In my previous posts, I talked about playing songs by ear and approaching long tones for beginners. In an earlier post, I explored the aspects of Setting up a Practice Plan by thinking about Why we need to practice, What practice is and How to do it.

In this post, I want to show you how students can practice some of my methods at home and have fun while learning.

Your practice should be structured into 6 areas: Preparation, Warm-Up, Technical Exercises, Music!!!, Sight-reading and/or Improvisation, and Warm-Down. I’ll discuss the first 2 areas in this blog.

Step 1: Preparation: Goal Setting

Every Sunday, review your big goals for the month, then write down the little steps to be taken during the week to get closer to achieving the big goals. (For beginners, it is best to do this with your parents.)

For example, let’s say your big goal is to perform a solo at an Excellent level at a Solo Festival in the Spring.

First Step – Choose a solo. (You should do this ideally in December to give yourself enough time to prepare.) Either your teacher picks one out for you, or you look at a few solos and determine if you will be able to prepare it, and/or you listen to a few recordings of pieces to see which solo you really like the sound of and want to work on. (Sometimes you teacher will provide these recordings or play them for you to choose.)

Second Step: Find a recording, if you haven’t done so already, if there’s one available. Music is an aural activity – we learn the most from listening to performances.

Third Step: This step will last a few months as you will have to create small goals and the steps needed to achieve them. Go through the first part of the solo, singing and fingering each phrase at a steady, slow tempo. Only when your fingerings know what they are doing, do you attempt to play the phrase.  You will gradually increase the steady tempo until you are able to perform the piece at the desired tempo marking. This process gets repeated for the entire solo over the span of many weeks/months.

Fourth Step: Play along with a recording or find a friend/teacher to provide piano accompaniment. Also, play your solo for your family and friends. This is really fun and what makes performing exciting!

Step 2: Preparation – Gathering Supplies, Setting Up Instrument and Room

This is where you get all the books, CD’s, accessories (metronome, tuner, cool apps, etc) ready BEFORE you play your first notes.  Trying to find these items while practicing not only wastes time but also makes you lose focus. I get my Korg DTM-12 (from 1984!!!) metronome ready, I power on my iPad so I can use iStrobosoft tuner, and I get iTunes up for play-a-longs.

Step 3: Preparation: Clear Your Head

If you have a lot of stuff on your mind, it’s best to write it down and deal with most of it later.  If there’s something really quick that needs to be done, then do it before practicing, but really try to prioritize your practice time. Clear your mind before starting by taking a deep breath, closing your eyes and relaxing your body. Some people do a quick meditation, but for beginners this process can take just a minute. It’s a great way to teach a student to be “present” when practicing, instead of allowing the mind to drift off.

As you can see, a lot goes into Preparing to Practice!

Step 4: Warm-up

For Brass players, a minute or less of Lip Buzzing helps get the muscles working. Watch yourself in the mirror while you do this, and look at the angle your mouth takes when you are buzzing. (You want to place the mouthpiece at this angle when playing for the most efficient buzz.)

Then go into a few minutes of mouthpiece buzzing. For beginners, play a middle range pitch, a higher pitch, then a lower pitch, each lasting for 4-8 beats. Hear all the brass instruments playing rhythm patterns or phrases from songs while you hold out each pitch. Then play your own rhythm patterns (in duple and triple) on a middle range pitch with connected and separated styles of articulation. Next, play a couple of simple folk songs, like London Bridge or Mary Had a Little Lamb. When you acquire more skill, play songs like Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star or America. More skilled players can play national anthems.

For Woodwinds, it is important to play articulation styles on the mouthpiece/neck/barrel combinations, or head-joints for the flute. Envision a whole Woodwind section accompanying you while you play patterns. Then play some long tones, again hearing the other Woodwinds playing phrases from songs or rhythm patterns while you hold out a steady tone.  Hear a snare drummer playing steady small beats in duple or triple while you hold out a note.

Step 5: Warm-up on the Instrument

For everyone, this is crucial. Lip muscles have to continue to get warmed up, fingers have to get ready to move in a coordinated way upon the keys, etc.  Beginners can play the articulation styles on the notes they have learned, as well as on new notes they want to explore.  They can look at Fingering Charts in the back (or front) of method books for assistance.  Everyone should then be playing long tones with a similar approach to the way it was done on the mouthpiece. But here’s a great resource for intermediate to more experienced performers: Walter White’s Long Tone Accompaniment CD provides background drone pitches for you to match and work on your intonation. This CD can really help you build up the core in your sound and help you play much better in tune! There may even be an mp3 download, but here’s the link for the CD from Amazon.com:


Brass Players have special exercises called Lip Slurs that enable their lip muscles to be more flexible and extend their range lower and higher. Many method books have lip slur exercises. I think a terrific resource is the following book: Bai Lin’s Lip Flexibility for All Brass Instruments.

Here’s the link:

Intermediate and Advanced performers should also play Interval Exercises to work on intonation and smooth connections between notes. (Examples of these are on my Membership site. You can sign up on my website http://DonnaSchwartzMusic.com in the Store Tab –Membership.)

Next time, I will continue with the Technical Exercises and Music…..

Action Steps:

  1. Read my previous blog on Setting up a practice plan here: http://donnaschwartzmusic.com/blog/setting-up-a-practice-plan/
  2. Set your goals! Map out your plan.
  3. Gather the supplies and recordings you need.
  4. Try to add the Clearing Your Head idea to your daily practice – let me know how it goes in the Comments below.
  5. Also let me know if you have any questions by writing in the Comments area below.
  6. If you are a beginning Trumpet or Saxophone player and you liked this, you can inquire about Skype Lessons or consider becoming a member of my site to gain access to my many Online Lesson Videos. (http://donnaschwartzmusic.com/teaching/online-learning/)
  7. Finally, if you liked this article, please Like and Share it on the Social Networks. I appreciate it!