Practice Strategies

Below are some basic practice ideas I put together a few years ago for my college students. They apply, in most cases, to players at every level.

Daily Practice

What should I practice?

1) Warm-up/fundamentals

2) Range exersize/soft practice (alternating days)

3) Method books/technique

4) Solos

5) Orchestral excerpts

6) Other: tunes (“pure melody”), jazz (Aebersold, transcriptions, Omnibook, standards in all keys, licks in all keys)

Technical Passages

How should I work up the hard stuff?

1) Fragment—small pieces up to tempo. Gradually fuse smaller pieces together.

2) Metronome—up 10, back 5, up 10, etc.—provides both progress and relaxation

3) Rhythms—dotted eighth/sixteenth, then reverse (fast only every other note)

4) Mouthpiece buzzing—gets embouchure doing right thing and smooths over breaks

5) Slide only (gliss), then add tongue—simplifies and gets slide doing right thing

6) Build from strength—At some tempo/dynamic/pitch level, it’s easy. Start where it’s easy, then go from there, and you’ll always sound solid.

Motivation

I know I need to practice, but how do I get myself to do it?

1) 2 hours before breakfast? Robert Langevin, principal flutist of the NY Phil, recommends getting in 2 hours of practicing every day before breakfast. Then you have lots of momentum and plenty of time to get in whatever additional practice you need. Not for everyone, but it’s an idea!

2) Consistent time & place (eliminates decision-making anguish)

3) Surveys and studies show that nobody at any level really likes practicing; those who excel do it anyway because they understand its importance. Studies repeatedly show that practice time—not talent, upbringing, socio-economic status, etc.—is consistently the best predictor of music performance achievement. For an interesting recent study on this subject, see Robert H. Woody, “The Motivations of Exceptional Musicians.” Music Educators Journal 90:3 (January 2004).

Essential Tools

1) Metronome—for brass players it must be loud enough to be heard above your loud passages!

2) Electronic tuner—small Korg is good. Avoid guitar tuners and tuners w/hypersensitive needle.

3) Recorder of some kind—even the cheapest recorder can tell you more than you think.

Miscellaneous

1) Generally practice what you can’t do, not what you can do (except for #2, below).

2) Do daily run-through’s when preparing for a performance. This is especially important for recitals, which often present endurance concerns for brass players.

3) Avoid distractions. If you practice 3 hours a day, but 2 of them are in front of the TV, it’s not really 3 hours a day.

4) Don’t practice mistakes into what you’re working on (including passages with poor tone). Go back and fix what you miss (unless you’re doing a run-through). Repeatedly glossing over mistakes sends the wrong message to your brain.

5) Do NOT practice with pain. Trying to “practice through” pain can cause permanent damage to your embouchure. Take a break!

6) Practice the way you want to perform. For example, if you notice you are very tense when you perform, take a look at the way you practice.

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