[Trombone-l] Practicing

Roger Harvey rharvey at brassworks-music.com
Fri May 23 01:24:59 CDT 2008

Thanks Price.

Totally agree with the golf analogy. Sometimes use squash, cricket,  
gym routines, even jogging in a similar way.

On the visualisation idea, I was just yesterday, (we never stop  
learning if we are really interested in what we are doing, and,  
actually, cant' afford to or else...) thinking up a teaching technique  
in which students are asked the following in order to help them  
develop aspects of their own playing and become more aware of how the  
listener perceives, musically, details of playing technique:
-who are your favourite/most admired role models?
-what is it about them that you like? (specific technical  
characteristics - sound, production, range, as well how this  
translates into musical style)
-come back next time being able to imitate something about the way  
they play (probably not so much a realistic target but more of a  
focusing exercise)

This task could/should concentrate the mind on specifics and set some  
standards that the student will then be aware of and can use as  
'visualisation' models in practice and performance ("I'm going to play  
this like/better than Alessi/Bousfield et al")

In fact this seems such a good idea I think I might try it myself!

On 22 May 2008, at 23:32, Price Taylor wrote:

> Really good stuff.  Your "30 minutes really sensible, dedicated  
> practice is better than 3 hours of mindless doodling" is a real  
> keeper.
> It's universal axiom for any discipline that requires practice to  
> stay "fit."  Golf comes to mind as a similar discipline.  Go to a  
> golf driving range and you'll see golfers (duffers) mindless banging  
> balls with no goals, no retrospection or analysis of WHY they cannot  
> consistently hit a golf shot.
> Visualization comes to mind here and is applicable to playing the  
> trombone.  Hearing a great trombone sound (either in-person or  
> recordings) is inspirational and can be "copied" mentally which  
> starts to transfer into better tone quality.
> Price Taylor
> On Thu, May 22, 2008 at 2:59 PM, Roger Harvey <rharvey at brassworks-music.com 
> > wrote:
>  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
> ways.
> 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
> memory.
>        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
> performance.
>        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.
> ---------------------------------
> Motivation:
>                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
>        -listening
>                What are your individual goals in the short, medium,  
> long term?
>        -technical
>        -sound quality
>        -musical
>                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
> motivation.
> 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
> achieve.
> 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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