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Wynton Marsalis’s Twelve Rules of Practice

Wynton Marsalis has done a lot to promote classical and jazz music as a whole to younger generations. And the musician has had a fruitful career along the way. Marsalis is an educator first and foremost. The director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, one of the highlights of his career came in 1986 when he performed the national anthem at Super Bowl XX.

Performing under the Columbia, Sony and Blue Note labels, Marsalis has been a hit since the age of 8.

When most kids were out playing with friends, he was practicing and performing in the Fairview Baptist Church group. By the young age of 14, he would begin performing with the New Orleans Philharmonic.

His career flourished from here, and he would go on to release an educational series on jazz and classical music in 1995 on PBS. This is just the start of the education that Marsalis has divulged from his career.

If you ask some students, they may remember him coming to their school and passing out a print out of twelve rules of practice. These are rules that can make the difference between jamming out in your garage and hitting the big stage.

And I wanted to give you a little background on the maestro so that you can realize how important he is in jazz today.

close up sax

12 Rules of Practice by Wynton Marsalis

The twelve rules go something like this:

  1. Seek out private instruction.
  2. Set goals and chart your development.
  3. Write out a schedule for practicing.
  4. If you can’t concentrate when you’re practicing, put down your instrument and come back to it later.
  5. Practice the hard things more than the easy things.
  6. Practice slowly. Relax and play at a slow tempo, increasing the tempo every day slightly.
  7. Don’t show off. Play music.
  8. Play with expression. Invest yourself, participate and don’t be a cynic.
  9. Be optimistic. There’s nothing worse than pessimism coming from an instrument.
  10. Connect your music with other things. Everything is connected.
  11. Think for yourself. You may think of better ways to perform or do things. Methods are just a way of doing things.
  12. Never be too hard on yourself. Mistakes aren’t the end of the world.

And these aren’t his words word-for-word, but this is what I remember from memory. You want to give your everything and all while playing jazz and the saxophone, and your emotions will be heard through your instrument.

Musicians often forget that their instruments are an extension of themselves.

If you’re down or having a bad day, it will be reflected in your music.  The goal is to always try and be upbeat while putting every last ounce of emotion you can muster into your music. Practice slowly and know that you’re a work in progress that needs to start slow before he can master tempo and the true essence of classical music.

The music you play can be connected to everything you do in life. When practicing, try to find these connections and work on the things that are hard, not easy.