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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Category: Practicing

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.

Are You Procrastinating?

Andrew Hitz

“If you had started doing anything two weeks ago, by today you would have been two weeks better at it.” ― John Mayer

Stop procrastinating. Face whatever it is that you fear about your playing or career and make a plan to attack it. Take the first step today or you know where you’ll be two weeks from now.

How to Develop a Great Vibrato

Andrew Hitz

When you break it all down, all of us instrumentalists have only one goal: to sound as natural as singers. They are the best example we have of lots of things, including phrasing and vibrato.

Developing a really great vibrato (and identifying when and how to use it) is a very important thing for an instrumentalist.

(Note: This is not to say that any musician should ultimately develop only one vibrato. Variations in vibrato give us way more tools with which to tell our musical stories.)

But where do you start?

My advice would be to find three examples that speak to you of a singer using a vibrato. Then analyze them for the following:

  1. The speed of the vibrato
  2. The width of the vibrato
  3. When vibrato is used and when it isn't

Take one of the examples and try to copy the three above things on just one note in your middle register at a medium dynamic. The key (always!) is to record yourself and immediately listen to it.

Once you have a version that sounds somewhat similar to the example you are trying to mimic, move on to the next example, and finally the third.

This exercise will at least give you a starting point for developing a vibrato that can help you to convey your musical ideas.

Bottom line: Always start with singers.

Intentional Practice Sessions

Andrew Hitz

"A schedule defends from chaos and whim."
–Annie Dillard

I have had a great deal of success over the years as the result of scheduling my practice sessions.

To be clear, I don't mean how long they are to be. I find that when my primary goal is to practice for one hour instead of improving specific musical passages, I get bored easily.

By scheduling a practice I mean two things: when the session will start and what will be accomplished.

I encourage all of my students to never end a practice session without going on the record with yourself about exactly when your next practice session will begin.

You can always reschedule. But it is a lot harder to skip a practice session that I've already scheduled (even with just myself!) than one I haven't.

And never begin a practice session without having a very clear idea of what you are planning to accomplish. (Hint: "Make Mozart's Third Horn Concerto better" is not a clear idea!)

I will choose four measures in this piece, three pages in this book, and a page of this solo and will put them in a stack on my music stand. I then don't get up until those goals are accomplished.

If you've never scheduled your practice sessions and planned specifically what you are trying to achieve in each one then I challenge you to try it.

You will be impressed by the results in a short amount of time.

 

Navigating The Daily Grind

Andrew Hitz

Let's be honest.  There are some days when we really don't feel like warming up.  When we really don't feel like practicing.  Anyone who denies this is either lying or should be put in a museum.

There are many tricks for navigating this occasional problem.  One that I use is to put on an artist that can do something I can't do on my instrument, of which there are literally thousands.  Could be a tuba player and could be a clarinet player.  I then focus in on exactly what aspect of their playing I can not achieve on my instrument and then simply try to go close the gap in the practice room.

Listening that intensely to someone else's playing helps me to regain focus and identifying what aspect of their playing I specifically want to add to my own playing helps me be motivated enough to get to work.

This is a very quick solution to a common problem that we all encounter from time to time.

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.


Practicing Wisdom from Picasso

Andrew Hitz

“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”
-Pablo Picasso

There were a few people at Northwestern who always sounded good when I walked past their practice rooms back in the day.  They were doing it wrong and are no longer in the music business.

Regularly attack what you can not do and you will be amazed at the rate of progress.