TO: WONDER ENSEMBLE MEMBERS
MEMO: FOCUSED PRACTICE GUIDE
DATE: Wednesday, September 13, 2023
We’re excited for this new year of music-making. And, we’re confident in each of you and are here to help you along the way. Here are some things to remember when practicing, including how to practice, how long you should practice every day, and how many days a week.
FOCUSED PRACTICE GUIDE
What is practice?: “Practicing is essentially repetition–you repeat things over and over. There is a goal in this activity. Through repetition you achieve something that might be called a groove in the brain or a habit.” – Samuel Baron, Practicing as a Way of Life
Why practice?: “First of all through practice, we achieve a oneness with the instrument and with music. When we go to a concert of a great musician we don’t hear a person on stage manipulating a machine. We hear a person singing through the instrument . . . Secondly, practice affords growth and improvement.” – Samuel Baron, Practicing as a Way of Life
And, remember! Practice makes progress, proficient, and permanent!
STANDARD PRACTICE RHYTHM
Build upon this practice rhythm as you progress on your instrument.
- Intention — Remember to be intentional about your practice time. Take time to reflect and review – reflect on your progress, areas for growth, trouble spots in music, and dedicate time to focusing on working through those areas.
- Dedication — Practice everyday. Set a timer. Make it a part of your daily rhythm. Your practice time will increase as you learn more skills.
- Water — Drink a glass of water (hydrates the brain!)
- Good Breathing — Let your whole torso breath; have awareness of your thinking and your body
- Body Stretches — Then stretch and warm up your body — do a few shoulder roles, reach your arms towards the sky, stretch your neck from side to side, and remember to breath and consider your posture)
- Finger Stretches — Stretch fingers away from palms — opposite motion from how we usually use them
- Healthy Posture — Remember, your working with two instruments — your musical instrument and you! You are the more important of the two! Stay open — you’re not a turtle shell; allow yourself to be neutral – don’t tighten in anticipation to play
- Warm Ups — Scales, arpeggios, etude/technique studies
- Review & Reflect — Keep each method book level with you because you will continually review pieces you’ve learned, including Twinkle.
- Method Book — Each week you’ll focus on building and/or strengthening new skills and techniques. (For Band: On the inside cover page of your method books is a unique access code to SmartMusic. Throughout the week you can listen to and practice along with the exercises and recordings provided within the app.)
- Ensemble Repertoire — Focus on practice notes form your conductor and coaches; keep practice records of what you accomplish within the week
- Personal Repertoire — Once you learn the basics, apply what you’ve learned to solos or other pieces you’re learning
- Sight-reading— Practice rhythm and note reading (order: key signature, first note, time signature, chant rhythm, chant solfege in rhythm, sing, go slowly)
- Listen — Listen to a recording of the music your playing — several, if possible. This is a good habit to becoming a better player.
- Instrument Care — Wipe your instrument after each practice / rehearsal session
- And remember to ALWAYS tune and ALWAYS practice SLOWLY and ACCURATELY with a metronome!
Focused Practice Steps of a Piece
- Practice slowly.
- Use a metronome.
- Listen to new piece. Many times.
- Listen while keeping pulse. Repeat.
- Listen while looking at notes. Repeat.
- Listen, keep pulse, and look at notes, together. Repeat.
- Study piece. Note dynamics, bowings, new skills, parts that look more difficult or have new skills.
- With metronome, sing piece.
- Pick 3-4 challenging/new skill spots and work just those spots til they are solid. May take 2-3 days. Use metronome. Good practice techniques for each spot? Expression.
- Chunk piece. Add more spots. Extend previous spots. Use metronome. Be able to play each spot satisfactorily 5 times in a row. Then try 5 times randomly using all chunks/parts. Remember dynamics and expression. Memorize parts.
- Only after all chunks are learned with metronome, do you play piece from top to bottom.
- Self Evaluate: Record, then listen to yourself. Intonation, rhythms, dynamics, tone, musicality?
- Review as warm up, regularly.
QUICK TIPS TO ALWAYS REMEMBER
- Practice makes permanent and proficient (not perfect)
- Everyone starts with a song like Twinkle
- Every time you practice, you solidify that particular skill in your brain more and more
- Everyone moves at different paces as they work to master a particular piece of music
- The more natural the skills become, the more you can learn harder skills
- The more challenging skills you know, the more challenging music you can play
- Think Twinkle, Twinkle vs John Williams – Indiana Jones or Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring or Preservation Hall Jazz Band – Tailgate Ramble or Charles Ives – Symphony #4 (never heard of it? Well, it originally needed 3 conductors alone; it doesn’t require only technical skill, but an extremely strong sense of self-awareness within the ensemble that only comes with experience)
- If you find your mind drifting elsewhere before your practice time is up, take a break and come back to finish your time later. Learning progresses twice as fast with multiple rehearsals versus trying to cram your learning into one three-hour session.
- Practice SLOWLY and ACCURATELY
- We all try to play things too fast…. find a good practice tempo, only speed up when you can play accurately slowly
- Identify Problems
- Find the measure/sections that cause difficulty
- Practice extra on these spots
- Work Into and Out of Problems
- Once you have achieved accuracy on a measure or section, practice that spot and what comes next
- Start a little before that section and play into and out of difficult areas
- Practice in Sections
- It isn’t practice when you play your music beginning to end – even if you do it multiple times
- Find smaller sections to focus on
- This way you will not forget what went wrong and where it happened
- Consider Everything
- Make sure you consider everything in your music.
- Correct notes are obviously important but focus on rhythm, dynamics, articulations, phrasing, bowings, etc
- Always listen to what you are playing while you’re playing
- Create a good ear for what you are actually doing
- Grace and Courtesy
- Don’t forget to be patient with yourself and your peers
- Don’t play the comparison game; we all learn different skills at different rates; if we all focuses on improving yourself, the ensemble will also improve
- Give and receive help (this is for class/rehearsal, too); your strength can be someone else’s weakness and visa versa; ask for help when you need it
- Remember your instrument is fragile
- Don’t leave it in hot or cold vehicles
- Keep it in a safe place at home, out of reach from others
- Listen carefully to your coaches on how to care for your instrument
- Your instrument is not a toy
It takes a great deal of intention, dedication, practice, and patience to learn to play well. “Remember, you’re not practicing for next week, you’re practicing for next year.” – Floyd, The Gilbert Legacy
Happy practicing and let’s wonder!