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In the final part of this series on Practicing, I want to get into the proper mindset a student should have, what supplies you may need and some apps that I use frequently in my own practice sessions.

Okay, so we get just get back from soccer (fill in your own activity) practice and we have 20 minutes before dinner. Let’s put in a practice session!

Understanding that our lives seem to be getting busier by the year, it is important to take a breath and calm our minds before each new activity or task.  If we just run into our practice room after a long day and expect to accomplish a lot of things, we are going to be disappointed.  So BEFORE you stick the mouthpiece in your mouth, take 2 minutes to plan/review what you will work on. (If you read my blog on “Setting Up a Practice Plan” your session would be mapped out, and you would just be reviewing what you need to work on.)

After reviewing your plan (and before you start playing), take one minute to do some simple breathing exercises.  This will clear your mind and relax your body. Take a deep breath from your nose (this is the only time you breathe from your nose) for three slow counts and exhale from your mouth for three slow counts. Do this for about a minute and you will have great results!

Just a note (no pun intended!), it’s important to have your music, music stand, metronome and other supplies ready before you start your session. You will have less distractions if everything’s where it needs to be beforehand.

Useful Apps and Supplies for Beginning and Intermediate Musicians

There’s some really great FREE apps available on iPads and smartphones. (FREE is my favorite word; my next favorite word is CHEAP!)  On my iPhone, I have the free app –Ludwig metronome as well as the iTick metronome. The Ludwig metronome ranges in beats from 30 to 225 beats per minute, and you can tap a tempo into it and it will figure out the metronome marking. The iTick is great because you can set it for a few meter signatures, a few tempo markings (Allegro, Largo, etc) and it ranges from 40 to 250 beats per minute.

For tuners, I use the free app Epic Tune, which is from GuitarJamz.com. I find it works fine for band instruments and you can see how far off the pitch is from being perfectly in tune. What I use frequently is Peterson’s iStrobosoft. It’s not free – it’s around $10, but worth every penny. You can see if your pitches are not only in tune, but also landing in the core, or center, of the pitch. Great app!

There are some free apps for improving your note reading: Music Tutor (there’s also a paid version with no ads); Master in a Minute-Note Recognition; Music Sight-Reading, etc.

Some free apps for ear training (to get better at identifying chord qualities, scales, intervals between notes): Ear Trainer Lite and Ear Training Lite.

As you progress in your musical skills, you may want to explore apps for writing music, recording music and creating music using samples. There are also apps for working on improvisation too. I have iImprov’s Modal, which deals with using modes for soloing, and I have Eric Marienthal’s Tricks of the Trade (he’s a great smooth jazz saxophonist). Aside from Improvisation apps, if you are truly into Jazz, you must look into the Jamey Aebersold series of CD’s. He has over 135 of them, covering all styles of jazz and all levels. These are available at local music stores and online.

Some important supplies that should be in any practice room are a sturdy music stand (some method books are large and too heavy for the cheaper metallic stands), a metronome if you don’t want to use an app (Seiko makes a good quality, affordable metronome for under $30), a tuner if you also don’t want to use an app (I recommend Korg brand-they have a quality tuner for around $25), and a digital recorder. As you progress, you will want to record part of your practice session and take time later that night to objectively evaluate what you liked and what needs more work. I personally have the Zoom H2; these are great high quality recorders that will last a while. You can also use the Voice Memo utility on your iPhone – the sound quality is acceptable enough for this purpose.

Another resource I use is from iTunes: the Tuning CD, by Richard Schwartz (no relation!). This is a phenomenal resource to use while working on intonation (being in tune with yourself) and finding the center of each pitch.

One final note regarding practicing: let’s talk about distractions. Smartphones, the internet, friends texting are huge time wasters. Your practice session is your time for you! Be selfish and take that time to improve your skills and become a better musician.  Shut off everything (unless you’re using the apps to practice with) and put them out of site. Tell your friends and family that your practicing is important to you and you need to not be disturbed. If you respect your practice time, others will respect It too.

Action Steps:

  1. Identify which apps are best for you.
  2. Definitely purchase a quality tuner and metronome or download the free apps.
  3. Be sure to have everything set up before your practice session.
  4. Shut off all smartphones and other distractions, unless you are using them. Once you are done using the app, shut the phone off!
  5. Let me know in the comments below how these apps work for you, and most importantly, if I missed any good apps. I would love to know….