- Practice makes permanent, not perfect! If you start out
by practicing wrong, you will permanently play that spot
- Good practice is hard work.
- Practice is NOT always fun (sometimes it is - especially
when you can feel the improvement!). (Guess what! Even
professional musicians don't always want to practice (too
busy, too tired, want to do something else), but our mothers
are no longer living with us, so we have to nag ourselves:
"You know the only way to get better is to practice, so just
go do it!")
- Practice is working on small sections until you can play
them; then add the small sections together to make slightly
larger sections, etc.
- Practice and run-through are different procedures (both
- Putting the horn to your face and blowing (or grabbing
the sticks & banging) is not practice. Think before you
play. Think before you play. Think before you play.
- "Great! I got it!!" Tomorrow you probably will have lost
it... But the good news is that it won't take as long to get
it back as it took to learn it the first time!
- It may take many days or weeks to get it right and be
able to play it correctly every time!!
- Practice is more than just notes and rhythms. Go for the
details. Get a beautiful tone. Make sure the notes speak
clearly. Get the dynamics & accents... DETAILS!
- If you start making more mistakes or getting really
frustrated, take a break. Come back to the spot later in
your practice, or even tomorrow.
- DO NOT PRACTICE UNTIL IT HURTS!!!!!! If a body part
hurts, stop. If it continues to hurt every time you play,
see a doctor!
THE RULE OF FIVES: Don't quit as soon as you "get it". Do it five more
times!! If you really want to make it permanent, make
yourself do it correctly five times in a row. (If you mess
up, you have to start counting all over
again.) Think about it, if you've messed up a spot a whole bunch of times and then you get it right once, what is your body most likely to do the next time? Mess it up, of course! You have to fire the correct synapses many times to create that brain path that leads to the correct playing.
THE TOUGH LICKS:
How you approach a tough lick
depends on what is
difficult about it!!!
A - Rhythm difficulties
- Rule number 1-- Never play until you understand the
rhythm. (If it is an easy rhythm, it is a good challenge to
see if you can play it through right the first time, but
then go back and make sure you were correct by doing little
chunks & thinking about the rhythm.)
- Intellectualize about the rhythm. Write in the counting
if you need to, or write in where the beats fall.
- Feel the rhythm in your body. Count through it, or speak
through it while tapping your foot or being your own
- Work slowly until you understand the rhythm. Be your own
metronome. Work with a metronome. Figure out how tapping
your foot helps. Gradually speed up.
- ALWAYS work in small chunks - one or two measures at the
most. Sometime you will need to work on 3 or 4 notes at a
time!! Don't bite off more than you can chew or you will
B - Nasty note combinations (nasty rudiment
- Again, as always, work in small chunks. Here you will
need even smaller numbers of notes - sometimes only 2 at a
- When you have the small section you are working on
learned, add more to it. Add the pickups or the measure
before. Take it into the next measure.
- Be sure to practice the "links". If you practice measure
4, then measure 5, and never practice linking 4 & 5
together, you will stumble every time you cross the measure.
Practice measure 4 into the first note of measure 5.
- Go over to offending notes in many different ways -
forwards, backwards, different rhythms, staccato,
- Start slowly & gradually work faster. If you are
thinking, "I can play it best fast", you haven't really got
it learned yet! If you can only play it fast, you are
missing notes. Play it at all tempos.
- Do you know your alternate fingerings (standard sticking
patterns) that help make the tough spots easier?
C - "It's too high!" (or too low) (or too fast to
- Be sure you have practiced you basic skills. Brass
players, are you working on lip slurs every day?? Those are
your push-ups; they strengthen your chops so that you can
slur more easily, but also so you can be more flexible on
the low notes and have the strength to do the high notes!
Woodwinds & brass, are you playing long tones? They
strengthen muscles, too! Boring, but important!!
Percussionists, are you practicing your long rolls and even
- Do you warm up before every practice? You must warm up
the muscles slowly or you will injure something and never
have the strength to conquer the extremes.
- Work up to (down to) the note gradually. Play the notes
around it and be sure they are solid and gradually add the
- Is your embouchure/position correct for this note?? You
may need to tighten your lips or open your jaw more or take
more mouthpiece in your mouth or angle the instrument
differently. Ask your teacher.
- Practice every day. That is a must for a good tone and a
good range. You and your instrument need to work together
every day so that the muscles are in good condition. You can
not expect to play high/low notes if you don't practice.
Percussionists can not expect to play smooth sounding rolls
and fast patterns if you don't practice.
D - Dynamics
- Exaggerate. Play the louds really loud and the softs
really soft. Yes, you will miss & splat notes, the tone
will be gross, and you may not be able to get the notes to
come out, but it's OK - you are strengthening muscles by
pushing them beyond what they can do.
- Practice like you'd practice free-throws in basketball (see below for the Basketball analogy)
Basketball analogy: If you want to get to where you can
shoot free throws well, do you always practice at the foul
line if you can't get the ball in? No, you'll miss most of
the time. Do you find the place from which you can sink it
and always practice there? No, you'll never get better. What
do you do? You start where you can sink the ball and then
back up. Whoops, missed again. Darn, missed. GOT IT! Missed
again... And gradually you can get it most of the time. So
you back up again. Etc. When in a game, do you go to the
place you know you usually miss? No, of course not! Hot
shotting never wins a game. You move in to where you know
you can sink the ball and score the points. How does this
relate to dynamics?? If you always play in the levels where
you know you can play well and get the note to speak and
have a good tone, you never get better. When you practice,
"back up" a bit. Let the note splat because you are playing
too loudly, let the sound not come out because you are
trying to play too softly. Those are missed baskets. Your
muscles will learn how to hit it every time and then you
back up a little more! Exaggerate the louds & softs in
your practice. When you get to rehearsal or concert time,
stay within the range you know you can do well!