Practice makes perfect but does it pay your rent?

The daily life of a professional musician is learning the necessity to be good without practicing. Not that you don't need to practice, but that you spend so much time at gigs and in rehearsals that it lives rarely enough time to practice.

When you are a professional you need to prepare rather than practice. Before playing new songs, figure out what you need for each particular song and then get ready for it accordingly; if there are tricky runs mark in fingerings, if it's a tricky rhythm mark the beats clearly, and if the harmonies are more unexpected, then actually play through the song, etc. The most important is to anticipate what mistakes you would make more than playing the piece again and again.

Professional musicians need to accept the difference between practice and preparation.  Preparing means that many times you will be ready enough to do a good job, but that it won't always be the best that you could have done if you had had time to practice. At the end of the day the options are either practice to perfection and don't make a living out of your perfect pieces, or prepare efficiently and play a bit under your ability but go from gig to gig.


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  1. Second option, definitely. I wish I had the energy to practice more. Some weeks I have gigs nearly every night, and as a trombonist, I have to balance the amount of time practicing with the amount of time my gig lasts. My lips can only play well for so long.

    I just came off of a two week long stretch where I had work every day, sometimes two or three different jobs. This is the reality of being a musician during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but we accept it because there is so much work and there won't be as much when it's all over.

    I deal with the energy issue with a similar method as you, Geraldine. Instead of practicing specific patterns and excerpts, I often save myself energy by focusing on mental practices. I listen to a lot of trombone players, I transcribe their solos, and I learn new pieces by singing them well before I try to play them. Mentally preparing is often as effective as physically preparing.

    Colin Myers

  2. A part of accepting ‘good enough’ as a tolerable substitute for ‘superb artistry’ is realizing that one performance is no longer defining you. And also that time is finite – going without sleep sucks - so priorities must be made and practice time invested wisely.

    Personally, I didn’t understand the concept of ‘good enough’ until I started working and realized I'd like to get home before 11pm.


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