Choosing Instrument(s) for High Intensity Interval Practice

Effective practice begins with selecting the right gear!

While High Intensity Interval Practice (HIIP) can be adapted for all instruments and levels, you still need to be strategic about your choice of instruments. In this post, we’ll discuss how to pick an instrument if you’re just starting out. I’ll also explain how multi-instrumentalists can make use off HIIP. As you’ll see, your choice of instrument(s) affects how much time you must budget for setup, tuning, and warmups. From there, you can complete the action item of getting your practice space set up!

If you’re just starting out and/or pressed for time, you should stick to practicing just one instrument. Make sure that your instrument is in playing shape – repairing or replacing parts as needed. If you want to play a certain instrument but can’t afford it, consider renting one from a music store. For those on a budget, voice or melodica (which run for $100 or less) are good options. Whatever you choose, make sure you’re excited and passionate about playing your one instrument.

If you play multiple instruments, HIIP is your friend! For woodwind players who double (on flute, clarinet, etc.), you can divide time between your primary and secondary instruments. Either way, limit yourself to no more than five instruments at a time. If you stick to the minimum of five minutes per day, you can practice five instruments in less than half an hour. But that said, multiple instruments mean more setup time (see below).

With each instrument, you’ll need to consider how much time you need to budget for the following:

  1. Setup (even if your instrument is out of its case and on a stand, you still may need to put things together)
  2. Tuning (if applicable, tune your instrument before every practice session)
  3. Warmups (this is crucial for vocalists, brass players, etc. and may take more than five minutes itself)

Over time, you’ll get a better feel for how many instruments you can practice and how much time to devote to each.

Today, take 5 minutes to set up your practice space, including the following:

  • Your instrument(s), out of the case and on an instrument stand (if applicable)
  • A music stand with pencil, metronome, tuner, tablet with iRealPro, etc.
  • Assessment tools, such as a mirror and recording device

Tomorrow, we’ll move from selecting gear to choosing a goal!

What is HIIP? (Introduction to High Intensity Interval Practice)

Get practice results in as little as 5 minutes a day!

Recently, I started working a full-time job outside of music and struggled to find time and energy to practice bass. Then, I read (in this book) about a teacher who successfully taught a time-starved medical student to practice in just two minutes a day! Inspired, I set a goal to practice over twice as much – five minutes a day… I borrowed techniques from my Tabata-style workouts (a type of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)). I dubbed my resulting method High Intensity Interval Practice, with the appropriate acronym HIIP.

Like HIIT, HIIP uses short bursts of intense effort punctuated by brief periods of rest. It is designed to produced maximal results in minimal time. If you’re like me – extremely busy with other time commitments – then this system is for you. What’s more, the it’s completely customizable for different instruments, schedules, levels, and interests. I’m writing this series of blog posts to hone my method and share it with others experiencing similar struggles.

To get the most out of your HIIP, you need to commit to practice five minutes a day, five days a week, for five weeks in a row. At just over two hours, this is manageable for even the most time-starved people. Each 5-minute “workout” will target 1-4 bars of music. Even with the minimal commitment, it’s still possible to learn a 32-bar tune in that time! Over the next five weeks, I’ll take you step-by-step through the process of creating a HIIP routine that works for you.

In Week 1 (this week), we’ll cover basics of and preparation for HIIP. Next week (Week 2), we’ll start learning how to construct practice “workouts” and use looping techniques. After that (Week 3), we’ll delve into the process of developing musicianship – such as timekeeping, playing melodies, and soloing. For Week 4, we’ll learn how to apply principles of HIIP into musical learning. Finally, during Week 5 we’ll explore applications of this method in rehearsal and performance.

While you won’t start practicing until next week, you can still set a timer for five minutes today and write out answers to the following questions:

  • Which instrument(s) do I want to (re)learn or get better at playing?
  • What are my primary goals – what kinds of things do I want to be able to do musically?
  • Which tunes do I want to learn to help me achieve my goals?

Tomorrow, we’ll start our HIIP journey by discussing instruments and other gear.

Episode 8: Nanouche, “Hot Stuff”

Nanoversity of Jazz/Manouche arrangement of “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer. Chart available at Model recording created using Band-in-a-Box® and Finale software.  

Earlier this year, a friend of mine asked me to arrange Gypsy jazz versions of LGBT classics (think, “It’s Raining Men” and “I Will Survive”) for his wedding. To top off the awesomeness, I got to play the wedding with an amazing group of Seattle-based female musicians. Now that I’m in Birmingham, I wanted to create model recordings for my West Coast crew. Enter Band-in-a-Box® (with an assist from Finale)!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting model recordings and charts for various arrangements. I started with “Hot Stuff” by Donna Summer because it seemed fitting for the hottest part of summer…

See below for model recording and chart. I changed the feel from disco to slow Gypsy swing and made some of the chords a little more “jazzy.”

I’m hoping to eventually create written basslines, solos, and melodies specifically for bassists. In the meantime, feel free to share any questions, comments, or suggestions. Thanks for listening!

Hot Stuff Page 1Hot Stuff Page 2

Jazz Bass Practice Deck 5

Last week, we applied Decks 1, 2, and 3 for a simple bassline over the changes of “Autumn Leaves.” This week, we’ll learn another set of basslines. Once you practice everything, you’re ready to play a full chorus of bassline (see below)!

Jazz Bass Practice Deck 5

These four cards break down two basslines in G Minor (the relative minor of Bb Major). Together, they’ll allow you to play a full chorus of basslines over “Autumn Leaves.”

Jazz Bass Practice Deck 5

Bonus Tip

For a tune like “Autumn Leaves,” you can build a full chorus of bassline by stringing together different four-bar “chunks.” The illustration below shows a full chorus of bassline using the music from Cards 4.1, 5.1, and 5.3. Note the circle at the end of measure 16. Here, there’s a slight variation in the bassline from Card 5.1.

Full Bassline Sets 4-5

Full Bassline Sets 4-5 (PDF)

Jazz Bass Practice Deck 4

Now that we’ve gone over basic right- & left-hand technique, as well as a Bb Major Scale, we can start playing actual basslines! For the fourth and final (for now) category, we’re focusing on bassline construction.

Jazz Bass Practice Deck 4

These four cards break down a basic, 4-bar progression in Bb Major (which you may recognize as “Autumn Leaves”). It stays in the same position as the Bb Major Scale – which we covered in the previous deck.

Jazz Bass Practice Deck 4

Bonus Tip

Notice that there are Roman Numerals listed on Card 4.1. This is a common way of describing chord progressions in jazz. In Bb, the ii (“two”) chord is Cmin7, the V (“five”) chord is F7, etc. Remember with the Bb Major Scale that C is the second scale degree, F is the fifth scale degree, etc. In jazz, ii-V progressions are incredibly common.