Wynton’s Twelve Ways to Practice

A MUST read for any serious musician!!!

As a boy growing up in New Orleans, I remember my father, Ellis, a pianist, and his friends talking about “sheddin’.” When they got together, theyʼd say, “Man, you need to go shed,” or “I’ve been sheddin’ hard.” When I was around 11, I realized that sheddin’ meant getting to the woodshed – practicing. By the age of 16, I understood what the shed was really about – hard, concentrated work. When my brother Branford and I auditioned for our high school band, the instructor, who knew my father, was excited about Ellisʼ sons coming to the band. But my audition was so pitiful he said, “Are you sure youʼre Ellis’ son?”

At the time, his comment didn’t bother me because I was more interested in basketball than band. Over the next several years, however, I began practicing seriously. Practice is essential to learning music – and anything else, for that matter. I like to say that the time spent practicing is the true sign of virtue in a musician. When you practice, it means you are willing to sacrifice to sound good.

Even if practice is so important, kids find it very hard to do because there are so many distractions. Thatʼs why I always encourage them to practice and explain how to do it. I’ve developed what I call “Wynton’s 12 Ways to Practice.” These will work for almost every activity – from music to schoolwork to sports.

Wyntonʼs Twelve Ways to Practice: From Music to Schoolwork

 - Published in the Education Digest | Sept 1996

  • 1. Seek out instruction: Find an experienced teacher who knows what you should be doing. A good teacher will help you understand the purpose of practicing and can teach you ways to make practicing easier and more productive.
  • 2. Write out a schedule: A schedule helps you organize your time. Be sure to allow time to review the fundamentals because they are the foundation of all the complicated things that come later. If you are practicing basketball, for example, be sure to put time in your schedule to practice free throws.
  • 3. Set goals: Like a schedule, goals help you organize your time and chart your progress. Goals also act as a challenge: something to strive for in a specific period of time. If a certain task turns out to be really difficult, relax your goals: practice doesnʼt have to be painful to achieve results.
  • 4. Concentrate: You can do more in 10 minutes of focused practice than in an hour of sighing and moaning. This means no video games, no television, no radio, just sitting still and working. Start by concentrating for a few minutes at a time and work up to longer periods gradually. Concentrated effort takes practice too, especially for young people.
  • 5. Relax and practice slowly: Take your time; donʼt rush through things. Whenever you set out to learn something new – practicing scales, multiplication tables, verb tenses in Spanish – you need to start slowly and build up speed.
  • 6. Practice hard things longer: Donʼt be afraid of confronting your inadequacies; spend more time practicing what you canʼt do. Adjust your schedule to reflect your strengths and weaknesses. Donʼt spend too much time doing what comes easily. Successful practice means coming face to face with your shortcomings. Donʼt be discouraged; youʼll get it eventually.
  • 7. Practice with expression: Every day you walk around making yourself into “you,” so do everything with the proper attitude. Put all of yourself into participating and try to do your best, no matter how insignificant the task may seem. Express your “style” through how you do what you do.
  • 8. Learn from your mistakes: None of us are perfect, but donʼt be too hard on yourself. If you drop a touchdown pass, or strike out to end the game, itʼs not the end of the world. Pick yourself up, analyze what went wrong and keep going. Most people work in groups or as part of teams. If you focus on your contributions to the overall effort, your personal mistakes wonʼt seem so terrible.
  • 9. Donʼt show off: Itʼs hard to resist showing off when you can do something well. In high school, I learned a breathing technique so I could play a continuous trumpet solo for 10 minutes without stopping for a breath. But my father told me, “Son, those who play for applause, thatʼs all they get.” When you get caught up in doing the tricky stuff, youʼre just cheating yourself and your audience.
  • 10. Think for yourself: Your success or failure at anything ultimately depends on your ability to solve problems, so donʼt become a robot. Think about Dick Fosbury, who invented the Fosbury Flop for the high jump. Everyone used to run up to the bar and jump over it forwards. Then Fosbury came along and jumped over the bar backwards, because he could go higher that way. Thinking for yourself helps develop your powers of judgment. Sometimes you may judge wrong and pay the price; but when you judge right you reap the rewards.
  • 11. Be optimistic: How you feel about the world expresses who you are. When you are optimistic, things are either wonderful or becoming wonderful. Optimism helps you get over your mistakes and go on to do better. It also gives you endurance because having a positive attitude makes you feel that something great is always about to happen.
  • 12. Look for connections: No matter what you practice, youʼll find that practicing itself relates to everything else. It takes practice to learn a language, cook good meals or get along well with people. If you develop the discipline it takes to become good at something, that discipline will help you in whatever else you do. Itʼs important to understand that kind of connection. The more you discover the relationships between things that at first seem different, the larger your world becomes. In other words, the woodshed can open up a whole world of possibilities.

Hear an amazing young cellist with the GDYO on Sunday, March 1!

On March 1, 2015 at 7:30pm, Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra will feature a young virtuoso.  Each year, the GDYO program offers concerto competitions for four of the ensembles, including the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra.   These competitions cultivate solo performance, encourage personal excellence, and acknowledge the high degree of talent and hard work exhibited by individual musicians in the program.  Dallas area professional musicians will judge the orchestra members at their competition in early September, 2014.  The winner of the competition is eighth grade cellist, Sai Sai, who will perform Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B Minor, Mvt. 1 on this concert.  Also featured on this concert will be Barber’s Overture to the School for Scandal, Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances Set III, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 9.

Single tickets are $10-$40 (and $8 student tickets are available at the door).  You can purchase tickets online and at the door on Sunday.  The Meyerson is located at 2301 Flora Street in Dallas.

Cellist Sai Sai, age 13, is a third generation musician.  He began playing piano at age 4 and cello at age 6, with Mr. Xie and Mrs. Zou. By the age of 8, he had performed his first solo cello recital in Shanghai. Sai Sai was admitted to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Affiliated Primary School at age 9, attaining first place in his professional field. Sai Sai and his family immigrated to North Texas in October of 2012.  Sai Sai is currently studying with Ko Iwasaki. Since arriving in the United States, Sai Sai has been recognized by the Carlson Cello Foundation and plays on the Leo Aschauer cello (on long term loan). He also performed his second solo recital, in Richardson, Texas in 2014. Sai Sai is in 8th grade at Evens Middle School in McKinney.

The young cellist is a prize winner of numerous national and international competitions, including first place in the Fourth Aegean Sea Cup National Cello Competition (Beijing) in August 2010, first place in the 21st Heran International Cello Competition (Prague) in April 2011, first place in the 9th International Solo Competition (Ukraine) in 2011, first place in the S. Knushevitsky International Cello Competition (Moscow) in 2012, first prize in the Junior Division of the First and Second International Conservatory of Music Competition in 2013 and 2014, and first place in the Lake Lewisville Symphony Young Artist Competition in 2013. Most recently, he was grand prize winner for both the Lewisville Lake Competition in 2015 and the Collin County Young Artist Competition in 2015.