This article, © 1996 by Douglas Yeo, originally appeared in Windplayer, Number 54 (Summer 1996)
Sooner or later, the successful musicians must learn the difference between playing and practicing. No matter how much you play your instrument, you will never reach your full potential unless you develop productive practice habits. Here are my recommendations for making the most of your hours in the practice room:
(2) Warm up. The purpose of your warm-ups should be to develop consistency. Play slowly in the middle register at a comfortable volume. I generally do 20 minutes or so of this each day, but the exact amount of time isn't the point. The point is to maintain your level of technical expertise while minimizing "off" days. I generally include a few minutes of mouthpiece buzzing in my daily routine. If you decide to do this, try attaching a piece of plastic tubing about eight inches long to the mouthpiece, to give some added resistance.
(3) Practice your legato. When I began playing seriously 25 years ago, I used the Bordogni/Rochut Melodious Etudes to develop my legato - and I still use them today. To add variety, I transpose them into every key, and play them an octave higher or lower than written. This enables getting the feel of proper legato playing in different keys and registers.
(4) Practice your articulation. Again, I use a relatively small body of etudes - by Kopprasch, Blume and Blazhevich - to work on my articulation. Each etude includes eight or so different articulation patterns, so when you multiply that by 11 different keys over three octaves, you have a tremendous number of combinations to practice. Sometimes, just for variety, I'll play etudes written for other instruments - the Kreutzer etudes for violin work particularly well.
(5) Practice extreme dynamics. Most orchestral trombone passages are meant to be played either extremely loud or extremely soft. Unfortunately, most trombonists rarely practice at these extremes. You may find that a few minutes of extremely loud playing is all you - or your neighbors - can tolerate. It's okay to take a break, just to get the ringing out of your ears. But remember that this is the level at which you will be expected to play much of the time. Try to push the envelope of what you can tolerate each day in your practice.
(6) Practice solos. This is the part of your practice that should really be fun! Playing solo pieces allows you to combine techniques while enjoying the music. Since solos are longer than the usual orchestral passage, this part of your practice will also help you develop endurance. Composers have not been particularly kind to trombonists, and there are realtively few solo pieces available. Again, I rely on transcriptions - believe it or not, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto makes a great trombone solo!
(7) Prepare for auditions. This section of your session should prepare you for a specific task, such as an upcoming concert or audition. Everyone knows the dozen or so orchestral excerpts you'll be asked to play for auditions, and you need to have them down cold. Write the names of the passages on cards, mix them up, and play them in random order. This simulates the audition, where you don't know in advance what they will ask you to play, or in what order.
(8) Use a tape recorder. Listening to a recording of your playing can be a dramatic - even traumatic - revelation. Try playing the tape at half speed, which lowers the pitch an octave. You'll hear variations in intonation, irregularities in vibrato, problems with articulation - everything! This isn't something I recommend doing every day - it would be too demoralizing - but it's helpful to do this every two or three weeks.
(9) Keep your focus. By now it should be obvious that productive practice involves discipline. many students believe this means practicing a certain number of hours each day. Again, the amount of time you spend practicing isn't really the point - it's the quality of your practice time that counts.
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