Training: A different way to think about "practice"

The following information will tell you exactly what to do when you practice. If you follow the instructions here, you will be able to learn any music, no matter how difficult or long. It will help you develop a “Game Plan” for success and fun by getting a little bit better each day.. Please read the entire packet before you begin. (I know, some of you hate to read. I hate Mondays. But I still have to live through them in order to get to Tuesday.)
Why “practice?” Why not “play?” Playing is fun! Why can’t “practice” and “playing “be the same thing? Do you “practice” on your xBox or Wi? No. You “play. ” Somehow over the centuries we have turned something REALLY fun – playing an instrument – into “practice,” which everyone usually interprets as “hard work. ” When you play a sport is it hard work? Of course it is! Is it “fun?” Of course it is!
So can hard work be fun? YES!! So why isn’t “practicing” fun? There are several reasons:
  1. No goal. How much fun would basketball be without a basket? Or football without a foot? Or baseball without bases? Scoring points – making progress toward a goal – is fun. Without a means to measure success, and knowing how to “score points, “practicing” can seem rather pointless. (Pun intended.)
  2. Frustration. Playing can be frustrating even if you have a goal. if you don’t know how to reach that goal. You have to know “how” to score more points.
  3. Your opponent is too big. Trying to learn TOO much TOO fast. Xbox and Wi have a built-in “fail-safe” called “game over. ”  If you don’t learn how to score points or defeat your enemy, the game stops before you want it to.
  4. We forget that we are expressing our emotions on every note. Music is about emotion. If you lose the emotion, you lose the meaning. Lose the meaning and you’ve lost the point and the fun,
So let me try to help you with these obstacles, and I think you’ll find yourself working harder, but enjoying it a lot more.
Perform on days that you eat. Regular practice – even a small amount – is better than a 2-3 hour “cram session” once a week. "Cram" and "Trumpet" don't go together  at all. Ever! 3 or  times a day, 30 minutes blocks.
I wonder how healthy you would be if you saved all the food that you normally eat in 7 days, and on the 8th day try to eat it all at once?
Set a regular time. Make a commitment to a specific, daily time to train, not just when you have an upcoming graded assignment, a concert or a contest. Not just whenever you “feel like it” and not just when there’s nothing good on TV or “nothing else to do. ” You may practice before school, after school, in the evening, or all 3. 10 minutes 3 times a day makes "practicing" seem effortless. That's perfect for beginners.
You need a place with NO distractions. BE ALONE. Or with friend or two. You can practice together. That's what "band" is – a group of people playing together. Help each other.
 This packet of instructions, plus:
a straight backed chair
music stand
pencil with an eraser
valve oil/reeds
a recording device
*Any recording device, from ancient cassette recorders to mp3 recorders will work fine.
If you want to use your computer, download Audacity® –  free, open source software for recording and editing sounds. It is available for Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems. It is available for download (free!) at
Remember the wisdom of the video game designers. You play the same levels over and over, and each time you learn a little more about how to “beat the game. ” If you record yourself every day and then “play the game” again tomorrow, you’ll be able to hear what you have to “beat” to score more points. And then you can compare YOUR recordings to your friends’, or to a famous musician and try to outscore them. And you also get to hear the MUSIC you are creating. Those notes “live” only ONCE in time and space. Seriously. After you've played it, it's gone…forever.
This recording journal gives you a target, a goal and a score to beat each day in addition to the pleasure of hearing yourself create music. Make the Journal. It will guide you to a deeper and richer experience, and will make playing much more fun.
That depends on what you want to accomplish. How much better do you want to be? What do you want to be able to play tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next year? In 2 years? In 5 years?
To get the most out of practice, set short and long-range goals. Beginners may only be able to play 15-20 minutes a day to start. An advanced player won’t even be finished warming-up in 15 minutes.
If you are a beginner, play each exercise perfectly at least FIVE  times. Middle school advanced players will want to do this plus enough tone, technique, scale, range and etude studies to complete at least 45 minutes.
FOR ALL BAND ASSIGNMENTS: Practice as much as it takes to play perfectly. This may be 5 minutes or 5 months. Do whatever it takes. You know that the Texas Rangers have batting practice EVERY DAY before games, and they are professionals. They train, they practice and they play, and so must you.
