13 Killer Practice Tips To Ignite Your Playing Today

jazz practice tipsHey Everybody! I’ve been thinking a ton about motivation and inspiration recently.

I’ve been super focused creating all the new content for this month’s Premium Jazz Lessons Membership update.

I’ve also been doing quite a bit more touring and local gigs recently too.

To say that I’m motivated right now would be an understatement! 

For years I’ve used all kinds of motivation and practice strategies to keep me energized and focused while I create new music and new lessons for the FJL community.

These motivation strategies I use help me bring my “A” game everyday as I work on music.

Many of you have expressed to me over the years that you would like more tools to help motivate you and help you practice as well.

I know you want to be the best jazz musician you can be.

So, today I wanted to share with you 13 killer music practice techniques that have inspired me and motivated me to make great music.

I have used these strategies for years and many of them have been life changing for me in terms of musical growth.

I hope you get as much mileage out of these tips and strategies as I have. So, without further ado. Here we go!

 1. Keep A Regular Practice Diary

musician practice logSomething magical happens when you regularly log what you’ve done in the practice room.

It the #1 way of helping you focus and get organized for long term practice success. It’s my first tip here because I’ve been using this one for 18 years.

So, here’s how I do it:

a) I always write down in advance what I want to accomplish for the day. The simple process of having my daily goals in front of me keeps me laser focused.

b) I also make sure to log what I accomplish each day in the practice room. Things like metronome marking go here, what tunes I learned, what chords I practiced, what solos I’ve transcribed, what I struggled with etc.

I work hard to try and check everything off the list. If I don’t get to something from my daily list I’ll simply add it to the next day’s practice list.

How You Can Implement: You can implement this strategy by using a simple notebook, a calendar, or even a musician practice planner. No matter what you use, just focus on consistency!

2. Set Up Reward Systems

jazz practice tipsI picked this technique up from a life coach I worked with years ago and it’s made a huge difference in my productivity.

Sitting down and crafting your art on a daily basis can require lots of energy, motivation and focus.

So, to acknowledge my efforts and to psychologically train myself to produce results, I created a triple reward system for myself for practicing.

a) I reward myself in the very beginning for the simple act of sitting down and practicing. As I’m sure many of you know I love coffee. So, I’ll make sure to have a hot cup sitting next to me in the practice room.

b) If I complete my practice and/or work for the day successfully I reward myself by watching an episode of Breaking Bad or another favorite TV show on my tablet. 🙂

c) If I have a great week of practice I’ll reward myself with a nice dinner out on the town.

In essence I’m bribing myself to keep progressing with my art. It’s amazing how using psychology 101 on myself works! 🙂

How You Can Implement: To implement this strategy simply find some sort of fun reward to acknowledge your hard work developing your art. Go ahead and reward yourself when you accomplish your goals. It’s a great feeling!

3. Set A Backward Goals System

About once a year (usually around my birthday) I’ll set goals for what I’d like to accomplish for the upcoming year in music.

Once those goals are in place I then break these goals down into smaller chunks. I’ll ask myself question like, “In order to accomplish this goal what would I need to do per month to make this happen?”

Once I have those answers I’ll take those monthly goals and break them down into weekly goals and then even break them down into daily goals.

This actually fuels the material for my daily practice log from technique #1.

Now of course weird things happen over the course of a year and sometimes what I’m working on needs to change.

But, I’ve found it incredibly helpful to make a plan regardless of unexpected circumstances.

If I need to shift it to some degree as I progress it’s ok. But, how can I accomplish anything of merit without some sort of direction or plan in place?

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”

                                                                 -Benjamin Franklin

4. Set Consistent Pre Practice Routines

As human beings, we are all creatures of habit. I recognize this fact and try my best to use it to my advantage. So, I’ve set up a pre practice/work routine that I do on a daily basis.

It’s through repetition that I’ve trained myself to associate one activity with another. So, for me I have two activities that trigger this drive to practice.

These pre practice routines can be anything for you. The 2 ones I use are actually deceptively simple. Here they are:

Jazz Piano Teacher Steve NixonA) Put on a button down shirt.

