At the urging of two of my university students, I put together the following presentation for the trombone and euphonium students at SOSU this past Monday afternoon. If you find that the amount of music you are expected to prepare is more than you can handle, then this post is for you! As always, I do not claim any sort of ownership of the concepts presented here. I am indebted to the various teachers who have shared these concepts with me, which I now share with you.
How To Practice...The Right Way!
SOSU Trombone/Euphonium Studio Class 9/28/2013
Practicing is not about achieving perfection..it is about making your musical product as consistent as possible. In other words....
Progress, not perfection, is the goal.
Importance of Fundamentals.
Take time every day to sharpen your skills on the instrument. These skills include:
Tone (Sound) - your signature
Articulation - single, double, triple tongue evenness in all registers
Valve or Slide Technique
Scales and arpeggios
Music Reading - sight reading, clefs, counting rhythms, etc
Shading - dynamics, crescendos and diminuendos, other effects
The better shape or condition your skills are in, the easier practicing will be. A carpenter or plumber with broken tools cannot do their job to the best of their ability, and you are no different!
Record your practice sessions on a regular basis, so that you can listen to yourself as you listen to others. Isn't it always easier to point out other people's playing issues than your own? The brain has a hard time taking in signals and processing them while sending out messages. For musicians, these outgoing messages include your playing!
Once the recorded sessions are studied, the player can then bracket or highlight the passages that need the most work. Don't practice what you can already play...that is a waste of time!
"Ironing Out" Technical Passages
Several methods can be used to improve difficult passages. I use mostly two: Pacing and Stretching.
PACING - First, slow down! Pace yourself!
STRETCHING - Augment the rhythm - Stretch each note. I first learned of this approach from my first college band director, Dr. Gary Garner, while attending West Texas A&M University several years ago. If any technical passages seem uneven, rushed, or fumbled, this is a great way to even out the notes.
The contour, range and combination of thirds and seconds can make the passage above quite difficult. At a slow enough tempo it is manageable, but everyone has their own "breaking point." Begin by lengthening the first note of each beat, then the second, third, and finally, the fourth.
The emphasis given to each note promotes evenness of tone across the passage as a whole, and forces the player to commit to each and every pitch with resonance and temporary calmness, as if the fast passage is frozen in time.
How much should you practice? Enough to get the job done.
Some will get away with less than you. Others will need more. Neither matter to your own personal development, and you should take enough pride in your music making to work hard at getting better for you. Being a musician is a lifestyle, not just something that you do occasionally or when you think about it.
The ideal practice day consists of 3 or 4 30 minute sessions. This is a great place to start if you are a practice "couch potato" and you are encouraged to add additional sessions! They break down like this:
Session One: 7:00-7:40 am, WarmUp and Fundamentals
Session Two: 10:00-10:45 am, Etudes
Session Three: 3:00-3:40 pm, Solo Practice
Session Four: 7:30-8:00 pm, Listening Session
Your schedule might vary or limit your availability, but EVERYONE can find time throughout the day, and you STILL have time to hang with friends, other studying, work, etc. Remember what you are working toward (a degree and hopefully, a job) and that at the interview or audition, no one will care how many hours you have had to work at a part time job. They will only care about your preparation.
My challenge to you this week is to adopt one thing from this talk into your practicing. The next week, add another, then another. Pretty soon, it will on become second nature.