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Thoughts on How to Practice...

Let's face it, too many student just don't know how to practice. Was I also like this when I was younger? You bet! But at some point, I learned to have a little more patience and address my weaknesses. I had to be humble and come to terms with my deficiencies. This was the most difficult lesson I had to learn.

Sure, I may have put in the "hours", many students put in the hours (if you don't, then perhaps computer science is a better major!), but what was I getting in return? What are YOU getting in return? If you put the time in, shouldn't you get something out of it? When we practice, we should improve as soon as possible. If we don't, then we are not teaching ourselves very well and wasting precious time.

First and foremost, the student needs to want to practice. If they don't want to, then they can never get anything out of it. You need to put in the effort (and often, sacrifice) to even see the beginnings of success. Those that do not, never will. Sorry, not my rules... those are the rules of life! Practicing should be fun (sure, it can be frustrating, but the better we are at teaching ourselves, the faster we learn, and the more fun we will have). Practicing can be fun when done correctly. It can be much like a game - and you develop much quicker as a result. (think of a scientist in their lab, mixing stuff together to see what ingredients in a particular order or portion will go BOOM!!). This BOOM is the lightbulb over our heads. Try to light it up in the practice room. Mix your potions, experiment. Find the BOOM!!.

So, let's get down to it.... how to practice? What are the components? Teach me something! To be honest, its not rocket science, its common sense - lots of common sense, and patience. So, without further pause, here are the ingredients for better practice skills:

1. You must have a goal - a concept in mind, something you want to accomplish. Both long term and short term golas need to be set.

2. You must maintain the 4 T's AT ALL TIMES. What are the 4 T's? Tone (sound production), Time (the ability to play strictly in time and with fantastic rhythm), Tune (intonation, playing well in-tune with yourself - and eventually, with others. Generally, having a great ear), Touch (playing with musicality, expression, style, dynamics, nuance). It should all work seamlessly and easily. (notice I do not mention technique! Technique is the result of all of the 4 T's coming together).

3. Listen for any problems/flaws.

4. Isolate these area/s (I put these areas within parenthesis, writing in my music)- there are 2 types of problem areas:

a. area/s that are always problematic - after putting them within parenthesis, I know that each time I come to this etude, solo, exercise, etc, that I first work on these areas only, until I have the ability to play these areas at or close to speed.

b. problem/s that may occur sporadically - these are issues that may pop-up from time to time, but are not a part of any major concern. I try and fix these issue at the moment that I hear them.

5. Assess the issue/s. Try to find out why or where the problem occurs. If you don't know the answer, that is ok, perhaps some of the following steps will help realize what that problem was.

6. Work on the issue/s. Practice ONLY the passages/licks you have problems with!

a. SLOW DOWN! You need to begin at 2-4X's slower. Treat yourself like you are 2 years old - slow it down, go over it step by step, note by note.

b. Stay at the slow speed for longer periods of time!

c. Make sure you can sing it. Yes, sing, as in sing out loud. Also, you should be able to buzz it on your mouthpiece. All of this is to ensure you can hear it. If you can hear it, then playing it is much easier!

d. Play a game - change the rhythms, the dynamics, play it backwards. Flutter tongue the passage to make sure your airflow is constant and steady. If it's slurred, then tongue. If it's tongued, then slur. Try to find creative ways to play the passage or lick. Use your imagination! Anything goes and have fun with the learning process! (Edited. Some other tools to use in practicing that I forgot to mention are: note tasting (just "tasting" the beginning of each note, whisper tones (extremely soft playing), displacing the octaves, transposing, lead pipe buzzing).

e. Stay relaxed, stay focused, stay aware, and LISTEN!!!

f. Work on smoothing the problem area out. Once smooth and fluid, then repeat it - often!

g. Evaluate your progress Phase I. Once things are starting to work, evaluate yourself. if more work needs to be done, then make a note of it and start the process all over again. I often need to do this for several days to a week (sometimes longer) depending on the difficulty level.

h. Speed - now it's time to work the speed up. I try to get to the appropriate speed as soon as possible once I'm at this step. My motto is "learn fast!".

i. Evaluate your progress Phase II. You may need to take a few steps backwards in order to take a leap forwards! if there is still an issue, then its time begin the entire process all over again. Stay patient!

You should immediately notice development and improvement using this methodology. Please, do not skip any of these suggestions and do them in order - this is essential to your development and the establishment of good habits. It will allow you to "learn" quicker and more efficiently.

Once you can play all the "difficult" areas and you are "up to speed", then you are now allowed to add notes/licks before and after - trying to string everything together. Go slowly and work through "sections" in your music. Be surgical in your approach and methodical with your listening skills (or is that vice versa? It goes both ways).

Remember, if it's a problem today, it's a problem tomorrow (and the next day, and the next.....). Fix your errors when they occur, do not wait. Use this methodology - or something of your own, and reap the benefits. You needs goals and a way to achieve those goals. THIS is the way to a happier life on the trumpet and that translates to more fun!

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