If you think the best way to improve as a musician and an improviser is by accumulating books to practice from, do not read this article. It will offend you.
“I’m just going to take 5 minutes and warm up. I have to; we had a day off.”
– Pat Metheny
Still reading? Cool. Onward…
(NOTE: This is not a post bashing books. It’s about the misuse of books.)
I love watching my musical idols warm up.
It’s rare to come across. Maybe you’re attending a clinic and they warm up in front of you. Maybe you find that rare clip on YouTube. But mostly all we see is the result of their hard work, not the details of their labor.
Books? What books?
There are thousands of books on the market promising excellent technique, better licks, and secrets to sounding like the masters…if only you practice from them.
But this is not the path taken by our heroes.
Great players discover and create practice ideas for themselves based on things they can’t do yet or want to do better.
They know it’s about addressing their deficiencies and getting to a relaxed state on their instrument in order to be available mentally and physically to improvise with clarity and intention. And to have the dexterity to go places they’ve not yet imagined.
These videos of Pat Metheny warming up offer an invaluable look into the mind of a master as he prepares himself to improvise.
Pat Metheny warms up
In this clinic for a group in Italy, you’ll notice Metheny cycling through various chords, intervals, and tempos as he relaxes his mind and locks in his fingers. The secret here is not what he is playing but how he is playing it. Take notes.
The major takeaway is mindfulness. Because he’s not working from a book or a checklist his mind is more present and focused.
A terrible thing can happen when practicing from a book: your mind wanders because you believe the information is all in front of you.
You are more likely to stay mindful of your sound and technique if you are consciously deciding what you are about to do next–with your ears, not your eyes.
Pat Metheny warms up & plays a blues with a metronome
In this early nineties clinic at the University of North Texas, Metheny does a quick warm-up before playing a face-meltingly-awesome blues accompanied by nothing more than a metronome.
And through all of this, notice how he always sounds like Metheny, not some practice-room version of himself. His sound and time feel are always happening.
He’s not just practicing, he’s practicing sounding good.