Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Sun's Out, Guns Out....Your Summer Practice Routine

So I'm giving a lesson the other day to a freshman music ed major...

...can you believe I'm teaching college level saxophone lessons? My mind is still reeling from that.

  As we only have a few lessons left this summer, my student and I were discussing ideas for how to approach improvements over the summer. This gave me the opportunity to express a series of ideas which had been bouncing around in my head for some time. I like the ideas so much I'll share them with you now.

  First- Let's be real:

Yes, you can take small breaks during the summer. It's healthy and even productive to give your brain and body a rest. That does NOT mean leave your instrument in the case all summer. If you are someone who thinks this is a good idea, I question your desire to be a music major. So yes, SMALL breaks. Go to the beach, go camping, do something to relax and give batteries some recharging. Then, get ready to hit it.

The Assessment

This is the part where you either have to take a cold look in the mirror or have your teacher help you. Where are areas where you need work? What are fundamentals which need some extra attention? Assess and then plan-

The Week-long Attack Plan

Ok, let's rewind to winter break. I was back home and my mom was sick....REALLY sick. As such, I didn't really leave home much during the break. During this time, I tried something new with scales. I went slow on just my major scales and worked them over and over (see my blog entry about Mozart's Magic Beans). I practiced them until I could get each, slowly (50-60 BPM on 16th notes) ten times in a row perfectly. I did this for a week straight. Do you know what happened? Without going over 60 beats per minute, I added 20 beats per minute to my top tempo on major full range scales. Let that sink in....


Ok, so here's the plan.

Each week you're going to go through fundamentals: Long tones, scales, voicing, your normal practice routine. THEN:

You pick a concentration for that week: Scale Variations, Articulation, Arpeggios, iiVIs for the jazz guys (I think everyone should try them), what ever facet of your playing you feel could use work. Then, you spend a week slowly working the snot out of it. IT'S JUST A WEEK.

As my professor, Mark McArthur, told me about scales:

"Practice them like you never want to have to practice them again!"

When you ......let's pretend you decided to focus on scales in 3rds....

Treat them the first day like you've never seen them before. Set the metronome slow, almost painfully slow, and try to really LEARN them. INTERNALIZE the movement from the first pass through.

You aren't learning scales. You aren't learning articulation. You are learning your INSTRUMENT. Treat the whole process like this. After a week, pick a new focus. I guarantee, after a week, your skills will improve...seriously.

A final thought: Something else you can do during the summer is work on your level of physical fitness. Playing a musical instrument is a physical activity. Getting in better shape does make playing an instrument (particularly a wind instrument) easier. Improving your levels of strength and flexibility lowers the likelihood of an overuse injury and allows you to play for longer periods without discomfort.

Get to it.
Have a great summer.
Get it done!