The Art of Practicing

Photo by Josh Calkin

This semester, in addition to having students perform their latest solos, I have decided to present three themed masterclasses during seminar classes; The Art of Practicing, the Art of Phrasing, and the Art of Listening. I like to talk about basic ideas such as practicing, warm up routines, and breathing early on in the semester, so I started there. In a few weeks, the Art of Phrasing masterclass will be aimed at how to shape and form a musical line. Because the final project “The Power of Program Music” involves listening to and identifying recordings, I thought that I might highlight the importance of listening to great works to a student’s aural diet.

For the Art of Practicing masterclass, I had two students who were currently working through music play for us, then talked about how to go about practicing to overcome their particular problems. At first, I thought I might create a handout, so I searched for some online information and read numerous articles on the subject. I saved some helpful links that I think are quite worthy of your time.

“So you want to be a great tuba player” by Staff Sergeant David Brown of the U.S. Army Band.

“How to Practice” by Jeff Purtle

Tom Gibson’s Tips and Daily Routing for trombone

How to Practise Music from the BBC

Practice tips by Doug Yeo

A Guide to Great Home Music Practice by Catherine Schmidt-Jones (from Connexions)

“Imagine If You Practice” by David Salidino

A Shared Handout – “How to Practice” by Jon Dittert

Intentional Practice Blog by Jonathan Harnum

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5 Responses to The Art of Practicing

  1. Gabe Langfur says:

    Great topic John, and one I think about a lot. I’ve created a handout (pasted below) about focusing your practice sessions by covering five basic modes, and being conscious of which you are in at any given time.

    5 Modes of Practicing

    1. Practicing Technique – working on the physical coordination needed to play your instrument or sing. For example: scales and arpeggios, long tones, tone or vocal placement exercises, fingering studies, etc. This is the time to cultivate the most relaxed, natural way of managing the interface between your mind, body and instrument. This is a lifelong endeavor, and nobody ever has it perfected.

    2. Practicing Music for Your Body – learning the music you intend to perform, addressing the technical demands and physical coordination, learning notes, ingraining the musical structures in the inner ear. This is the mode we most often call “woodshedding.” Mode 1 serves Mode 2, and Mode 2 can inform the focus of Mode 1.

    3. Practicing Music for Music – exploring the music you will perform in a mindset of experimentation. Finding what makes it happen musically, making decisions – or simply experimenting – about relative dynamics, tempi, articulation styles, tone color. This doesn’t have to happen with your instrument! You can also study scores, listen to other music by the same composer, listen to other music in a similar style, etc. Instrumentalists can sing through music, either with your voice or just in your imagination, to develop phrasing ideas separately from instrumental concerns.

    4. Practicing Performing – practicing the music you will perform for the mindset and thought processes of actually performing. Commitment to the moment is vital in this mode – no stopping, no going back. And in order to fully commit, the critical, self-evaluating mind has to be turned off now! Only after you finish do you think back or listen back to a recording of what you have just done, and think about what needs to be addressed in the next session of Mode 2 or 3. This is an extremely important step if you want to be a successful performer, and particularly if you take auditions.

    5. Practicing Joy – playing music you love, for yourself, just because you love it, even if you have no intention to ever perform it. This is also crucial to a life as a musician, and feeds all of the work we do. Also, get together with friends to play duets, trios, quartets, small jazz combos, etc.

    © Gabriel Langfur 2010

  2. Pingback: The Art of Practicing via TubaHead | University of Iowa Trombone Studio

  3. Gabe Langfur says:

    I thought you’d like that. I’d love to see what comes out of your classes, especially the Art of Phrasing. Any chance of video? 🙂

  4. Jon Dittert says:

    Nice article. Glad you found my own article helpful. My girlfriend actually stumbled upon your site while googling me and sent me the link.

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