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5 Productivity Tips For Jazz Musicians

Whether you’re a hobbyist, student, or professional, jazz musicians can have a lot to do. There are always a lot of things to practice to become a better jazz player, and if you play professionally or part-time, there is getting work to consider.

When I was a jazz student in college, the challenge was practicing. There was so much to practice and so much I needed to improve on. I was constantly trying to manage my time and choose what to work on. Maximizing productivity in the practice room was my primary concern.

Now, as a professional musician, I have other concerns. My musical life is a constant juggle of playing gigs, writing books and e-books, blogging, teaching, and of course practicing. Often times I feel spread thin!

The question I ask myself every morning when I wake up is “What do I need to accomplish today, in order to feel productive?” What are the things I can do today that will progress me as a musician?

Productivity is such a struggle for musicians, so I want to share 5 productivity tips that I have found to work wonders for me. Check these out:

1. Write down what you need to practice/do.

This is the first place you should start. If you are about to practice, this is especially important! You may want to start out by identifying the things about your playing that bother you. If you feel like you don’t know enough tunes, write that down. If you feel like you struggle playing over a minor ii-V-i, write that down. Set goals for yourself, and then figure out realistic ways to attain them. I go into further depth on this in our free e-Book “A Jazz Guide To Practicing”. Writing down what you are going to practice that day is an extremely helpful way to keep yourself from “wandering” during your session.

This applies outside of the practice room as well. Ask yourself what you need to do that day to feel productive. Do you have a gig coming up you need to learn music for? Do you need to find some more gigs? Do you have lessons to teach? Do you need to practice? Write down what you need to do, and you will have already set yourself up to be more productive.

2. Prioritize.

So maybe you did write down what you need to practice or do, and it ends up being a really long list. That’s where prioritizing comes in. You can’t tackle them all, and if you try, it is highly unlikely that you will succeed at any of them.

Identify the things on that list that need immediate attention. Ask yourself: Of the things that I need to get better at, which of them are most urgent to me? Maybe learning more jazz standards is a top priority for you, or maybe playing at fast tempos is a struggle. Pick just a few, or even just one. Don’t put more on your plate than you can eat.

Maybe you have a gig coming up and you need to learn music for it. That would be a priority! Maybe you want to play more gigs and need to go hunt some down. Decide for yourself what’s important and prioritize the tasks you can handle for the day.

3. Practice in a secluded environment.

When in the practice room, try to eliminate all distractions. You may only have 30 minutes or an hour, so you need to be focused!

I find a good way to set yourself up for success is to practice in a secluded environment. Practice in a place that is designated for practicing. It may not be realistic for everybody to have a separate practice space in or outside of their home, but if you are able to find at least a semi-private place it can really help. Maybe this just means practicing when your roommates, kids, wife, husband, parents, aren’t home. If you can create a sacred space (or time) for you to practice, you are far more likely to be productive. Eliminate distractions by practicing in a secluded environment.

4. Kill procrastination before it eats you alive.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an idea for a new project, whether it be writing some music, setting up a special gig, or writing an e-book, and just simply had a hard time starting.

It’s easy to say you are going to do something, but it’s a different thing entirely to actually do it. Perhaps you want to learn a Sonny Rollins solo, but it seems daunting so you just never start. Perhaps you want to start a jazz jam at a local venue, but it seems like a lot of work so you never start. Maybe it’s as simple as actually sitting down to practice, but it just seems easier to be complacent.

Every time I’ve had the feelings of procrastination and ignored them I’ve been rewarded greatly. In fact once I start a project I was procrastinating, I’m always filled with so much energy and excitement.

The next time you feel procrastination creep up, take a chance and just say no to it. You’re next big break through may await on the other side.

5. Bring jazz on the go.

As far as becoming a better jazz player goes, we know that life does not allow us to always be practicing and playing gigs. That’s okay, because the best kind of practicing you can do anyways is listening.

Listen to jazz every chance that you get. The more you listen, the more you internalize and the more you understand the jazz language. So bring jazz on the go with you. If you live in a big city like I do, listen on the train or bus. If you live in the suburbs or country, listen while you’re driving or walking. Make sure your smart phone or mp3 player is loaded and ready so you can listen to jazz on the go.

So even if you are not practicing or playing a gig, put in your headphones and keep the productivity flowing.

How do you stay productive? Leave a comment below.

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


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