Something happens when you practice a lot. You eventually start to play everything you know all the time. It’s an unconscious, albeit normal and inevitable phase any good musician goes through. I actually love hearing students go through this phase. It’s a clear indication that they are serious and are working hard on the materials their teachers have designated.
There comes a time however when the student has to start evaluating all they know and all they are playing. There comes a time in one’s evolution as an improvising musician that you have to start the process of editing, or even deleting in some cases, much of what you have learned. I understand this may seem paradoxical to some, but all great artists at some point in their development make a decision as to what to keep and what not to keep in terms of the materials they have learned and how they use these materials.
The place to start, on this part of your journey, is in the “editing suite”. Many students in the “playing everything you know” phase tend to overplay almost all of the time, rarely making effective use of space. You will hear this quite often particularly with an intermediate or university level student. So much information is being absorbed at this stage and there needs to be an outlet, a get it all out there attitude. Good students with a good time feel and good articulation will play endless lines in their solos without any real defining sense of phrasing or any real sense of melody or melodic development. The editing process can start once the student becomes aware or conscious of their overplaying and along with this new consciousness, the student will discover that what they are playing is not a true representation of what they are actually trying to communicate.
If this sounds familiar then this is a good time to start recording yourself everytime you play, not just when practicing but also at gigs, jams, rehearsals etc. Listen to yourself with a critical ear and ask yourself the following questions. Did that phrase go on too long? Maybe several bars too long? Should I have ended the phrase sooner and more decisively? Should I leave more space before starting the next phrase? Maybe several bars of space? Am I communicating effectively with the other musicians or am I off in my own little world? Could I be more melodic in my approach? Am I playing good musical ideas? Am I developing or expanding on these ideas?
Start with these questions and use them as a springboard to come up with more questions. Make sure your self criticism is constructive and do not beat up on yourself in the process. Try to keep a detached and non-judgemental attitude as if it were someone else you were listening to. The study of space and how you use it will be as important a part of your musical evolution as any other area. You will gain insight and understanding into the reality that what you don’t play is as meaningful as what you do play. You will start to understand that there is no such thing as dead space. In fact you will realize that spaces are alive!