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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Tag: practicing

Going Too Far

Andrew Hitz

"The place that you want to get with your playing is to where you are uncomfortable with how far you've gone."
-David Zerkel

The only way to tell if you are playing a passage too loud is to play the passage too loud.  If you are practicing, the only true way to evaluate the sounds you are making is by recording yourself and then listening to the recording.

Whenever students begin studying with me, almost to a person they are uncomfortable at first with how far I ask them to take things like dynamics and accents.  You don't know how much dynamic contrast is too much dynamic contrast until you have captured yourself playing with too much contrast via a recording.

When I first joined Boston Brass I regularly found that I was uncomfortable with what I was hearing on my side of the bell, especially concerning the amount of front to the notes and accents.  But when I listened back, I found that I was simply matching Rich Kelley on the trumpet or JD Shaw on the horn.

The proof was in the recording and it turned out that my comfort level as it related to what I heard on my side of the bell was not only not relevant but had to be actively ignored in my pursuit of simply "making it sound right."

What in your playing do you need to take too far?

Daniel Coyle on the Concept of Deep Practice

Andrew Hitz

“Deep practice feels a bit like exploring a dark and unfamiliar room. You start slowly, you bump into furniture, stop, think, and start again. Slowly, and a little painfully, you explore the space over and over, attending to errors, extending your reach into the room a bit farther each time, building a mental map until you can move through it quickly and intuitively.” 
-Daniel Coyle from The Talent Code

I can not recommend the book The Talent Code enough for both teachers and players alike.  It is a fascinating look at practicing and talent with lots of very easy to understand science to back it up.  A lot of it immediately ended up influencing how I approach the horn and how I teach my students.

Every musician should read this book.


Links That Make Me Think - Practicing Edition

Andrew Hitz

Before the summer I was posting a large collection of links each month.  I've decided to post less links more frequently now.  Here are a few from around the internet that I find interesting.  And please send anything along that you'd like to share!


1. "5 Incredibly Effective Ways to Work Smarter, Not Harder" 

This article has absolutely nothing to do with music or practicing and is a must read for any musician, performer or educator.


"Measure your results, not your time. The whole idea of working smarter rather than harder stems from the fact that many of us put in more and more hours only to find we don't get more done. That's why we want to find methods to be more productive in less time.

One way to do this is to adjust the way you measure productivity. If you evaluate yourself by what you actually get done rather than the time it takes to get something done, you'll start to notice a difference in how you work."


The rest of Jeff Haden's points are great as well.


2. "12(+) Ways to Practice a Technical Passage"

Bret Pimentel hits the nail on the head with this blog post on how to approach the practicing of a technical passage.  Really well done.


"What is crucial is that you are keeping your brain engaged by varying the material."



3. "The Power of a Practice Schedule"

As usual, Gerald Klickstein of The Musician's Way is right on the money with this short and to the point post:


"Consistent, deep practice is the rocket fuel of musical development.  When we live by regular practice schedules we reap countless benefits."

He then lists six benefits of a regular practice schedule which are all fantastic.


4. Get a Free Copy of Lance LaDuke's "Music Practice Coach" for a limited time!

As I explain in that post, this is the best book on practicing I've ever read and all of my students are required to own it.  Grab it before he changes his mind!

Deviation from the Norm

Andrew Hitz

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” ― Frank Zappa

Are you in a practicing rut? If so, what can you change to promote progess? More frequent, shorter practice sessions? Starting earler in the day? More basics? More tools like decibel meters and video cameras for additional external feedback?

We all have a tendency to find “what works” and then stick to it. But we must not be scared to change what’s working in exchange for the possibility of a breakthrough.

We can always go back to what we were doing in the first place if our deviation doesn’t bear fruit.

Finding Time vs. Making Time

Andrew Hitz

I taught a young guy from New York City who plays the bass, Ray Cetta, a lesson on tuba today. He's started to get a lot of calls to play Sousaphone on gigs and wanted to take his first ever lesson on the instrument. I was immediately impressed when he told me he had no car (typical New Yorker) but was willing to take the train all the way to DC with his Sousaphone! It was a really great experience for me. He is exactly the kind of student that we all enjoy teaching. He grasped concepts immediately and was eager to learn. One remark he made in response to something I said really jumped out at me.

He asked me about playing really softly with control. I showed him a number of exercises to work on that, then told him the obvious: to work on the extremes of playing the most important aspect is doing it every single day. Much more important than the total amount of time spent on practicing a skill like pianissimo playing is the regularity of the practicing. I told him I knew that was a pain, especially on a secondary instrument. His response was right on the money:

"I will find time ..... no, I will make time for it. I needed to do it on a gig once and that's enough times for me to need to make time to do it."

This is from a 23 year old kid who is about to release an album, is a band leader, has a very active freelance career, and has more irons in the fire than most of us. The difference between finding time and making time for essential work is what separates those who make it and those who don't. I learned something during his lesson today as well.

Ray is a Yankees fan so this is for him.

Start Small

Andrew Hitz

"Overwhelmed? Stop. Assess. Tackle one small thing. One step in the right direction. Rinse & repeat." - One of Lance LaDuke's daily practice tips on Twitter

If you are anything like me, when faced with an apparently insurmountable task your first instinct is to put it off.  This can absolutely happen to the best of us in the practice room.

The above quote is a great reminder for all of us when it comes to practicing.  Identify a small thing to improve, then tackle it.  Do that over and over again and you can learn an entire recital's worth of music in due time.

Rome wasn't built in a day either.

Rome wasn't built in a day.