Throwing a Wrench in Your Practice: What Tools Do YOU Use?

It’s often easy to get into a rut in your practice, not to mention we all want to spend our time on the clock efficiently.  In light of a few new methods I’ve discovered these past few months combined with a few recent lessons, I thought I’d jot down a few tools I’ve stumbled upon…honestly, many of you may know of these already.  BUT, that’s why I’d like you to offer a few of your own practice tips, post them in the comments below, and I’d like to include them (if that’s okay with you) in an updated post next month.  Here we go:

1. Skeletonize

Michael Sachs (Principal Trumpet, Cleveland Orchestra) has an excellent book entitled “Daily Fundamentals for the Trumpet” that takes patterns all trumpet players practice (Clarke, Arban, etc.) and breaks them down.  Atlanta-based trumpeter Kevin Lyons is a master of this, as he’s spent some time with Sachs himself.  The key is to find the goal (either harmonically, dynamically, Metaphorically) of a phrase.  “You always have to be going somewhere,” Kevin would say.  Practice these peaks and key moments– leave out the “filler.”  Then, slowly add things back in: the articulation, the stylistic markings, the quick scalar patterns.  All of a sudden, that “filler” is no longer “stuff.”  It’s part of the phrase.  And you’ll sound like a completely different player as a result.

2. Drone that Melody

Here goes another plug for a trumpet method book: Wiff Rudd’s “Collaborative Practice Concepts.”  Rudd brilliantly creates duets to practice fundamentals, and a big part of this is droning.  The book emphasizes the importance of using just intonation even on melodic lines, i.e. the opening of Pictures at an Exhibition.  While it is possible to determine the “root of each chord, etc.,” we will naturally correct inherit intonation problems just by playing with a drone.  This eventually aids the issue of “being out of tune with yourself.”

3. Slow is not always  better

Personally, I’ve always struggled with developing the clarity of “fast” licks.  Recently I attended a lecture by a very accomplished concert pianist, Robert Henry.  Henry discussed how “slow practicing” might be one of the most misunderstood aspects of practicing.  For one, just because you can play something perfectly slowly doesn’t mean you’ll be able to play it that same way when you increase the tempo (i.e. drastically pivoting the jaw to jump from high to low…this only works at times, doesn’t it?).  Also, just because you gradually increase tempo doesn’t mean you can avoid that “wall” where you can’t seem to get any faster.

Henry proposes an alternative: isolate parts of the excerpt that you can play at tempo…it might just be one or two notes, right?  Add another note.  Add the next downbeat.  You can develop facility quickly by experiencing bursts of mastery.

4. Record yourself until you love what you hear

I learned this one from Kevin.  We’ve all pushed that red button, but what are we doing about what we hear??  Kevin sums it up: “Do it until you are satisfied as if it were your audition.”  Easier said than done, especially considering most of us (if not all of us) will never be “satisfied.”  But that’s the beauty of it.  And I know, you might ask me where the spontaneous element of the music goes with this process…but you can hear that too, can’t you?

5. You

As promised, there’s a comment form below.  That’s for you, because this blog really is nothing other than my open notebook– I remember what I write.  Now, I need to hear the tips you’ve learned in your practice.  Let’s get a conversation going.  Also, you will gain something by writing about it.  I promise.

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