We All Have Our Work To Do

Do you practice? How often? Everyday? A couple times a week? Do you have a routine? I'm so curious about this stuff. I hope you'll take a few minutes to read this and share a little about how you practice and perhaps respond to a couple of these questions. 

I have a ton of stuff that I'm working on but the skills I would like to work on most are listening and relaxing during gigs. It also turns out that those things are really hard to practice alone when you're not actively playing a gig. So that's a dilemma. 

Listening. I have to work hard to be an active listener when performing with others. It's just the way I am right now. So how to practice that? Well, I do a lot of work with a metronome. I practice tunes with the clicks on the front of the beat, on the back of the beat, or maybe only once in each bar. Here's a fun one: place the click on every third beat of a tune in a duple meter. So the click lands on 1, then 4, then 3, then 2, then 1 again, and so on. That one is tricky. Anyway, I try these different exercises because, with the lack of any other players in the house, the metronome gives some information to which I have to respond. It's certainly not the same as listening to the other members of a six piece band or even listening to one other live player - but it's something. How do you practice listening and responding when no one else is around?

Relaxing, or releasing tension. I'm great at it. I can relax on my own - I can relax all day if I have the chance. But when I'm playing, it' s little more tricky and especially so in a gig situation. So again, I'm great at relaxing all the tension and playing with great technique (and I'm specifically thinking of the right hand here) when I'm working through stuff in the evening at home. That becomes more of a challenge when listeners are present. I do my best to be mindful of it, but it remains a challenge it seems no matter how often I play out or who I'm playing with. I'm not sure I'll ever entirely get on top of it but I'll keep being aware.

So what's your strategy? How do you practice listening? How do you keep tension at bay when you're playing? I'd love to hear your suggestions. Let's talk in the comments.