How to Practice

Part I: The Practice of Practicing

Do you have a novice student with no idea how to practice?

What they practice will evolve as they grow, but the formula for practice will probably stay the same. If you or your student is struggling, try following this guide to make practice sessions more successful.

Disclaimer: This is a guide that we developed based on our experiences, good and bad. This is in no way a definite guide to effective practicing. See what works and feel free to experiment with techniques not listed.

Getting started:

  1. Find a practice space that allows you to focus intently on your rehearsal.
  2. Prepare your instrument:
    • Rosin bows
    • Wet reeds
    • Oil valves
    • Tune
    • Anything else you may need to do
  3. Warm up
    • This will vary for each instrument, but in general this means preparing your instrument and body for practice.
    • Do some exercises to prepare:
      • Lip buzzing or other assigned mouth exercises
      • Long tones
      • Any “warm up” exercises you might have gotten from your director
      • Scales
  4. Scales and sight reading
    • Beginners won’t be working on scales yet, but will have something similar from their director, like 5 tone scales or reading rhythms and notes
    • Intermediate, advanced, and expert students will review scales and run through sight reading exercises

Practice:

  1. Select the exercises or pieces you would like to work on.
  2. Work through your pieces: the most difficult part!
    • Playing through the music without stopping to review is not enough.
    • Find a passage that is difficult to play and work on the passage one measure at a time:
      • Rhythm

        1. Write out the rhythm above the measure.
        2. Starting at at least half the regular tempo, count the rhythm out loud on “ta,” “la,” or tap through it with your hand or pencil
        3. Slowly work through the rhythm until you can tap through it at a reasonable tempo with no mistakes.
      • Notes

        1. Play each note in the measure. Do not worry about playing at the right tempo yet, only sounding each pitch.
        2. If moving from one note to another is difficult, alternate between those two notes until it’s more comfortable.
        3. Starting slowly, play the measure with the correct notes and rhythm. Go at a tempo in which you can play through the measure without hesitating, about half the regular tempo.
      • Repeat

        1. Once you can play the measure perfectly a minimum of three times, move on to the next measure.
        2. Repeat this routine with the next measure and continue until you can play the passage in its entirety at a slower pace.
  3. Build up to the correct tempo using your metronome.
    • Increase your tempo by about 5 or 10 BPMs.
    • Play the passage at the new tempo. Once you can play it perfectly a minimum of 3 times, increase the speed another 5 or 10 BPMs.
    • If you struggle with the faster tempo jumps, move only 1 or 2 BPMs at a time. This is a process and you will build up to the correct tempo.
  4. Observe other music markings
    • Once you can play the passage at the specified tempo, start looking at other markings in the music. Are there…
      • Dynamics?
      • Tempo changes?
      • Breath marks?
      • Phrasing markings?
      • Expression suggestions?
    • Begin to incorporate these into your passage. Take it slow again, and break it up if you need to.

Lastly, remember that this is not a sprint. It will take time and practice to get things right. That’s normal. If you’re using your practice time wisely, your director will be pleased with your progress!