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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: Practicing

A lot of time in the practice room ain't necessarily cutting it

Andrew Hitz

“No points for busy.

Points for successful prioritization. Points for efficiency and productivity. Points for doing work that matters.

No points for busy.”

—Seth Godin from his blog post “Busy is not the point”

Just because you practiced three hours yesterday doesn’t mean you got a lot done on the horn. The same goes for score study or marketing yourself.

I am always challenging my students to practice practicing. I think back to college and can’t believe how much more efficient I am now in the practice room. I can get done in 15 minutes what might have taken me 45 minutes back in the 90’s.

Here are just a handful of the hundred things that are more important than just the total time you spend in the practice room:

  • Frequency of practice sessions

  • Prioritization of what needs practicing the most

  • Goal setting

  • Getting into the feedback loop by recording yourself

  • Your focus level during the session

The list goes on and on..

But while total time spent is not even close to the most important practicing metric, you’ve still got to put in the time. As a wise person once said, silence can not improve.

Are You Willing or Are You Doing?

Andrew Hitz

"Go for your best sound right at the beginning of every note."
—David Zerkel

Making your best sound right at the beginning of the note is dependent on the immediacy of the air. Students must understand that it's not just the quantity but also the quality of the air that needs to be immediate.

The air of a held note that's not changing dynamics needs to be the exact same at the very beginning of the note as it is a beat later. This is pretty easy to achieve in the middle register at a middle dynamic for a decent player.

The challenge comes from being able to do that in all registers at any dynamic level.

And why are the world's best players able to do that with ease?

Through lots and lots of highly focused repetition.

Joe Alessi wasn't born with the ability to play freakishly soft in any register. He simply worked his ass off. It's really not rocket science.

It is also worth noting that it takes significantly more time and effort to obtain skills than it does to maintain skills. I guarantee you Joe has spent less time in the last calendar year practicing his extreme soft playing that he did when he was first acquiring the skill.

To be clear, I bet he spent an awful lot of time maintaining it in the past year. But the amount of time he spent getting that ability in the first place might make your head spin right off.

It is my experience that all musicians believe they are willing to do that kind of work to be able to play that well. But it's also been experience that the number who "are willing" to do that work is way higher than the number who actually do it.

Don't Wait Until 1:00 pm

Andrew Hitz

This reminds me of one of my favorite Joe Alessi quotes:

"You’re not winning an audition if your first notes of the day are at 1 pm.”

—Joe Alessi

Same goes for composing. Or doing score study. Or anything else.

Get those feet moving!

Arnold Jacobs on Developing the High Register

Andrew Hitz

This is a really great way for a student to begin developing their high register on any instrument. Starting with something familiar takes a few layers of complexity out of the equation.

And playing music rather than exercises will keep the brain focused on the phrasing which keeps the wind or the bow moving.

The Key is Consistency

Andrew Hitz

Much more important than total time spent is the consistency with which you practice.

If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.

- Jascha Heifetz

Consistency in terms of both how often you practice and how focused you are in the practice room.

The first step to consistency is practicing every single day. The best way to get playing in the extreme high register is to play in the extreme high register. Pretty simple stuff.

The second step is how consistently you bring a laser-like focus to your practicing.

I had the privilege of watching David Fedderley work with the top three finishers in the Young Artist competition at a conference back in March. The top two players were really good. Very impressive for 19 and 20 year olds.

The person who finished third in the competition played last of the three and was by far the best musical storyteller of the bunch but her tuba playing was well behind them. David asked her, knowing the answer, "So with that musical storytelling, you won the competition, right?" She simply smiled.

He then explained that the other two were much better tuba operators than she was at this point but that she had musical ideas that were just dying to get out of her horn.

He then pointed at me, then Charles Villarubia, Justin Benavidez, and Demondrae Thurman. He asked her what all of us have in common. She smiled and said "They are professionals."

He said "Yes. They get paid to play their horns for people. Do you know what else they have in common? I know each of them and know that they each bring a laser-like focus with them every single time they practice."

You could see the lightbulb go off in the student on the spot.

So while the amount you practice is certainly important, the consistency in how often your butt is in that chair coupled with the focus you bring to those sessions is much more important.

Do It Right The First Time

Andrew Hitz

“Short cuts make long delays.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien

In the practice room, you will save an awful lot of time by practicing something slowly and correctly the first time.  Whenever we learn a passage with a wrong note or wrong rhythm, it takes a lot longer to unlearn the mistake than it ever would have taken to learn it right in the first place.

The ability to have the in the moment intelligence to know that practicing something slowly and correctly is always the correct path rather than seeking instant gratification is what separates great practicers from everyone else.

Short cuts never pay off in the practice room.

Scales are Binary

Andrew Hitz

Scales are binary. You either know them or you don't. They are also incredibly easy to play as long as you have put the work in. When it comes to performing a jury or auditioning for college, if you have to think about the scale before you play it, you did not put in enough time beforehand.

You either know them or you don't.

Great Article on Slow Practice

Andrew Hitz

Here is a great article on slow practice from The Bulletproof Musician:

"(Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim) revealed that one of the keys to his success (and building confidence as well) is super slow practice. A process of practicing in slow motion – while being fully mindful, highly engaged, and thinking deeply in real-time about what he is doing."

Am I being mindful?
Am I highly engaged?
Am I thinking deeply in real-time?

Those are perfect questions to post on your music stand as a constant reminder.


It's easy to be engaged with a stunning sunset but recreating that in the practice room takes years of practice.

It's easy to be engaged with a stunning sunset but recreating that in the practice room takes years of practice.