I have too much music to learn.
I hate how I sound on the saxophone.
Every time I put the horn in my mouth I feel like I’m playing the same old, tired bullshit.
When did I stop being able to play over up-tempo changes? (Was I ever really able?)
Ever experience thoughts of this nature?
These—and more like them—cross my mind on a daily basis.
Last week I had to learn a bunch of challenging music for a performance with a fantastic straight-ahead jazz quintet. I’ve also had to learn a pile of new, and challenging, music for tonight’s gig with a completely new band. Then there’s tomorrow’s recording session with a major-label artist (of the chart-busting, top-selling variety). That will be sight-reading. The “OK, the red light is on…GO!” (and don’t mess up) kind. Friday brings a gig with a singer and a pile of songs to learn for them.
Add in a full-time work load, and a family with two kids under 5…well, I don’t know about you but for me it’s a recipe for stress.
So what to do?
No doubt there are a lot of ways to deal with this, but I continually find if I go back to the basics, they save me.
For example, last Saturday I warmed up slowly, diligently, and quietly (with a towel stuffed in my bell) in a hotel room. I did this instead of practicing the music I was about to run through at soundcheck.
Because it grounds me. Centers me.
I got through only 6 major scales in 90 minutes. (See above: slow; diligent.)
And at the end?
I felt peace where there had been chaos. I felt solid and connected to the horn.
I read each tune down once—with a metronome at a slow tempo—and, while still challenging, they suddenly felt manageable.
Right now I’m scrambling again. But I know what I need to do to unscramble.
So the next time you go to shed, try cutting your list of things to practice in half. Then cut that in half. Focus on just that 1/4 of what you thought you were going to do.
See how you feel after.