Always start with a WARM-UP. Scientific studies show that muscles work most efficiently at 102 degrees. Athletes warm-up before work-outs or games so they won’t injure their muscles. The same holds true for musicians; you use about 200 muscles for every note you play.
ATTENTION: just hacking-out a few notes, scales, high notes or “hot licks” is NOT “warming-up. ”
Although we DO raise the temperature of our muscles to play, “warming-up” is about MUCH more than that. It’s about preparing our physical machine (our body) to be the best musical instrument possible for the ENTIRE day. Your warm-up sets the foundation for your playing for the ENTIRE DAY!
Warm-up “randomly” and your playing may be unstable for the ENTIRE DAY.
Warm-up correctly, and you’ll feel secure and confident for the ENTIRE DAY (usually).
Wind players warm-up these things in order:
  1. Your BRAIN – by focusing your attention and increasing oxygen from deep     breathing
  2. Your AIR – focus on deep, “fat,” relaxed breathing
  3. Your EARS – listen to your sound, let them guide your best sound
  4. Your EMBOUCHURE – treat it with care, warm it up slowly, concentrating on ease and comfort of response of lips and/or reed.
  5. Your TONGUE – get it moving relaxed and “soft”
  6. Your FINGERS – allow them to move freel
Your PRIVATE LESSON TEACHER will have all the materials necessary for you to warm-up. If you are not taking private lessons, you should be. But if not, use materials that your band director has given you, including the materials you use for class warm-up..
After your warm-up, and not until you have thoroughly and conscientiously warmed-up, play and record:
  1. Technical Studies for accuracy first, THEN speed.
  2. Slow melodic studies for tone, musicality and vibrato (if applicable).
  3. Etudes
  4. Solos
  5. Ensemble Pieces
  6. Review: Play through music you have previously learned
  7. Play something you really enjoy! Music that is FUN!
Review the recording you just made of all that you just played. Write, in pencil, on your music, items you want to improve during tomorrow’s practice session.  You aren’t going to be “perfect” and up to speed on everything every day.
In the 7 categories your time on each may vary. If you have test tomorrow on scales, you might spend most of your time on those. If solo contest is soon, that may be your main target. But get in at least some of each category each day.
On each part of your playing, get 1% better than you were they day before. Compound Interest!
Warm-down: play some soft low notes just to get your face relaxed so that blood can flow freely to the muscles you have just worked. This is esp. true for brass players. It doesn’t take much, 5 minutes is usually more than enough, but you may like warming down exercises. Do them as long as you want. They won’t hurt you.
A word about Sight-reading: COUNTING!! So very, very many students cannot read patterns of rhythms. And this is a real shame since it is so incredibly logical and EASY. There are only a few “basic rhythm patterns” That we see all the time.
Here’s how you learn to read rhythms. Use this process BEFORE you attempt to play a piece:
  • At a slow tempo, count through the entire piece, tapping your foot, clapping and saying the rhythm, using downs and ups, te’s and ta’s, or whatever your band director or PRIVATE TEACHER has taught you.
DO NOT – I REPEAT: DO NOT! – proceed to the next step until you are absolutely sure you have the counting down perfectly. Not ok, not almost, not “pretty good,” but so perfect that you could teach it to someone who has NO musical background at all!
Remember: rhythm is very important, because a right note at the WRONG TIME is a WRONG NOTE!
  1. At the same slow tempo, tap your foot, finger through the piece and say the letter names of the notes in rhythm. (Do not vocalize flats and sharps, even though you are fingering them when necessary.) When this is perfect, go to:
  2. Repeat the sequence in 2 above, but also sing the DYNAMIC and EXPRESSION markings: staccato, legato, accents, etc. Sing everything on the page.
  3. Repeat 2, but blow air through your embouchure and ARTICULATE using the rhythmic breath pattern of the piece. Create everything on the page using just breath and fingers.
  4. Repeat 3  at the tempo you wish to play this piece.
Now – Play it. You  have about a 99% chance of getting the entire piece correct the very first time you actually play it. You may make mistakes. That’s ok. Isolate and practice the spots that gave you trouble.
