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I take a lot of the songs from live versions off youtube because they usually have more improvisational and solo stuff. I use the Video Downloadhelper extension for Firefox to download the video to my Mac. Then I drag it into a Transcribe! by Seventhstring. Transcribe! lets you slow down the song, loop sections, and even provides note guesses. You can’t really rely on the note guesses but with the slow down and looping this is a great tool. I use Sibelius to do the transcriptions.
Hard to give a prescription. The question is not how many times a day to practice, but how much time to dedicate to practice and what to practice. First, set some goals. Do you want to better your technique? Are their spots in a song that could use some work? What current skills does this work require (i.e. what are your musical needs), and what are your other musical aspirations? (In my case, I mostly play in a lot of rock/pop bands, but often like to practice jazz on my own time.)
Nobody has ever suggested to me a good practice routine, and I think it’s because everyone’s so different, and that practice routines change all the time because they need to be constantly adjusted based on where you are on your musical journey. Set routines, like scales then chords then rhythm etc, make practice boring, and it shouldn’t be. Practice should be purposeful – “what am I trying to accomplish?”
If it were up to me, I’d be on the piano all day, playing along with records. I’d recommend keeping a notebook of the things you feel you need to practice and review it before every session.
If your schedule isn’t consistent everyday, a good thing to do is to plan the week in advance, or to reserve certain things for different days. It’s like exercising: you might do your upper body on Mondays and Wednesdays, legs on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Of course, everyone’s schedules are different, and not everyone has time to practice everyday. As long as a predetermined block of time is set aside during the week to get in a good practice you can get some serious work done.
Another good thing to have is a practice log where you can list all the things you have practiced and need to practice. This is particularly useful for when you’re really pressed for time. It could even mean getting a few extra scales in during those few minutes reheating leftovers for dinner! Having a practice log saves time, because you’ll always know where you left off and what you have to do.
The important part in practice is to have a routine. Some people work best in the morning, others at night – it doesn’t really matter when you decide to practice so long as you keep it consistent.
The next part is to track progress. Many teachers recommend keeping a journal of what you’ve worked on and what you’ve accomplished, and it’s just as important to set goals and objectives – be it long term, or for a single session. Doing this will keep you focused on the things that matter most.
Having been to music school, I’ve formed an ear for which people are practicing and which people are playing – the guys who practice usually don’t sound so good. And that’s okay. Because the things that already sound good probably don’t need much more attention.
It can be embarrassing to struggle through practicing important skills, but it’s something that everyone has to go through in order to reach the next level. As long as you practice, you’ll get better.
I’d be curious to hear what times of days you guys practice, what things you’re currently struggling through (identifying your sticking points is a good start to resolving them), and how you’re working to solve those problems. Just remember: we’re all there with you, giving our support!