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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Category: Practicing

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.

Become An Elite Problem Solver

Andrew Hitz

I was listening to the Unemployable Podcast hosted by Brian Clark the other day and heard a great interview with Tim Ferris. Tim is the author of The 4-Hour Work Week and a number of other books and is one of the elite thinkers in the world today.

He said something that had nothing to do with music but that really got me thinking about practicing. He mentioned the importance of becoming an elite problem solver.

I immediately thought about the practice room. And I thought about how any of us who are really good at practicing (you do anything for over three decades and you're bound to get pretty good at it!) had to learn how to practice.

And when you break it down, all practicing is is targeted problem solving.

Being an elite problem solver in any field first involves identifying exactly what problem needs solving, then systematically trying various methods until the problem is solved.

Rather than having the overall goal of "getting better at the trumpet", perhaps instead have a goal of "getting better at problem solving" in the practice room. This 30,000 foot goal will help anyone to get better at specifically targeting exactly what it is in their playing that needs improvement.

The greatest players in the world on your instrument are, to a woman and a man, elite problem solvers in the practice room.

Let The Ideas Out

Andrew Hitz

"If you have enough bad ideas you will have absolutely no trouble having enough good ideas. What people who create do is they let the ideas out. they sit and they do the work and the ideas come. Good ideas, bad ideas."
—Seth Godin from Leap First

Seth Godin was not talking about the practice room in the above comment but he might as well have been.

It is imperative that we "let the ideas out" when we are in the practice room.

Of course we need to focus on a daily basis on range, dynamics, articulations, releases, slurs and everything in between. This is the homework that every great musician on any instrument has done in spades.

But no one really cares if you are only a great technician on your instrument. Sure, you'll probably have a career of some kind (if you are truly a great technician and not just a good one) but you won't have one that is very rewarding or that has much impact on the world.

The ideas are what affect others. The ideas are why we all got into this crazy business in the first place. And the key to having great ideas is to have lots of ideas.

Ideas are why some people prefer Phil Smith, some prefer Chris Martin, and some prefer Thomas Hooten. It sure isn't because Phil can slur better than Chris or Thomas can. They slur equally well.

Yet all three of them play with enough clear ideas and storytelling in their playing that it is quite easy to prefer one over the other two. And that's what it's all about.

And the only way to ever approach the quality and clarity of the ideas of any of those three trumpet players is by letting the ideas out. The good ones and the bad ones.

That's exactly what they did.

Walt Disney's Insights Into Practicing Effectively

Andrew Hitz

Who knew that Walt Disney was a practicing guru?

I frequently see students start to practice a solo or etude at the beginning of piece. That's where they tend to start the first time they play it.

And the eight time they play it. And the 18th time they play it. And the 80th time they play it...

Guess what starts sounding really good? The opening of the piece!

Whenever I have a student who is not quite prepared to play an etude in a lesson it almost invariably becomes obvious when they get to halfway through the piece. Whether that's the B section, or a difficult variation on the main melody, or a key change.

If I ask them where they kept starting when they practice, they always say the beginning of the piece.

Don't "repeat successes" by going over the music you can already play. Target specific sections that need improvement and start with those sections the next time you sit down to practice.

You will be blown away by the results in a very short period of time.

Horn Practicing Tips

Andrew Hitz

Are you a horn player looking for some ideas for the practice room? Or maybe you have a horn student in your band who is looking for some help with how to get better?

There is a great website by two fabulous horn players and teachers, John Ericson and Bruce Hembd, called  Horn Matters. It is a horn resource filled with tips on just about everything horn related you can imagine.

Follow the link below to 10 pages worth of links to stories about practicing. They cover everything from warming up and transposing to focus in the practice room and tonguing.

This is a great resource for horn players and teachers of all ability levels!

Horn Matters Practicing Tips

Great List of Playing Tips

Andrew Hitz

I recently stumbled onto a great list of playing tips over at the website for the International Horn Society by Eldon Matlick, professor of horn at the University of Oklahoma.

It is titled "Hot Tips for Horn Players" but is really a list for all musicians. It features 18 tips for musicians of all kinds. Really, really good stuff!

You really need to read the whole list but here are a few of my favorites:

1. PERFORMANCE IS 90% MENTAL! Learn how to think! If you can hear it, you can play it. Expose yourself to great music and music making. Listen to great horn players. Experience live professional music making. Listen to recordings of world- class ensembles. Experience various mediums and styles of music. Become a musical sponge and take everything in. Every musical experience goes into your memory bank and this is the source from which you draw.

6. LEARN TO HEAR DETAILS IN YOUR PLAYING! Don’t succumb to the trap of falling in love with your playing. Develop a critical ear. When you think something is polished, record yourself. You will be amazed at what you hear. Keep stock of what you can do well and what you need to accomplish. Don’t waste time doing things that are not a problem. Great players work out and solve their playing deficiencies. Eliminate weaknesses in your playing. While this may prove to be mentally painful, this is a sure-fire method of gaining success in your performance.

12. PRACTICE ‘OUTSIDE THE BOX’ Musicianship is not the same as horn playing. Create a musical experience when you play. To this end, we must free ourselves from the instrument. Learn to sing! Singing is the ideal medium for establishing musical flow and the identification of logical breathing spots. Identify the natural flow of the solo line. Is the phrase asking a question or making a statement? As you sing, are you aware of the various emotional content of the various passages/sections? Practice singing and phrasing different ways. Identify those phrasings that have promise and then experiment on your instrument. When learning a solo, don’t neglect learning, and being able to sing, all interludes between solo entrances.

Seriously, go read them all!

Have A Lot Of Ideas

Andrew Hitz

"The only way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas."
-Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink is not a musician. He was talking about ideas like starting a business or writing a book.

But he might as well have been talking about a musician's approach in the practice room.

The odds of you having a great idea come out of your bell if you only had one concept of how that phrase might go in the first place is very, very low.

  1. Have lots of ideas of how a phrase could go.
  2. Record a convincing version of each of those ideas.
  3. Listen to each and decide which is best.
  4. Repeat this process with every single phrase of the piece.

If you only bring one concept of how a phrase might go into your practicing, how can you possibly compete with the artistry of someone doing the above sequence over and over again?

Spoiler Alert: You can't.

And furthermore, there have never been better instrument operators graduating every single year en masse than there are today. So you have to stand out some other way.

The real question is can you afford not to do the above sequence over and over again when you practice?