I believe that many musicians need to redefine "practice." Many musicians spend this time entertaining themselves with things that they already play well, rather than focusing on what they do not play well. There is a time to chalk up multiple reps of the entire piece, but that should ONLY come after true mastery of every note in the passage. Practicing something that you play sloppily at tempo only engrains the sloppiness deeper! Take your time, dig in, and even if you only fix one measure in half an hour from time to time, you can come away satisfied knowing that you have made a difference in your playing.
Stack successes on top of successes. If your teacher pats you on the back and says 'Good lesson!', then you should duplicate that work ethic each week thereafter. Compare that pat on the back with the disappointed sigh, and ask yourself which one you would rather hear each week. :)
Being a musician is more than playing the instrument. This takes on many forms:
- Be curious! Explore! If you hear a really cool sounding chord progression on a movie soundtrack, don't wait for someone to tell you what it is. Find a recording, sit down at the piano, and figure it out! Sometimes reconstruction is a more effective teacher than learning to do it the "right" way.
- Learn the history of your instrument. There is a rich heritage for each instrument, regardless of how long it has been in the symphony orchestra. The pioneers of days past have paved the road for you, and you owe it to them (and yourself) to keep their memory and hard work alive for future generations.
- Develop a keen ear. Go to www.musictheory.net and check out the ear training exercises there. If you have trouble hearing a particular interval, get in the practice room and sit at the piano until it sticks. This goes beyond intervals and chords, too. Develop an ear for timbre, balance, blend, and style.
- Take stock of your listening diet. Could you listen to a piece of music and determine where on the music timeline it belongs? Could you narrow down the possible composer list down to two or three options, or even better, confidently know the composer of the work? Generally speaking, I don't think that students listen to enough of the music they are studying. The summer is a WONDERFUL time to start a new habit. Choose a composer you have been interested in, but never took the time to listen to. Search about them on Wikipedia or some other source, and find their composition lists.
When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone? Step out of your comfort zone in some way, each day. I am not suggesting that you do something crazy like climb the Himalayas, but if you are terrified of performing in front of a particular faculty member, seek them out and ask for an opportunity to play for them. Speaking for each of my brass colleagues at Southeastern, I know for a fact that they would love to listen to you! Do you want to paint? Find an art class and take it. Do you want to ask someone out on a date? Ask! You never know what the answer might be.
Get in the habit of not generating excuses for each shortcoming. Sometimes, it is best to simply own up to it, take your lumps, and move forward. From time to time, traffic happens. From time to time, alarm clocks don't go off. Learn from the mistake by leaving earlier, double-checking your clock, or even better, setting it up across the room to force yourself out of bed to turn it off. When you have graduated and enter the workforce, your principal or personnel director won't care about your reasons, and neither should I!
Unless a professor tells you otherwise, assume that all university teachers demand to be called by their title. That means "Mr./Mrs./Ms or Doctor ______________." If one teacher prefers to be called by their first name, that is fine...but it does not apply to all teachers.
Play with passion! We do this because we love it. If you don't love it, go find whatever it is that you love, and embrace it whole-heartedly!
When the day is done, put the horn in the case and go have fun. Play as hard as you work, and realize that everyone needs time for rest and relaxation. Reward yourself when you deserve it.
As always, I welcome your comments below!