Q & A with Lori About Practicing

HandsOnKeyboardQ: Do you have a practice routine? How do you like to practice when you have time? How do you practice if time is limited?

Lori: Ever since I was a kid, practicing has been hard for me. (Especially if I’m working through classical music. It’s tedious, and I seem to get distracted easily.) I wish I had the time now to sit and really practice like I did in college. Then I practiced at least eight hours a day and had a steady gig four nights a week. I always had to be busy with music. I was musical director for many theatre productions, played in the top level college jazz band, was one of the pianists in University Singers, arranged and played in a Top 40 band, did recordings, and played lots of gigs. Whew!

There was never a dull moment, because I never said no. I forced myself to play gigs or styles that I had no idea how to do. So while I learned some very basic things in my college experience, it was playing professionally that became my real training. I learned how to play on the bandstand with professional musicians who were a lot older and more experienced than I was. I had an amazing “fire in my belly,” wanting to learn, learn, learn.

But the passion for practicing disappeared when I got busier. Life took over, and lots of responsibilities crept into my day to day schedule. I’m very thankful that I’m able to play for my Nashville Jazz Workshop classes, which currently add up to about seven hours a week. This keeps me grounded with my head in some music and my hands on the keyboard.

When I’m working on a recording project or a special performance, I try to practice several hours a day. I start with a warm up that my friend Dr. Daniel Landes (Chairman of the Belmont University Piano Department) taught me many years ago. It consists of eight different patterns to work on each finger to achieve better dexterity. Altogether, it takes about 10 minutes, and I’m totally warmed up when I finish. Then I move to the songs I’m working on, usually taking them apart and finding the trouble spots, which I practice over and over. When I’m working on an entire set of music, I like to play the songs in order so I can get a feel of how the music flows. That always gives me a better vision of how to approach my solos.

Q: How about mental practicing? Do you have any favorite method for studying your charts before the gig without sitting at the piano?

Lori: This is such a great question, because I do this all the time. Often on gigs with famous artists, there are NO rehearsals! We musicians just have to know the material up front and hope for the best when we get to the performance. Of course, we have a brief talk through, but that’s about it. So I practice mentally. I first imagine myself playing the arrangement and think of how to voice the chords. Then I go back and think of how to play a solo over the chord changes. This can be very challenging, especially if you have no idea how the song really goes. I also like to study the lyric (if the song has one) so I know what it’s about. This tells me the best approach I should take with my solo, voicings, touch and dynamics.

Q: Any last words about practice?

Lori: Only that I definitely had to put time into both practicing and playing to become the professional musician that I am today.



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