In 1958, when the internationally-renowned Fodens Motors Brass Band was giving a concert in Hyde Park, London, I asked their principal cornet player Edward Gray how much he practised. This man was one of the very best cornet players in the world at the time. ‘Two hours every day,’ he answered. Yes, he still felt he needed that amount of practice in order to stay at the top.
The Wihan String Quartet – one of the world’s greatest – told me that, whenever possible, they treat their practice like an office job: they assemble at 9am and work solidly on their quartets until lunchtime. After that, they are free to go to their separate activities and engagements, which include giving music lessons.
Like many trying to play traditional jazz, I am self-taught and I often wonder what I missed by not having a musical education. My guess is that those young people who studied music in colleges (such as many of the younger generation playing in New Orleans today) were taught how to make the best use of time spent in practice. They must have experienced coaching such as the rest of us can only imagine. I guess they were put through skilfully-designed drills, routines and exercises.
Most of us have to make do with what we can devise for ourselves and a few tips picked up along the way. Here are some pieces of advice that have been passed to me by good musicians: