury's still out on that one.) I, therefore, took it upon myself to pick up a number of different drill books to more or less work by myself on playing better. I assumed that my jazz would get better as the drills did.

Probably some of you musicians, especially pianists, out there, know where this is going.

It wasn't long after this that I got pretty sick of drills. For a while, I could feel the difference the drills were making. I could tell my playing was better. I had more confidence. Songs sounded cleaner. My weakness is, I like to hear me make nice sounds, so once I reach a certain level of proficiency on a tune, I'm content to play it, as is, forever and ever. I never try to make it sound any better or any different, because if I do, I make mistakes and that makes it sound not as good as playing it the way I've learned it. And, of course, once the tunes flow, the drills are boring, even irritating, so I skip one day, and then the next, then I pull out the drill book and find I can't play anything at or just before where I marked where I left off, so I put the drill book aside to play tunes, and suddenly, it's five weeks later and I haven't touched the darned thing.

Yikes! No wonder I suck.

Some time just back when I started all this, I asked my instructor what to do about this problem of drills, sounding crappy, learning tunes, and getting better. I showed him a drill I was working on out of a stride piano drill book and he just said, "Put it in a tune." He grabbed the real book and quickly found a song with a lot of chords that last for one or more bars: Take the 'A' Train. And sure enough, it was simple for him to play a stride piano drill with facility through the entire song. When I got home and tried it, it sounded like crap, and while I knew that practice would improve it, again, I was too content to play something that sounded adequate, rather than try to get better.

Well, I hereby announce to all my faithful readers and myself: I'm going back to basics. I'm going to do drills, I'm going to put them into songs, and I'm going to play them and practice them, relentlessly, until they sound good. No more excuses. No more settling for "sounds good enough". Every song needs a new approach now and then. You never know what revelation awaits and how happy that sound will make you (or how much happier you'll be with your old sound because the new riff really doesn't sound all that good). Put more in, get more out. Put more in, get more out. I can do it. You can do it.

Let's do it.

No comments: