On exercises, practicing, and rehearsing

This is inspired a bit by the On revision in creativity thread that I just saw from a recent bump.

A few months ago I made a conscious decision to devote a lot more energy towards making music: practicing (guitar, monome, singing, keys) writing, composing…

In this process, I’ve also been thinking a lot about what and how to practice. With the traditional instruments, there is some convention: scales, arpeggios, chord changes, and maybe some repertoire run-throughs. With the music I’ve been making, I’ve found that practicing singing and guitar individually is important, but only gets me so far. In many ways, it’s more helpful to practice with the whole rig (which right now is just Block Party with a footswitch, and some level and pan mixing), since the grid components are newer to me than the guitar and singing. I’m also about to start practicing with a metronome, even though the music I’ve been making is extremely loose rhythmically.

I haven’t come to a clear understanding of what the grid equivalents of practicing scales and chord sequences are for me yet, but I also still feel like the full run through is providing enough in the way of development that I haven’t gotten into breaking down components to practice individually.

How do you approach practicing? What are your etudes, sketches, scales, and warm ups? How do you focus on and refine techniques?

Do you draw a line between a practice and a jam session? And if you work with improvisation, do you draw a line between a jam session and a finished recording? Or between a practice session and a recording session?


I make no mental distinction between rehearsal/jam/finished “composition” . started recording my practices years ago and have presented many passages (edited or untouched) as finished songs

for example last thursday I sat down intending to practice drumming and decided to record for an hr or so .

I hadn’t played since January so my approach after that extended time away was start out with clichés . the comfort zone for me is within the boundaries of various funk beats and african /brazilian stuff . i aim to lock into something simple and repeat cycles until my strength and memory allow for quicker tempo and more complexity built on the spine of the rhythm

I used to need an extended period to regain sharpness but as I age (get stronger? smarter?) this ritual of getting back in shape on a drumset has become like riding a bicycle .

My gut reaction was to flatly deny any need to practice the techniques involved in the electronic side of my music . however, while typing about my habit of recording sessions with no song-based goal in mind, it dawned on me that I DO extensively practice with electronics to hone my recording & mixing skills

often when I know I’m planning to record a song or release i’ll make dummy tracks within the software or hardware environment and confirm that the spacing and arrangement theories work outside of my head . at a minimum, the first 20-30 mins of any session are “practice”

i use that time to tune the sounds in relation to each other as well

there’s a rule i live by to keep my sanity as a non-professional musician who loves to record: the 1st song will never be good (so technically that is my rehearsal/mulligan tune)

i always teach myself from the failure and make correcting the specific flaws my focus on the good stuff that ends up getting shared


this. 100%. it keeps me in amazement at experimental/improvised electronic composers who gig out while confirming that an integral part of the experience of being audience to these performances is allowing for this exploratory period at the top. very cool to keep in mind as i look to freer structures for my own performance.


Not to contradict @glia in any way, but I think I could personally use more discipline in structuring practice time from composition time from recording time from arranging time from editing/mixing/mastering time.

Because for me it all ends up being noodling time otherwise. I guess I have a bit of ADHD.


Good point!

I do come away from some evenings with a sense of aimlessness and regret the loose approach to things . believe it or not I’m more structured since delving into euro

freedom is a two-edged sword that I’m still trying to wield in a balanced way


ah shit. this too. it’s insanely difficult to keep myself in a state of pure “learning” when i approach music. i am constantly attempting composition, typically learning that which will help achieve a specific goal but i know that is closing avenues i won’t even know i’d like to explore until i arrive at the need for it in my work.

most often, i find the act of listening to what others make and asking myself “how did they do that?” is my best education. following curiosity more than anything. ‘practice’ is then exploring internalization and refining how i can achieve the same feeling in my own work. so it’s less “let me do my scales” and more “let me do a study of a technique or aesthetic,” which ends up being an exercise in composition.


This is something that also bothers me lately… When I started noodling around with the modular, I recorded every session ever, in fear of maybe missing some cool sounds I could use later on.
That is very lazy and wishful thinking of course, and GBs of recorded materials accumulated, without much post processed stuff…

Since some months now, I tried a “rehearsal time” before recording…
Now I often found when I thought I was ready to hit record, I couldn’t reproduce the exact sound/pattern again I was having at the beginning of the jam or I wasn’t still feeling it or whatever… This is a common phenomena when capturing anything. But the modular can be particularly temporary in that regard.

The thing is, recording for me means attaching the laptop. And I often make music to escape from laptop work. I should look into a dedicated multitrack recorder I guess. But this is offtopic sorry…

I still do rehearsal, but more in a “get to know a module” fashion, forcing myself to build around a certain module or function.


“Practice” can mean a lot of things. We are taught as kids that “practicing music” is about improving our ability to play an instrument. In electronic music the lines between playing and composition (etc) get blurred. This can be freeing but it can also be mush. Too mushy? Re-introduce structure and formality. Too restricted, not having enough fun? Loosen up.


I’m curious to hear more about how people “practice” with a modular. By “practice” I’m thinking here about how one learns to play a song. You play it real slow at first. One measure at a time. You play a measure over and over until you’ve absolutely nailed the timing, the dynamics, the feel/emotion of it. You move on to the next until you’ve got a phrase. You do this for each phrase in the song, and eventually you’ve learned the song. If anywhere along the way you trip on something, you slow down, you focus on that rough patch. You repeat it until it isn’t rough anymore. It’s a focused kind of practice, where you work at your weaknesses until they become your strengths.

In the old days of monome, I’d have thought of monome “practice” as largely having to do with practicing Max programming. Finding ways to get the results you want out of a patch. I’m less clear on how folks are thinking about this in the brave new world of modular. But I guess it’s similar?

