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3 Things That Are As Important as Practicing

I once went to a clinic in which James Morrison claimed to never practice.  He called practicing the “P-word,” as if it were a dirty word.  He evidently doesn’t even warm up.  The way he told it, the first note he plays onstage is the first note he has played since the last time he was onstage.  He’s kind of a jazz freak of nature, multi-instrumentalist phenom who claims to never practice.  But I’m not sure I believe him when he says he doesn’t practice!  He’s way too good to have NEVER practiced.  Maybe he just doesn’t anymore.

James Morrison excluded, jazz musicians typically hold practicing in the highest esteem, with good reason.  However, I think that there are some other things that are just as important as practicing.

What could be as important as practicing?  Here are the three things:

1.  Gig Time

Hour for hour, gig time can be even more effective than practicing.  In my experience, gig time is completely irreplaceable.  I’ve calculated that I’ve played perhaps 1,500 gigs in the past 15 years.  Gig time is so important! The most helpful gigs are with people who are more experienced than you because you learn from them on stage.  That is where you grow the most; when you are completely out-classed!

2.  Lessons with a Great Teacher/Player

Hour for hour, lessons with a great teacher are more effective than practicing.  A great teacher will show you WHAT to practice.  Seek these mentors out, they are worth their weight in gold!  Find the best teachers available to you.  If you can’t find any teachers with whom you’d like to study in your neck of the woods, you can find some great jazz teachers who teach over Skype at

Lessons don’t replace practicing, and you still have to put in the work.   Teachers show you what to do, and they help you to learn things that you may never figure out on your own.  At the very least, lessons are a great shortcut for taking in lots of information in a short amount of time.

3.  Listening to Jazz

I think listening is as important as playing.  It feeds us as musicians.  It gives us things to say.  If we don’t listen to the music, we can’t play it.  This is true for any style of music, but I think it’s especially true for jazz.  I also think that it is one often-neglected piece of jazz education.  Listen to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Art Tatum, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Dizzy Gillespie, Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny, Peter Bernstein, Larry Goldings, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Benny Green, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, Roy Hargrove, Wynton Marsalis, Brandford Marsalis, Paul Chambers, Wayne Shorter, Marcus Miller, Kenny Barron, Keith Jarrett, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Joey DeFrancesco, and many others too numerous to mention!

What are the things you do other than practicing to help you improve? Join the conversation on our popular Facebook page!

-Camden Hughes

Camden Hughes
Camden is a working jazz pianist, multi-instrumentalist, and music educator currently living near Boise, ID. He teaches music at the Idaho Arts Charter School, and is the jazz adjunct professor at Northwest Nazarene University. Check out his music at


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