New school year, new teachers, new instrument; everyone’s excited to start learning new things. But then, after a few weeks, the excitement fades and reality hits; “I have to actually put time in and WORK on learning how to play an instrument! It’s not so fun anymore.”
Over the next few blogs, I want to go over the topic of Practice: What is it?, Why do we need it and How do we do it?
Practicing is reinforcing skills learned in a lesson. In music, sports, and really anything in life, you are taught certain skills and concepts that are meant to take time to fully understand and be able to perform well. All of your learning does NOT happen at school; it happens at home or away from the initial lesson!
When playing a band instrument like a trumpet or a saxophone, most of the time you can’t see what’s going on inside your mouth. You have to build an awareness of what’s happening, and this awareness can only happen through consistent practice. AND, everyone’s mouth is different – different teeth, lip shape, size of the oral cavity, etc., so whatever concept is taught at the lesson needs to be adapted for each individual person.
Start noticing how it feels (how natural and easy it feels) to breathe, to sit with good posture, to blow out a candle, etc. When you play an instrument, you want to imitate the ease of doing these other activities because you are essentially doing the same thing when you buzz through a trumpet or articulate through a saxophone.
When you start playing notes on a mouthpiece and your instrument, make the effort as easy as blowing in the air. For example, blow into your hand using the syllable, “tOO.” When you articulate into an instrument you are doing the same thing, and for brass and flute players, notice where your tongue is hitting in your mouth when you say “tOO.” It’s the same spot when you play your instrument. (Here’s where the awareness is so important.)
One great skill to start using is visualization. That’s where you close your eyes and imagine yourself doing the skill or activity. You see yourself going through all the steps and feeling the same emotions as if you were physically doing it. (Studies have been done on Olympians and college basketball players who used this technique to improve their performance. It was found that performance improved just as much as actually performing the task.) That’s not to say that all your practice should be visualization! But if you start to implement this skill at a young age, it can help you progress so much faster and get through hurdles that may initially seem daunting.
For example, if your first skill to learn is articulation (using connected and separated styles and thinking “dOO” or “tOO”), you can first say those syllables out loud, then say them with just air sounds, then close your eyes and imagine yourself “saying” them through your instrument. Or if your first skill is holding the instrument properly, you can go to youTube and watch a professional musician performing on your instrument. You can then close your eyes and imagine yourself as the professional musician performing at a concert. Put yourself in their situation and really feel what you would imagine it to feel like to hold your instrument properly so that your performance goes really well.
Once you’ve started to become more aware, and visualized a few times, you are ready to set up a practice plan and goals. That’s our goal next time!
Until then, check out the action steps below…
1. If you play a brass or woodwind instrument, start becoming more aware of how your body feels when you naturally breathe, talk, blow out candles, etc.
2. Go on YouTube and search for professional musicians on your instrument. (Or check out my previous blogs for each instrument.)
3. Visualize yourself performing on your instrument.
4. Also start to visualize how you would perform certain skills on your instrument.
5. Comment on how this worked out for you in the Comments section below…
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