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Spring Clean Your Practise Regime

Spring Clean your Practise Regime

 

 

Ok – so maybe regime isn’t the right word. But with Spring (apparently) around the corner, now’s a great time to get yourself practising better.

 

Practise definitely is the word I want.

 

Are you practising? Or are you just playing?

 

There’s a huge difference between practising and playing. Playing is just blasting through it and accepting that there were mistakes, ignoring the fact that you forgot to dynamics (what dynamics?) and realising that you’re not technically playing the articulation as written. But that’s ok – you’ll do it on the next time you play it. Erm, nope – next time you play it you’ll probably do the same mistake, and then you’ll start to learn the mistakes which makes it even harder to correct.

 

Remember:

 

You’re practising so you can’t play it wrong. (Not practising to play it right).

 

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been playing for, or how far advanced you are. You always need to practise and practise well. Think about how your teacher’s advised you to practise? Can’t remember? Could you ask them in the next lesson? Don’t have a teacher or need some tips now??

 

Then you’ve come to the right place. Here’s my advice to Spring Clean your Practise Regime:

 

1. Warm Up!

 

It doesn’t matter what instrument you play – always, always warm up. It gets your brain in gear, your fingers warmed up and your body more responsive too. And yes I know time is always of the essence… but there’s no point practising if you’re not going to do it properly. It’s worth while spending 5mins warming up, that way you’ll get more out of your time on your pieces.

 

Long notes, breathing exercises, dynamic work, scales, dexterity exercises, articulation exercises – there’s so many different ways to warm up. Alternate what you start with every time you practise. Or go for extreme practisingness – combine breathing with your scales and dynamic work…. Or scales and dynamics and articulation….

 

2. Perform The Piece

 

Now – I actually wrote Play Through The Piece when I first started this blog post. But actually this really isn’t what you want to do. When we play – I’m not sure we actually give it our fullest, most concentrated attention.

 

If we perform however…. that’s a different thing entirely.

 

Now – don’t worry I don’t mean you need to find a loved one, handy neighbour, parent or pet to sit in while you play. But do imagine that this is your one and only, exam based, concert situation chance to play it. (But without the nerves). Don’t let yourself repeat any sections if you make a mistake, keep going and aim to perform it to the best of your abilities.

 

3. Isolate the Difficult Bits

 

There will always be those annoying bits. Those fast runs, the weird chromatic bits, the bit with the leaps… and generally in the middle section. It might not be notes that catch you out, it might be rhythms, co-ordination, breathing or it might be that your brain just doesn’t like it. For whatever reason there will be bits you can’t play. Now this is where you need to make sure your Spring Clean Practise Regime comes in to play.

 

Isolate the section

Look to see what you need to do (and what you can’t do)

Play it slooooooooooooooooooooooowly (you can’t ever go too slow)

Play it slightly faster

Play the bar before and then the tricky bit.

Did it work? No? Go slooooooooooooooooowly again.

Do the bar before.

Try two bars before….

Go slightly faster.

Go a line before………..

 

The problem will never be with the bar you get stuck on. The problem will be with the messages that your brain sends just before you play that section. So in order to make sure the right message is sent – you need to go from before the mistake, not just on the mistake itself.

 

4. Keep notes!

I always keep a note pad close by when I’m practising. That way if I make a mistake or find an area that I’m not happy with I know to focus my practise from that point when I play again, rather than starting at the beginning.

5. Keep That Nagging Voice Quiet…

 

We all know that internal voice. The one that reminds you that you got that bit wrong last time, that you’re going too fast, that you missed the dynamics. Yeah, that one.

 

Focus on the positives of your playing. Don’t let your mind wander on to what if’s and what happened last time. Try and keep that inner voice quiet.

 

A great book to help silence that silly voice is ‘Inner Game of Music’ by Timothy Gallwey.

 

6. Sight-reading and New Fun Time!

 

Always keep your sight-reading skills up to speed by looking at something new every session. Whether you look at an actual sight-reading exercise or just a new short piece – anything new will help improve your reading.

 

And why not end your practise session with something fun. Whether it’s improvising, playing along to backing tacks or just a piece you really love – go for it!

 

After all – it’s supposed to be fun!

Five Ways to Learn to Love Your Metronome

 

Five Ways to Learn to Love Your Metronome

 

Ah the metronome! That annoying clicking, pingy or too quiety thingy that all teachers insist you must have yet everyone avoids practising with.

A lot of my students have been learning to love the metronome this year and have really found it a great practise aid (but I’ll be honest they’ve also found it really difficult too!). But why should it make it harder I hear you say? Well – the simple answer is that we’re not robots. When we play there’s always a bit of an ebb and flow to our sense of timing (even though we try desperately for it to stay ‘in time’). Best example of this was when I started a big band rehearsal with the band at one speed, with a sneaky metronome silenced in the back ground, then turning it on and up half way through a song – it really shocked them to see how much they’d dropped collectively!

But it doesn’t have to be all heart-ache and misery! Metronomes are really useful – and practise with them can be great fun too!

 

1. Start with the basics – do some rhythm games with it to help your body internalise the beat. If you ‘feel’ the difference between crotchets and quavers you will naturally play them better. So start the metronome and play crotchets alongside – then suddenly swap to quavers (or have someone shout the rhythm changes out!) or minims etc and see if you can keep up and keep changing.

2. Scales practise – to get used to playing ‘in time’ choose some nice easy scales to run up and down in time with the beat. Again – you could play crotchets or quavers, or swung quavers… or dotted quavers….

3. Use it to help with long tone practise – put a really slow count on and if you have the old fashioned metronomes you can see how close time wise you are to holding a note for an extra beat longer. It also means you cant cheat by speeding up your count!

4. Headphones – now this might seem odd, but bear with me. As a teacher of tenor and baritone saxes and all those loud based instruments – just hearing the metronome can be a pain. So – best advice for the battery operated ones is to put some headphones in. Even if you can hear it – sometimes having the sound that little bit closer helps. (But obviously if you’re like me and always forget to change the batteries and rely on an old fashioned wind up one then this won’t help you!)

5. Dexterity – often students find that there’s always a piece of music that has one or two nigglingly bars that the fingers won’t get around in time. This is where you should learn to love your metronome. Isolate the difficult bars and practise them at a really slow speed. Then a tiny bit quicker. Then a bit quicker still. Then at the speed you need it. Then…. Go for it. Way above the speed you need and see what happens. It’ll probably be a car crash *but* when you go back to the speed you wanted in the first place – you’ll probably find that the brain relaxes over it and suddenly it’s easier.