arlos Santana’s career has spanned over 50 years, from his electrifying performance at the original Woodstock to contemporary hits with Rob Thomas and Wyclef Jean. For Carlos, music is as much a spiritual endeavor as it is a technical one:
- View practice not as a burden, but as an offering. For Carlos, the art of performing music begins well before you pick up your instrument. Musicians have intimate relationships with their audiences. If you’re going to delve into your audience’s emotions—and even their souls—then you owe it to them to be mentally prepared to perform.
- Practice proper breathing. Breathing is not as simple as just inhaling air. When you take that breath, you should also inhale trust in yourself and your choices as a player. The goal is to force aside your inhibitions and replace them with confidence that you’re connected to the music and will thus make great choices.
- Don’t get trapped in your own head. Carlos is clear: “The way to prepare your brain before you practice is to dismiss it.” As he learned from piano legend Keith Jarrett, when you over-intellectualize your choices, you surpress raw emotion.
- Give yourself time to warm up. Carlos likes to set a rhythm machine and explore a single key for five to ten minutes, so that the key gets inside him.
- Don’t just practice guitar parts — learn the whole song. One of Carlos’s techniques for practicing is to dismantle a piece of music and put it back together. He first did this with the James Brown song “Night Train.” He didn’t just focus on the guitar—he broke down and analyzed all the instruments. Later he did the same with Aretha Franklin’s entire Lady Soul album (1968). Carlos spends time with notes and phrases played by all instruments, playing them over and over to see how many different ways he can express the musical ideas.