Well, it’s a few weeks until school. Have you been playing this summer? Sometimes summer presents some grave barriers to the type of practice and performance associated with the school year, and it’s hard to get back into the swing of effective, consistent practice, even if you’ve been studying privately or have participated in summer orchestra opportunities.
This post’s main purpose is to help you assess your practice regimen: when you practice, your time is valuable and limited, and it should be used in an efficient, effective manner. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. Time: how much time per day do you spend practicing? Is it one large dedicated chunk of time, or do you carve out several mini-sessions in your schedule to practice each day?
2. Content: this is where practicing becomes so crucial. Every aspect of your playing is important, and while it’s important to make sure they’re all getting practiced, it’s also important to be able to isolate specific goals for your practice time. This will be the part of practice that requires the most essential element of any practice session: repetition.
3. Process: where do you start when you pick up your instrument? After tuning, I highly recommend warming up with scales and arpeggios in several tonalities, ending with the selected key or mode of your beginning passage. This doesn’t just train your left hand; your ear will greatly benefit from this exercise as well.
4. Fine-tooth comb work: isolate, analyze, compare. Do you just dive right into the passage, or do you approach the passage from a more objective point of view? Sure, those string of notes come one after another, where are the skips and steps? Does it resemble more of an arpeggio, or a scale or some weird construction, or an almost octave sequence? Isolation and comparison may be your best bets to understanding and conquering a passage that’s got you stumped. And remember… only when you can play it slowly can you play it faster! Here’s where the element of repetition will most help you, when you start slowly and speed up a section, making sure all your target elements stay intact, whether at 20 beats per minute or 220. When you achieve it, make sure it wasn’t a fluke: do it again. And, for fun… do it again. You get the picture.
5. Conservation of Effort: here’s one of the most important pieces of advice I can give: if you’re tense, take a break. If you’re not focused, take a break. Nothing is more counterproductive than practice which promotes bad physical position or unnecessary tension.
6. Goal- oriented practice: how do you know when your session is over- the timer? Sometimes. If you have a passage you want to get through, though, it’s usually a good idea to have a specific goal in mind. Do you want to get a passage in tune? Do you want to come closer to conquering a bowing? Whatever your goal, it will help your practice session seem worthwhile to YOU. And you know what that feeling fosters, right? A better chance you’ll practice again soon.
I don’t present this list as an exhaustive treatise on practice, just a few tips to get you started. If you would like more information, here are a few links for you:
Happy practicing, and here’s wishing you a great first day back to school!