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They are similar for me. Pretty much.

Practice for me is trying out techniques or exploring aspects of a specific modular module or Max object. Building knowledge, experience and some degree of muscle memory; certainly with my modular anyway although I’m sure there’s an element of this with Max as well. That’s where modular and Max are very much similar. It’s what I do on days when I’m not feeling like “making” music.

They’re dissimilar in the sense that my practice with modular synth can sometimes end up with a piece of music through the exploration patch. Max, I don’t think I’ve ever come up with a full patch through this process. Max for me is way more thought out and planned than my modular stuff is. Half the work is done on paper and in my head before I touch a computer.


if there’s a show, practice the show with whatever it is you’re gonna use for the show, then play the show…:slight_smile:
at the venue there’s always lots of distractions, just play it like you practiced it
/with improv if appropriate
recording can be the same, or different… I’m a @glia fan :slight_smile: https://phinery.bandcamp.com/album/muqarnas

here we intended to record/improv for half an hour, and then make loops, plus two passes of vocals
edited into 'song form /inspired by muddy waters (many songs got no bridge, no change, almost a loop)
and the minutemen (we can do whatever we think is cool)
like me and John did for this>

although it turned out just like this, the first 3 min we had ever played music together>
so who knows?

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On a modular I need to practice patching as well as performing (memorizing a tune). Often the distinction is blurry.
I also try to practice plying on grid/earthsea the same way as I practice the guitar or a keyboard (which means not very much these days…).

Super interesting thoughts, especially in the context of playing with modulars.

I’ve also been recording my practices / jams / explorations / whatever you wanna call them lately, and I’ve started to notice a few things.

With my self-imposed constraints (live performance with guitar, vocals, and block party), I’ve noticed patterns and habits appear in ways that almost resemble songs. This seems to happen even when I consider a session to be improvisational.

I also find that it’s just about impossible to perfectly re-perform the same thing twice, which leads to questions about what constitutes a song or composition, and how distinct do things need to be before I’m just playing the same song over and over again.

It also leads to an issue of abundance: if I record all of my practices, and practices are indistinguishable from the final form, and I practice every day, then figuring out what to release, and when becomes a much more difficult decision to make.


As I tend to be a “sounds on buttons” kind of guy so practice to progress independent finger control. So when melodics came out it was a godsend. It’s also exposed techniques I would never have used.

I’m struggling a bit with finding time to practice.

First thing in the morning, I’m running late, gotta get to the train station before the last train leaves. (I live in a rural area and commute into a much more urban area for work.)

On the train I have an iPhone 5S. I’ve tried to use some IAA apps, but the poor little thing really doesn’t have enough oomph to run more than one audio app at a time. Some rhythm and harmony studies are possible in Xynthesizr. I can experiment with timbre in Moog System 15. I inevitably end up feeling overly constrained by the tiny screen. I’ve resisted installing music apps on my work computer. I could grab my 4th gen iPad and put it in my bag, but it’s actually weaker than the 5S for processing power. Just has a bigger screen.

When I get home, take care of the pets, deal with dinner, spend some time with the wife, after all that I’m pooped. I have maybe 30 minutes left in me. Full studio with all the bells and whistles but feeling overwhelmed and tired and uninspired.

Then Saturday rolls around. Suddenly I have all the time in the world. All week I’ve been collecting ideas from the internet. But it’s just all too much. Stack overflow. Too many possibilities. And a feeling of needing to “catch up” after a full week of not really making progress.

Truth is, I’m eventually going to need to reduce my commuting time to free up more of my weekdays, but that may require a job change, which isn’t in the cards in the near future.

So, I’m looking for practice ideas that I can carry out in the corners and edges of my days. Limited/portable equipment, headphones. How do I keep it rolling during the week so that I’m not left feeling overwhelmed when I finally have the time on Saturday to dig into the full studio?

I’ve pondered the possibility of new gear. An OP-1 or Circuit or some such, but don’t want to fall into the trap of “gear will solve my problems”. But then again…


What do you want to practice specifically? Methods related to electronic music, or music stuff in general?

For electronic music and composition I’ve found the OP-1 to be a pretty good device. Lots of synth options, 4-track tape, I can even record stuff off the FM radio if there’s anything interesting going on.

For music in general, I’ve found some ear training and rhythm practice apps to be a good way to spend some time and hone skills when I have some moments. I use this quite often: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/rhythm-sight-reading-trainer/id396302174?mt=8

You can tap rhythms out on the screen of the device, or if you plug in headphones and use the mic it will even pick up things like drum pads.


Those are great suggestions.

Really open to anything that just keeps my head in the game, so to speak, in spite of a heavy load of non-musical things taking up most of my time.

Yeah, even if I don’t get around to making a full song with it I usually have enough looped sections and tracks to be able to export in to my DAW later and mess around with.

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@jasonw22 yes, those OP-1’s look really cool! and they sound really powerful…
in checking the fourms, it’s clear that you are very helpful to many, many people in the monome community. thank you, you inspire me to share my perspective.
I like the idea that practice can be the same as doing/making something that you can use in your art/music.
I’ve found this app Beatmaker2 (http://intua.net/) to be practical on an iphone or ipad. I’ve made beats with it while in the crowd, and then 'played them back (while holding a plastic cup to the iphone speaker) while 'on stage/ and also made sequences on it, that were put into Ableton (for the vocals) and made it to Vimeo…
it seems to me, that gear comes and goes in every 'studio, at every level/ in my humble opinion, if you can use what you get/got to make something you’re proud of, then I think we can say it was worth it…
peace from california, -evan


I’ll give Beatmaker another try.

Train music: music made on trains, music training…