As you use the above sequence, you will get better and better at sight-reading, singing and counting. Do not be discouraged the first few times if you do not feel you did as well as possible. Learning to play an instrument is NOT like running a computer program, it is more like WRITING a computer program, and it takes a while to get the “bugs” out. Once you LEARN a piece perfectly, then PERFORMING it is like running the program, and it is almost “automatic” because you have made a “HABIT” out of performing perfectly!
Now, with all that said, it is also helpful to occasionally pick a sight-reading piece and just go for it. You'll make mistakes, but keep moving forward in time, do not stop for anything. Make your eyes, fingers and ears keep going. You can go back and make repairs after a straight reading.
Use both practice techniques. They complement each other.
SLOWLY!! VERY, SLOWLY. You have to train your muscles to go exactly where they need for each note, interval , dynamic level, etc.
Just as in the sight-reading steps above. The “master musicians” of the world do NOT practice at break-neck speed. They practice SLOWLY, ACCURATELY, CAREFULLY and PRECISELY!  Your brain is still, by far, the most powerful computer on Earth. If you “program” it carelessly, with bad tone, wrong notes, bad posture, a poor airstream, sloppy playing, etc., that’s what will come out in performance when you “run” the program. The saying “garbage-in/garbage-out” holds true for music.
The key to GREAT playing – and FUN playing – is correct input with correct repetition to train your muscles to play perfectly by HABIT! (There’s that word again!!)
There are NO shortcuts!
But fortunately there are some tricks. And I’m giving them to you free:
  • GO SLOWLY and use your METRONOME! (Funny, but the quickest way to playing great is to GO SLOWLY!!)
  • WORK ON ONE SMALL AREA AT A TIME! Isolate your problem notes or rhythms.
  • Practicing is like eating an elephant; you do it ONE BITE AT A TIME! Don’t try to stuff a whole elephant in your mouth at once.
  • Begin any piece of music or technical study at a tempo that is slow enough that you CANNOT not make ANY mistakes the first time through. And this WILL be slower than you are willing to admit. If you can play it perfectly, move the metronome up 2-4 bpm and continue. If you make ANY mistake, lower the tempo and start again. Mark the fastest “mistake-free” tempo of the day on your music. Start with that tomorrow.
  • Practice tongued passages slurred to be sure your fingers are accurately and rhythmically. Then add the tongue.
  • Practice slurred passages tongued.
  • Learn the intonation problems on your horn by using a tuner or piano. Mark problem notes and learn how to adjust them (Your PRIVATE TEACHER can help you with this. Make intonation corrections a HABIT!
  • Tape your music at full speed and play it back at HALF speed. (Audacity® will do this, as will Windows Media Player.) You will hear your problems. But even if you play it back at normal speed, you’ll find PLENTY to work on!
  • MARK YOUR MUSIC! Your brain will prepare you for those spots.
  • When isolating problems, practice JUST the spot you’re having difficulty with ESPECIALLY if it’s only one or two notes. Add ONE note at a time, perfecting each until the entire passage or phrase is perfect. You may also work that spot forward AND backward.
  • Change articulations. Slur tongued passages and tongue slurred passages, slur groups of 2, 3, 4, etc. Slur 2 – tongue 2, slur 3 – tongue 1. Be creative and practice as many variations in articulation as possible.
  • Change even rhythms to dotted, change dotted to even. Change duple to triple and triple to duple, etc.
  • ASK OTHERS TO HEAR YOU PLAY: family, friends, band directors, grandma…
  • Focus your mind and body totally when practicing. Turn off the TV or radio.
  • Work on your fundamentals daily.
  • NEVER GIVE UP!  You can rest and get away for awhile, but come back with a “killer instinct” for practice.
  • “Play” your practice like your favorite sport or video game.
  • If you have a problem you can't solve or something you don’t understand, ASK YOUR TEACHER. THAT’S OUR JOB. 
If you made it this far without giving-up on reading the "game plan," congratulations! You are already ahead of 90% of the trumpet students in the world!
So go have some fun! PLAY YOUR HORN!



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