In my last blog, Making Practice Fun! (Making Practice Fun!), I talked about organizing your practice into 6 areas: Preparation, Warm-Up, Technical Exercises, Music!!!, Sight-reading and/or Improvisation, and Warm-Down. I went into detail on the first 2 areas, Preparation and Warm-up.

In this blog, I want to touch on the next 2 areas, Technical Exercises and Music!!!

Step 6: Technical Exercises:

This is the “meat and potatoes” of the practice, where you work on scales, interval exercises, arpeggios, jazz patterns, etc. This is also where you work on those difficult passages in the pieces you are studying.

Plan on focusing on either one key (scales, patterns and arpeggios) or one type of scale (blues scale) in all keys. I tend to do one type of scale or one pattern at a particular metronome marking that is one notch higher than the previous session. Some people like to take one key and keep increasing the metronome marking until the passage is just out of reach for that day. Experiment to see what method works for you.

How do I work on difficult passages in my music?

If you have received a new piece of music, the first thing you should do is scan through it, observing the key signature, meter signature and tempo. If you don’t scan and just start playing, your brain will remember everything you did, including the mistakes. That means that it will be that much harder to correct any mistakes.

Sing (or audiate) the music and finger through the piece at a steady slow tempo (use a metronome) until you get to a challenging spot.  If it’s too challenging to work through (even after fingering it a few times), mark it with a pencil and identify it as a passage to work on during your technical practice. Go to the next phrase and keep audiating and fingering until you get to another challenging spot or the piece has ended.

Take the 1st challenging spot and make sure you can hear the pitches. If needed, go measure by measure, and break down the pitches into 2 or 3 note patterns. Play the notes on your instrument (or on a piano, but be mindful if your instrument is not a “C” instrument. The pitches will sound different.) Be able to sing those notes. Then sing and finger those few notes at least three times. Play those few notes (with no rhythm) until you are comfortable fingering and hearing them. Do the same for the next few notes until you have a complete measure or two.

The next step is to add the rhythm to those note patterns. Do the counting or rhythm syllables first, then add the fingerings. The key is to finger the notes with steady rhythms; use a metronome to help you. (If you finger the notes and the tempo is not steady, it will be much more difficult to fix this later.) Once your fingers know where they are going, play through the measure or two. Try to increase the metronome marking to the same tempo you used when you first scanned the piece.

Use this same process for each challenging spot. If you are limited in terms of time for practicing, just choose 1 or 2 spots a day to work on.

The last step is to play through the piece at the tempo marking where you can handle playing the challenging spot(s).  Going through this process will allow you to play more and more challenging pieces as you continue playing your instrument.

Step 7: Music!!!

Here’s the dessert portion. This is where you play fun etudes, duets with other friends, fun songs or even play along with the radio. You DON’T want to work on technique here – you want to have fun and perform. That’s what music is all about! I’ll give you a few more ideas for this section in future blogs.

All too often, we get caught up in working on technical exercises for a majority of the practice session, we haven’t left enough time for the music portion. The whole point is to perform music!

I know about this first hand. When I was growing up, all I did were technical exercises and by the time I got to the music, I was exhausted. (The good thing was that I could read anything and listened to lots of good quality trumpet recordings, so I knew about a great sound and playing with feeling, style and emotion.)

Next time, I want to touch on the last 2 areas: Sight-reading and/or Improvisation, and Warm-Down.

Action Steps:

  1. Read my previous blog on Making Music Fun: Making Practice Fun!
  2. Be sure to scan through new music first – don’t ever just stick the instrument to your face and play something without scanning it!
  3. Keep in mind to plan enough time for playing music during every practice session.  (Everyone loves dessert!)
  4. Do you have any other ideas for approaching the technical or music areas of practicing? Let me know in the comments below…
  5. Did my process help you? Please comment below.
  6. If you enjoyed this article, sign up on my website at http://DonnaSchwartzMusic.com , and get my bonus article and video on Three Steps to Learning Your Favorite Song….