Part of being a pro musician is practicing a lot. 

Since I practice from home so much it’s very easy for me to blur the lines between work and leisure time. 

So, theoretically I could sort of wear whatever the heck I want.

I’ve noticed though that I actually am way more focused when I change from a t-shirt into a button down shirt. So, I made the button down shirt part of my pre performance routine.

Many people have to wear a uniform or a suit and tie when they go to work. So, by putting on this button down shirt it symbolizes for me that this it’s time to work.

B) Turn off my phone.

There’s something symbolic about the fact that I am shutting myself off to the outside world. The act of shutting it down everyday before practice has become very ritualistic for me and lets my brain prepare for what’s coming.

This is my time to practice and grow my music. I won’t be distracted from emails and texts.

Doing these steps everyday before I practice pretty much ensures that my brain is automatically trained to just sit down and practice.

No other activity is ‘programmed’ to take it’s place.

(Another related sub strategy here is to practice at the same time everyday. I’ve seen some of my jazz students be insanely productive using this technique.)

5. Watch Motivation Videos Before You Practice 

One of my favorite ways to get inspired before I practice is to watch a motivational video before I practice like this one.

6. Listen To your Favorite Musicians Before You Practice

I’ll also listen to my favorite tracks from my favorite musicians right before I sit down to practice. I specifically listen to the artists that inspire me like Barry Harris, Chick Corea, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Hank Mobley, etc.

You should have your own personal list of inspiring players of course!

(Here’s a Hank Mobley track I listened to while writing this article)

If you’re not inspired by listening to great music you know you’re in trouble!

7. Get An Accountability Partner

Having someone you trust to share you goals with and help keep you accountable is priceless!

I’ve used this strategy a bunch of times.

When I was getting my degree at the Berklee College of Music I had a roommate named Jed who helped me immeasurably!

Jed, would set his alarm every morning for 7:30am (which of course is an ungodly time for a college student and a jazz musician). He’d spring out of bed and wake me up to go practice.

At first I didn’t like Jed waking me up so early but when I go used to the routine and notice my playing improving so much I began to love it.

I began to even start waking Jed up on many mornings. We kept each other on track and I made an incredible amount of progress in 2 years time.

This truly came down to the fact that I had someone supporting me and helping me stay focused on my big goals.

How You Can Implement:  Find a musician friend who also has goals they could use some support on. Form a team and hold each other accountable.

Better yet, if you’re in need of an accountability partner please leave a comment in the comments area of this article. I’d be happy to help you guys connect with one another!

8. Record Yourself Regularly

jazz practice tipsI’m a HUGE fan of using the technique of recording yourself to learn. I even wrote a whole article on recording yourself here.

I won’t go too much in depth here about it right here (since I already wrote a whole article about it) but I will say this has probably been my #1 growth tool in the last year. I can’t recommend it enough.

After you read all the rest of the tips from this article go back and I recommend you check out the record yourself strategy article.

9. Work With A Great Jazz Teacher

It’s truly amazing the musical breakthroughs you can achieve from working with a skilled teacher.

If you really want to learn music well, you can achieve results so much faster if you work with someone who’s further along the musical journey than you are.

Sometimes things that you’ve struggled with for years can be fixed in 1 hour while engaging with a new teacher’s material.

A skilled teacher can also show you things about music that you didn’t even know existed. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times that happened to me at Berklee.

Additionally, an experienced teacher can also help keep you accountable and motivated. This is a nice little extra bonus.

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By the way, if you’re looking for a jazz piano teacher and are looking to really make a huge improvement in your jazz piano playing I recommend you check out my 

Premium Jazz Lessons Elite Monthly Course

It’s truly amazing to see the huge leaps people are making in their jazz playing! 🙂

If you haven’t seen them yet please check out a couple free samples of the program.

Here you can learn some new jazz piano chords and arrangement techniques in this free All The Things You Are Jazz Piano Lesson.

Need help with your jazz improvisation? Check out this 3 Important Jazz Scales For Modal Improvisation Lesson.

10. Book A Gig, A Recital, Or Play In Public

Looking back on the last 10 years, there is a significant trend that’s taken place.

