A conversation on Twitter today has brought up the topic of practice. For musicians practice can be a bane to ones life. We practice, prepare, exercise, drill, study, recite, rehearse and a multitude of other synonyms to do that which we love, and that is to perform music. By definition “Practice” is the act of rehearsing a behavior or engaging in an activity over and over to improve. Practice is not a method by which one improves as practice is a method of reinforcement of actions that generate an outcome. With that, Does practice make one improve or make one perfect as stated in the old adage that “Practice makes perfect”? I think not.
Most individuals go to the practice room, take our their instrument and begin what they believe is practice. This is not a good way to learn. One needs to have a plan, a guide, or some sort of organized structure to get through and accomplish the many tasks a musician needs to accomplish in a single, or multiple practice session.
Practicing is much like studying. So often individuals are not taught how to study in school, just as most young musicians are not taught how to practice. It is so much more than opening a book, reading, or putting horn to lips and blowing. There are some simple steps one can take to become better at the art of practicing. Yes, I said art, as practicing is a learned skill and an art in itself.
Below is a list of a few items one can do to aid in become better at the art of practice:
- Schedule your practice time and meet your schedule.
- Log your practice.
- Take notes during your practice time and during lessons.
- Review your notes after a practice session and after lessons.
- List goals for the week, month, year, and your long-term goals such as auditions, etc.
- Review your goals and see if you are meeting your expectations.
- Adjust your goals periodically.
- Warm up – this is not practice time and never let a warmup become practice.
- Stay focused on your schedule.
- Remember the practice room is for practice and to learn.
Below is a simple sample practice routine and should vary depending on one’s ability. This is not the end all and many will have other thoughts:
- Warm up – This is a warmup and not time to practice. Breathing exercises and time to get the lips going with easy long tones in the middle and lower register.
- Flexibility exercises – Scales in thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, etc., as well as wide slurs.
- Scales and arpeggios – These are key to flexibility and learning how to play music.
- Lip Trills.
- Work the extremes of the horn range.
- Now time to settle in on etudes, excerpts, solos, etc.
The above items are just simple thoughts, but if put into place in ones daily life improvement can be great. It is YOU that does the work and not the equipment. Fancy lead pipes, mouthpieces, and more are not what makes a great player as a great player is a player that is disciplined and works hard to learn, and to practice. Setting a schedule, meeting that schedule, making notes, reviewing those notes are so important to being successful in any career. You setup your schedule based upon class schedule, ensembles and other events out of your control and you need to meet the times you setup. Do not be over zealous, but set reasonable times for success. Remember that you set your times and set them for you to be successful in all that you do.
One needs to remember that the practice room is for practicing. Do not sit and play the things that you know so that others can hear you play well. Practice time is the time to practice, learn, improve, and most importantly to make mistakes. Learn from the mistakes but do not learn the mistakes. Practice will never make one perfect if one continually practices the mistakes. Of course, mistakes happen in performance and one cannot stop, but in the practice room it is time to assess and review why you made the mistake. Ask yourself questions. Be bold, be blunt about your playing. Assess, evaluate, find the solution, test the solution, re-evaluate, and test another solution if the first did not work. Take your time … Lather, rinse and repeat.
Yes, those words taken from the directions found on bottles of shampoo are important. Lather, rinse and repeat or play, review and evaluate, and repeat this cycle. It is a cycle or circle that never ends. Play through a simple etude then review and evaluate your performance. If you made a mistake think why you made the mistake. Find a correction, make a change, and use your mind to come up with a solution. Then you start over with the solution in place. The solution could be a simple fingering change, or change to your airstream, where you breath, what you are thinking while playing, and so many other options. Lather, rinse and repeat.
From my past, my mentor made me play through excerpts a minimum of ten times without any mistakes. If a mistake occurred I would have to start over at the first play through. So, playing the opening to Till Eulenspiegal’s Merry Pranks I would play through one time, then two, then three and if I made a mistake it was back to playing it the first time. Never continue practicing when a mistake is made, as one will only learn the mistake. Then that mistake becomes learned and when it comes time to perform it is likely that mistake will happen in performance. Be bold, use your mind, learn, practice in the practice room, perform and perform well because you learned to practice perfectly. Lather, rinse and repeat … It is not drudgery, but fun to learn, and fun to perform well. Lather, rinse and repeat.
Please feel free to ask me questions. I am always so happy to try and help in any way that I can. These thoughts are mine are will be different for each individual. Fine tuning to find what works best for you is an important aspect of learning. Just because one person can play a high c by puffing their cheeks, a squeezing their eyes closed does not mean it will work for you. Happy day to all. Lather, rinse and repeat.