Each year at this time, teachers and students alike begin to post and share ambitious and exhaustive summer practice regimens. Although they are meant to inspire, these “best laid plans” tend to take on the character of those old drawings of flying machines that were doomed to plummet straight down from the edge of the boardwalk into the surf.  Yes, summer is a great time to finally get the practice hours in that seemed so hard to come by during the academic year, but often, players can find it even more difficult to get jump-started without the structure of a busy schedule.  Combine this with an imposing and unrealistic musical check-off list, and let the avoidance mechanisms kick in.

One such practice summer schedule I recently witnessed online, was the musical equivalent of “This summer, I’m going to lose 2,150 lbs. and 42 dress sizes, play “Giant Steps” in all 13 keys,  compose my first two symphonies left-handed while spending the days serving the community by lighting fires for the poor.”  If that was my to-do list for the day, I’d stay in bed.  The fantasy summer practice schedule, like its cousin, the New Year’s Resolution, quickly makes its way to the guilty scrap-heap of failed enterprises without so much as a running start.  What to do?


As an accomplished practice-avoider, procrastinator, and otherwise distracted human, I’ve developed a summertime practice coping mechanism that seems to work for me. Here are the basics:

•  Set the bar as low as possible.  By defining success in modest terms, you may have a shot of at least accomplishing one thing today.  Yes, this is the opposite of the “New-Year’s-Resolution-Ironman-Ninja-Warrior-Conquer-the-World” approach, but at least it has the  potential side-effect of getting you started with minimal dread and guilt and offers the promise of a realistic and fulfillable goal.  It may be difficult to lose that 2,150 lbs. if you can’t put the fork down just once.

•  Play something, don’t practice something.  I like to start by playing along with a catchy tune from one of the great Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks (see below).  Just put on a track and play along, try to pick out the melody in real-time, don’t worry about missed pitches.  Stop to figure out the pitches if necessary, but just try to learn the melody.  This can be MUCH easier than “transcribing” an improvised solo, after all, it’s just picking out a tune.

When you play in this way, YOU are accompanied by the world’s greatest singers on tunes written by history’s great songwriters, arranged by legendary arrangers.   This has the added benefit of making you sound better by association.

Set your timer, and just do this for about 10 minutes.  If you are like most folks, after ten minutes, you will probably want to keep going just a little longer which is totally cool. Or, you may be ready to move on to other material, either way, you’ve already spent 10 minutes sounding pretty good playing great music without having to knock yourself out.

Here’s today’s assignment — Play along and learn the tune to:

“Yesterdays” by Jerome Kern. Performed by Ella Fitzgerald. Arranged and Conducted by Nelson Riddle.

Author: sbelck

Trumpet player, teacher, jazz musician, and the illegitimate father of the modern lip slur.

One thought

  1. Thank you Scott – just what I needed.   Although I am tempted to add lighting fires for the poor to my summer tasks  🙂 I play regularly with Nathan Mills who is looking forward to getting to know you better at the Conservatory. Thanks again for your encouragement and direction in your posts. Daryl Gest

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