As a boy growing up in New Orleans, I remember my father, Ellis, a pianist, and his friends talking about “sheddin’.” When they got together, theyʼd say, “Man, you need to go shed,” or “I’ve been sheddin’ hard.” When I was around 11, I realized that sheddin’ meant getting to the woodshed – practicing. By the age of 16, I understood what the shed was really about – hard, concentrated work.
When my brother Branford and I auditioned for our high school band, the instructor, who knew my father, was excited about Ellisʼ sons coming to the band. But my audition was so pitiful he said, “Are you sure youʼre Ellis’ son?”
At the time, his comment didn’t bother me because I was more interested in basketball than band.
Over the next several years, however, I began practicing seriously. Practice is essential to learning music – and anything else, for that matter. I like to say that the time spent practicing is the true sign of virtue in a musician. When you practice, it means you are willing to sacrifice to sound good.
Even if practice is so important, kids find it very hard to do because there are so many distractions. Thatʼs why I always encourage them to practice and explain how to do it. I’ve developed what I call “Wynton’s 12 Ways to Practice.” These will work for almost every activity – from music to schoolwork to sports.
Wyntonʼs Twelve Ways to Practice: From Music to Schoolwork
Published in the Education Digest | Sept 1996
1. Seek out instruction: Find an experienced teacher who knows what you should be doing. A good teacher will help you understand the purpose of practicing and can teach you ways to make practicing easier and more productive.
2. Write out a schedule: A schedule helps you organize your time. Be sure to allow time to review the fundamentals because they are the foundation of all the complicated things that come later. If you are practicing basketball, for example, be sure to put time in your schedule to practice free throws.
3. Set goals: Like a schedule, goals help you organize your time and chart your progress. Goals also act as a challenge: something to strive for in a specific period of time. If a certain task turns out to be really difficult, relax your goals: practice doesnʼt have to be painful to achieve results.