A Practice Guide
(adapted from Practicing for Peak Performance, by Debra Richtmeyer)
Practicing is a matter of Quality, not Quantity.
Always practice with a purpose. Never just “play through” your music.
You can accomplish a lot in a short amount of focused, well-used time.
1. LEARNING HOW TO PRACTICE EFFICIENTLY AND EFFECTIVELY.
· FIND THE OUTLINE OF THE PHRASE SHAPE. Play notes slowly and hold on every eighth or downbeat in phrase until you can hear melodic/harmonic structure. Play with and without filler notes.
· PRACTICE SLOWLY IN SHORT SEGMENTS. Gradually increase tempo until you have phrase or passage as close to tempo as possible in that session. Then move on to next phrase and repeat. Whatever you practice becomes habit – try to incorporate all elements of music in every repetition.
· VARY RHYTHMS IN DIFFICULT PASSAGES to improve evenness of technique.
· USE A TUNER – practice frequently with tuner sounding key pitches in phrases.
· PRACTICE CRESCENDOS AND DECRESCENDOS WITH VIBRATO AT VARIOUS SPEEDS AND DEPTHS – WITH A TUNER. Sit on key notes in musical passages until you find the vibrato speed and depth that give right character for that moment. Support with a round embouchure.
· USE YOUR METRONOME IN ALL SCALE PRACTICE
· USE A TAPE RECORDER. When you think you like how you played a phrase, listen to it and keep playing and listening until you are happy with what you hear on tape. Be your own teacher as much as possible.
· PRACTICE A VARIETY OF THINGS EVERY DAY – tone-building exercises, scales, etudes and melodies. The more the variety, the more interest and longer you will want to practice. It will also keep you from focusing too long on a problem that cannot be solved overnight.
2. STUDY THE SCORE: Do not underestimate how much time you need to spend studying scores.
· HEAR THE BIG PICTURE – from phrase to phrase and movement to movement. What is the style, the pacing, and the emotional road map?
· BE ABLE TO SING THE COMPOSITE RHYTHMS OF ALL PARTS. If you cannot, the accompaniment will confuse you and you will not be able to play effectively as a duo (or ensemble).
· WRITE IN CUES as much as possible before the first rehearsal. This will save you much time and money.
· LISTEN TO RECORDINGS of the music you are playing after you have practiced it enough to form some of your own opinions. Practice making your own musical decisions – don’t just copy other performances.
3. UNDERSTAND THE ATHLETIC ASPECTS OF BEING A MUSICIAN.
· PRACTICE GOOD POSTURE AND STRETCH FREQUENTLY. Properly stretched muscles will have more strength and endurance and will be less prone to injury.
· TAKE BREAKS - every 30-50 minutes to increase endurance and avoid injury. Muscles need periods of rest to regain strength. Insufficient rest periods can result in decreased endurance and increased risk of injury.
· DON’T ALLOW SMALL INJURIES TO BECOME BIG ONES. Use ice during the first twenty-four hours whenever you experience lasting pain, and decrease or eliminate technical practice until the problem is gone. Use arnica gel or sports crème to speed up the healing process. See a qualified muscle therapist for problems that last longer than a few days. The longer you ignore a problem, the more difficult it will be to completely heal. You can always play long tones, vibrato and articulation exercises, and study scores while recovering.
· PRACTICE REGULARLY. It is much better to practice an hour every day than four hours twice a week. It is also better to practice 2-3 times per day rather than in one long session.
· TAKE A DAY OFF WHEN NEEDED. You will come back stronger and fresher for having had the rest.