[Trombone-l] Practicing

Roger Harvey rharvey at brassworks-music.com
Fri May 23 01:29:19 CDT 2008

Pleased to have been able to help. I'd be interested, though, whether  
in a few months time, your playing, technically and musically, shows  
real signs of benefit from the work you will have done following the  
advice you have been given. I look forward to a positive review.
On 23 May 2008, at 01:42, Cesar Gonzales wrote:

> This has been a fantastic answer to my question. It's helped me re- 
> affirm my goals and through that has helped me find direction and  
> drive again. I have to say you might have just sold your book to me,  
> heh.
> Thanks again,
> Cesar
> On Thu, May 22, 2008 at 4:59 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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