I’ve noticed that most of my intense growth cycles have occurred when I was preparing for an audition, a recital, or a gig.

There’s something about having a deadline and something to specifically prepare for that causes the mind to focus.

My classical composition teacher used to tell me he’d book the concert hall first, sell all the tickets, and then he’d write the music last. He did that so he was forced to succeed. There’s no turning back after you sell tickets.

Talk about using a deadline to create a powerful motivation tool for yourself!

How You Can Implement: You don’t have to go as far as booking a concert hall for yourself. You just have to simply find an opportunity to play in public.

Whether it be creating a Youtube video of a song, booking a small gig, playing a recital, or just playing for your neighbor Joe. It doesn’t matter. Just do it! There’s nothing like the motivation of playing in public.

By the way for those of you who have some stage fright issues…I promise you it gets soooooo much easier the more you do it. I promise! 🙂

11. Play With Musicians Who Are Better Than You

One of my favorite strategies to get better at music is to play with musicians who are better than me.

I know by making music with people who are more skilled than me that their years of experience will influence me. I’ll grow from that experience.

piano rhythmHere’s a quick example. A couple months back I got a call to play a gig with Jaimoe from the Allman Brothers Band, on WGN TV.

Needless to say I jumped at the chance as I knew this would be a great opportunity for growth in so many ways.

Not only was I a huge Allman Brothers Band fan but I knew that playing with him would be a great learning experience for me too.

I mean this is a dude who is in the Rock n Roll Hall Of Fame! How could I say no?

The 48 hours before the gig was definitely stressful as I was preparing for the gig. I was also a bit nervous to play with such a legend but I’ve learned to love these growth situations. They’re vital!

The gig went really well and I definitely felt that I grew from the experience immensely. This was especially true on a rhythmic level

12. Practice With Jam Tracks Or Drum Loops

All The Things You Are Jam TrackSpeaking of rhythm, here’s another tip for you.

As I’m sure you know, most musicians practice with a metronome.

Now, I think playing with a time keeping device is essential for your development as a jazz musician.

Since jazz is so reliant on rhythm you need to constantly be trying to improve your groove!

Unfortunately, playing with a metronome isn’t always inspiring.

I think it’s super important to make practice as fun as possible so we maintain our motivation.

It’s for that reason that I suggest students mix it up for their practice. Half the time you can practice with a metronome and the other half of the time you can try practice with drum loops and jam tracks.

It can often times be a lot more fun to play with drums and bass than just a plain old metronome click.

(By the way guys, I recognize this is a need for a lot of you guys so I include tons of professional jam tracks for your guys to practice inside the Premium Membership.)

13. Be Ok With Where You Currently Are As A Musician

Speaking of satisfying needs, I’m always amazed by how accomplished you guys are in your chosen fields and careers. You guys are definitely making the world a better place.

Some of the emails I get from you guys where you tell me some of the things you’ve accomplished in your life just blow my mind!

I think I have the smartest readers of any website in the world but maybe I’m a bit biased. 😉

Here’s the weird thing though. Sometimes the more advanced we are in our careers the more we expect out of ourselves in other areas of our lives where we’re not as experienced.

This isn’t always the most positive mental attitude to have when we’re trying to grow and learn a new skill. This is especially true when you’re trying to learn jazz!

So, no matter where you currently are in your music ability I think it’s always a good idea to just acknowledge one thing. Where you currently are today it’s not a reflection on where you will end up.

You wouldn’t judge the beauty of a rose when it was still in a seed form right? Well, don’t judge yourself while you’re in ‘musical seed form’.

Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to grow musically like you would that rose 🙂

Enjoy your practice everybody and hope today is a day filled with incredible jazz, blues, and soulful music!


Did you enjoy these practice tips? Do you have a favorite tip or perhaps you have a practice tip that you use that I didn’t include here? Do you have any questions?

Also, if you found this article helpful you would be doing me a HUGE FAVOR by sharing it via Twitter and Facebook, and by leaving me a comment to let me know what you think.

I read every comment and I always love to hear from you guys!


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Steve Nixon