[Trombone-l] Practicing

Roger Harvey rharvey at brassworks-music.com
Thu May 22 16:59:25 CDT 2008

  Dear Cesar,
Here are some of my ideas about practicing. The first two passages are  
extracts from classes I have given at music colleges in London. The  
third is a chapter from my BrassWorkBook for Trombone (Bk 1 in a  
series of 3 - details at www.brassworks-music.com if you are  
interested.) There is some duplication between them but they each had  
a slightly different purpose and so things are expressed in different  

Best wishes
Roger Harvey
  	Q1: Is practice necessary? Why Practice?
	Some players play well without apparently needing to practise.
	They have probably started with good physical set up and developed  
good habits while playing in bands etc. The 	good has been well  
reinforced through what amounts to constant practice while performing.
	(Anyone in this category can go now)

	Most players are not so lucky and need to work at basic technique to  
develop sound, flexibility, production, legato 	range and stamina. All  
of this is necessary if we are to be flexible musicians and adjust as  
required by the needs of 	performance.

	There may be years of bad technique to un-consolidate. This can only  
be done by constant attention to new, 		improved techniques and  
sufficient repetition for the 	new to replace the old in the muscle  

	Having gained some degree of excellence it is important to maintain  
it.Time spent largely unemployed in an 		orchestra or the effects of  
ageing on the muscles can and will mean reduced technical  
response.Practice sessions 	need to be sensibly organised to ensure  
that deterioration is prevented from becoming a threat to 				ones  
playing standard.

	This is all to do with basic ability. If faced with a particularly  
demanding playing task then extra effort has to be 		made in order to  
develop the necessary skill or 	stamina.

	Leaving aside musicianship requirements, playing a brass instrument  
is a physical skill akin to an athletic activity; 	constant, sensible  
training is essential if the relevant physical parts are to be in  
shape to do what you want exactly 	when you want.

Q2: How should practice be organised?
	1) Goals: 	
			What are your realistic long term goals?
			How do you want to be playing in a year or 2?
			What do you want to sound like?
			What level of technical skill do want to have?

	2) Short-term objectives:
			What do I need to address this week,month/term?
			What are my particular technical targets?
			How best do I maintain and develop my basic skills?
			What exercises/routines will work best?
	3) Time:	
			How much time do I need to devote to basic maintenance?
			How much time do I need to devote to developing skills?
			How much time can I find in my schedule?

	4) Assessment:
			Am I doing the right sort/amount of practice?
			How do I set realistic, attainable and measurable targets?

Q3: How do I develop a good attitude towards practice?
	1) There are no gimmicks that realistically turn you from a  
struggling player into a virtuoso. Good advice might help 	to approach  
the activity in a more productive manner and sometimes results can be  
quickly obvios. But mostly 		improvement comes only with medium to  
long term practice. That is not to say that a few days concentrated 		 
practice on a particular aspect of technique cannot pay dividends. But  
even this needs to be consolidated and 		reviewed constantly if it is  
to become more or less an automatic feature of your playing. In other  
words you need to 	work, work and work and you have to accept that  
there is little chance of substabtial improvement in your plaing 	 
without it.

	2) Work for its own sake, though is probably not very helpful. It  
could be harmful if all you are doing is repeating 	over and over  
again old faults. Each time you play a poor quality note it reinforces  
the bad habit and you will be 		extending the time it will take to  
develop good habits. Stop now practising without thought and learn 	to  
focus on 	the matters in hand. This can range from the aspects of  
playing a single good quality note to building an extended 	phrase.  
Knowing what you are trying to do and what it should sound like are  
essential. Then there must be 		intense concentration on the process.  
You should try to give the best possible performance of the exercise.  
		Remember that you are trying to consolidate and reinforce good  

	3) If the concentration os properly focused then, however simplistic  
the means to your end, you will find yourself in 	a ‘zone’, fully  
preoccupied by your desire to achieve good results. Practising while  
watching TV or otherwise 		distracting activities may sometimes help  
in simply reinforcing if the basics are good. Even then it is easy to  
become 	mindlessly repetitive and lacking in sufficient focus to avoid  
bad habits creeping in. Best not to do it.

Q4: What materials should I use for practice sessions?
	1) In order to concentrate fully on the technical matter in hand, it  
is best to use the simplest of materials for basic 	practice routines.  
Many players have their own exercises that help them with their  
particular approach and 			requirements. There are numerous books of  
warm-ups, flexibilities etc and these can be useful in directing the 		 
attention to particular techniques. Use whatever material you wish but  
make sure it is suitable for what you are 		working on.

	2) When attempting to develop technical skills the exercises need to  
make demands on your technique. Choose or 	write exercises that will  
give you the opportunity to move forward at a reasonable pace. The  
carrot needs to dangled 	somewhere in front of you but not so far that  
you trip up trying to reach it.
	3) When faced with something more advanced to work at, choose  
specific 	exercises that will help with the 		technique required. For  
example a difficult passage in a solo item can be isolated and made  
into an exercise in its 	own right.
		Do you have a burning desire to play music and play it well?
		Do you at least have a burning desire to earn a decent living?

