I am pretty neurotic about my practice routine. Since I only have three hours, I break it down into 30-minute parts where I might do a technical exercise, scales, patterns, and songs. I will constantly evaluate my routine to make sure it is optimized and helping me make maximum progress.
Recently, I’ve been starting to realize that it isn’t necessarily that important what you practice, as long as you are doing something that challenges your mind, and putting in a consistent amount of time each day. I’ve practiced a bunch of different things in the couple of years that I’ve played organ, and each different exercise is like a small piece of the overall puzzle.
I think that the most important thing is to just sit down and play. When I went to Jamie Aebersold jazz camp in high school, the best advice I heard was when Todd Coolman said “Just turn on the metronome and improvise a stream of eight notes.” I didn’t understand it at the time, but now I use that all the time with my students. The idea being, you play a bunch of ideas which may seem random at first, but then slowly your brain separates the good ideas out from the bad.
My friend Keith Ganz once told a guy at a jazz workshop, “Just turn on your metronome and play.” Great advice: if you are hearing patterns, play them. If you want to play random notes, that’s fine too because you are likely to come across some new ideas.
When I took organ lessons from Ondrej Pivec, he told me “From this moment forward, I want you only to play thematically.” What this means to me is that every musical phrase should be an idea, and develop in a logical way. Improvisation should be based on reason.
My mantra for the past couple of months has been “Put my hands on the keyboard and mash some notes down. Let God sort ’em out later.” The last thing someone wants to see at a show is a musician playing tentatively and dubiously.