Coltrane Standing Outside
Coltrane Standing Outside
Photo via Nationaal Archief

“You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere” — John Coltrane

Coltrane’s blistering lines and soaring beauty are often complemented with a sort of zealot mystique. It’s easy to recognize his genius, but it often feels shrouded in unattainable prestige.

Apart from his stunning music, Coltrane was known for his feverous practice sessions and obsession with harmony, so is there anything useful we can learn from a genius like Coltrane?

I believe there is always something to be learned from people who “get it”. Coltrane is no exception. In fact, his thinking is deeply insightful for any musician looking to…


This dude looks rad.

I just got back from five weeks in Mexico, and I spent most of it hanging out with people more than twice my age (I’m 28).

My friends and I road-tripped across the country in a 1977 Volkswagen Kombi from Mexico City to Sonora, went snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez, and played beach volleyball under the relentless June sun.

San Carlos, where I spent the majority of my trip, is a small ex-pat community off the east coast of the Gulf of California. It is an extension of the port city of Guaymas, and it’s known for its shallow…


10 Lessons From Effective Practicing For Musicians
10 Lessons From Effective Practicing For Musicians
Benny Greb’s New Book

I was on Instagram a bit ago and saw an ad from German drummer Benny Greb about his book, Effective Practicing For Musicians.

Since this is the exact topic I like to write about, I bought it. Pretty much immediately.

But I was even more excited to read it once I saw Benny play — this guy is good.

You know those drummers who have that ideal blend of accuracy, soul, and style? Like Cory Wong’s drummer Petar Janjic or Donald “DJ” Johnson from Khruangbin?

Benny is one of those players.

So after a few weeks of international shipping…


How to Transcribe Music
How to Transcribe Music

It sounds crazy, but for years I didn’t understand what transcribing music meant. I heard it all the time in my musician circles and in school, but I think I was too afraid to ask what it really meant. It seemed like such a basic question, and because everyone talked about it, I just assumed I should know too.

I had ideas, but the term didn’t feel solidified — like when you use a word but feel guilty because you’re guessing at its meaning.

This is the blog I wish I would have had then.

We’ve got options when practicing.

When we go beyond the…


The 73 Best Tips for Practicing Music Smarter
The 73 Best Tips for Practicing Music Smarter
All Images Via RawPixel

Have you ever gotten so down after a practice session that you’ve exploded in anger and contemplated quitting whatever instrument or specific goals you have for music?

For me, this used to happen upon realizing that after months of consistent practice, I wasn’t anywhere closer to where I wanted to be. I’d record myself improvising and think, “How the hell have you managed to sound the same — possibly even worse than 3 months ago?”

That experience, in a word, is deflating. It squeezes the motivation right out of us. Sometimes that defeat can last a few days, sometimes a…


“You have to think beyond the notes.”

Being shown this earlier in my musical journey would have made all the difference.

Some of you may have been taught this, and if that’s the case, fantastic. For others like myself, I’m not so sure it was ever ingrained, and that’s exactly why you should take this to heart.

The idea is simple: make your practicing musical at every point — even the most academic exercises. It’s harder than you think to do this consistently, and this is especially true for intermediate to advanced players.

Let’s briefly cover what practicing musically looks…


It’s easy to develop a one-track mind toward success. You have goals, and if you want to reach them faster, well, that means putting in the work. This can create a productivity complex, where we feel guilty about taking any and all time off — failing to rest and leading to burnout.

But there are also smaller, more peripheral losses that occur from being a productivity zealot. You can lose track of hobbies that bring you happiness or sacrifice opportunities to experience something new. …


How to Play In the Pocket
How to Play In the Pocket

“Playing in the pocket is the opposite of playing intellectually.”

Developing your sense of pocket is one of the most important things you can do as a musician. It’s what makes someone’s music captivating — even when they are playing by themselves. It’s the glue that makes a good band hum with energy. It’s the good rhythm, and that goes for any instrument — sax, guitar, piano, drums, violin — you name it.

If you are frustrated by your playing and feel like you’ve learned all the classic licks or phrases in your desired genre/instrument but still aren’t happy with…


Music is a Language
Music is a Language

“Music is the universal language of mankind.”

― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We hear it all the time — music is a language. The language of emotion, of the spirit. It allows us to “speak” to one another without using words.

And it’s true. Music, especially music composed and performed by the same person, offers an immediate portrayal of someone’s soul. It’s a vulnerable act that communicates emotions everyone, regardless of their social conditioning or culture, can appreciate and respond to.

If we accept this notion, then shouldn’t musicians have something to learn from the world’s best language speakers — the…


We’re told consistency is key, but if you’re practicing without direction — i.e. practicing ineffectively, you may spend years progressing at a rate that is exponentially slower than what you could achieve with mindful practice.

There is often an inverse relationship between responsibility and the hours we have available to practice. It gets harder and harder to find time to improve our playing as life gets busier, so the need to practice effectively becomes increasingly more important as those precious hours decrease in number.

So how can we ensure that we’re extracting as much as we can from each minute…

Nathan Phelps

Nashville-Based Writer & Musician —Writing about practicing music and whatever else comes to mind.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store