		What are your means to this end?
	-individual practice
	-ensemble performance experience

		What are your individual goals in the short, medium, long term?
	-sound quality

		How do you organise your practice to achieve these goals?
	-Overall Objective:  specific target area
	-Means: choice of material.
	-Performance - public emulation ideas to ensure full attention:
			-TV show demo of how a trombone sounds
			-last minute call to high profile concert
			-teaching video
			-someone important in next room
			-1 note audition (busy panel choose a single note at random from  
audition tape to select suitable candidates)
			-last minute of recording session - final take

			-remember that in spite of all the technical considerations, you  
must aim for a good sound - instead of thinking just about what is  
going on at the embouchure/lungs etc, try to make the air in the room  
resonate - especially if it is a large hall.

	-Awareness/assessment: must make judgements and assess (positively)
	-Review; store success, delete failure; decide how to proceed


					Chapter 11 :Practice

A few lucky players seem to be able to pick up an instrument at any  
time and play with great facility and a good sound. Unfortunately most  
of us need to work at our playing, firstly to develop the good habits  
that give control and quality to the sound and then to maintain them.  
However, whether we are a beginner or a professional player it is just  
as important not to waste valuable time on futile practice. Practice  
time is best used if we have a clear idea of what we are trying to  
achieve and how we are going to set about it. Trombone players tend to  
play a lot less in orchestras than strings or woodwind and even the  
other brass. Often, in the working situation, we do too little to  
maintain our ‘match fitness’.  Ideally we do our preparation in a  
relaxed and private situation before the rehearsal but this is not  
always possible and any time available should be used sensibly.

Why do I need to practise:
  As we learn a physical or mental process, repetition allows the  
brain to recognise the stimulus and respond with what it expects to be  
the correct reflex. Any repetitive activity will reinforce the memory;  
the more recognisable the activity becomes to the brain the stronger  
will be the reflex to it. This will apply to bad playing habits as  
well as good. It is important therefore, that we are constantly  
vigilant that as we practise we are providing the memory bank with  
good information and not nurturing bad habits to become yet stronger.  
It is always possible to break bad conditioning but the more deep- 
rooted it is the longer it takes. Better to avoid it in the first place.

What should I practise:
Before you start the session set out, mentally or in a written  
schedule if it helps, what the aims of the session are. This may be a  
simple list of basic exercises to develop or maintain technical  
aspects of your playing or it may include work on studies, pieces or  
repertoire. Even the more general repertoire-based practice can be  
broken down to include work on specific trouble points with some  
thoughts about how to help the specific technique required. Using a  
set programme of exercises can help to direct the attention but try  
not to let repetition of this programme become mindless. Always remind  
yourself why you are doing it.

How should I practise:
If you have decided what your objectives are, when you begin to play  
you will immediately be working productively. Continually concentrate  
on what you are doing so that you can assess the progress. It may help  
to imagine that you are performing to an audience in a major concert  
hall or making a video in which you are demonstrating how it should be  
done. Review your performance, even if it is only a single note,  
repeat or move on as you see fit.

Is it working:
Have a realistic view on what progress you expect to make immediately  
and in the longer term. For example, some gentle long notes and  
flexibilities should improve the response of the embouchure within  
minutes whereas it may take weeks to see any great development in  
range or sound quality. Be patient but constantly re-assess how things  
are going so that you can persevere or adjust as necessary.

The 1% rule is used by some sportsmen in training and can be usefully  
applied; a difference of just 1% in performance ability by doing extra  
work may be the significant factor between success and failure.  
Repeated additions of 1% will become even more significant as time  
goes on.

Cliché or not, a journey of a thousand miles really does start with a  
single step.

Our mental disposition to our work is also a factor in how much we can  
achieve. We have a choice: we can approach our instruments with an  
attitude of pessimism or reluctance and the results will probably  
reflect it; on the other hand we can assure ourselves that because we  
are organised in our mind our session is going to be productive, we  
are going to enjoy it and make some definite steps forward, even if we  
are only laying some ground work for tomorrow.

Slogans on the wall, practice diaries etc can all help but in the end  
the pleasure and stimulation we get from our playing are the best  

How long should I practise for:
The amount of time spent practising is less important than the use it  
is put to. 30 minutes really sensible, dedicated practice is better  
than 3 hours of mindless doodling. This is not an excuse for doing the  
bare minimum. If you can only spare a few minutes then use them  
wisely; make sure the basics are covered, breathing, embouchure  
response, production control etc. Check out a few low notes as well as  
a few high ones. If necessary spend time working on current repertoire  
but rather than simply playing through, economise on time by picking  
out the most troublesome passages for particular attention. Try and  
include a few minutes of something entertaining, busk a tune, try to  
play something you know fairly well from memory, try it in different  
keys. Whatever you do, concentrate on sound quality and enjoy what you  

If more time is available work longer at basics, developing techniques  
and repertoire building. Spend a few minutes doing some sight reading  
or developing other musical skills such as transposing, reading from  
other clefs etc.

The more time spent playing as well as possible the longer the benefit  
will last. Techniques will be positively reinforced, muscle tone and  
strength will develop with the consequent benefit to sound quality and  
stamina. In order to extend practice sessions substantially it is  
important to organise a sensible schedule that will allow time to work  
on all aspects of your playing without you becoming terminally  
fatigued. Leave heavy work such as high register playing till later in  
the day. Even if you are working at something which has testing high  
register passages, such as Bolero, you can assign a time later in your  
practice for the most demanding passages after you have perfected the  
rest of the piece.

The majority of your time should be spent on keeping your basic  
playing techniques up to the mark. If all is well here then you should  
be able to play all but the most extreme music put in front of you.

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