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How and What to Practice

Individual practice is the number-one key to how much you will improve. Knowing what and especially how to practice will determine how fast you get there.

Finding Time: Finding time to practice can be challenging. Choose the times you are going to practice at and stick with them. Write it in your schedule. Ideally go for 2 times a day, 5-6 days a week, with each session lasting 20-30 minutes for beginners, up to 1 1/2 hours for advanced players. It is much better to practice for shorter intervals more often and here is the reason: the skills and muscle coordination involved in playing are very fine and small. As a result they have a much shorter-term memory than larger muscle groups. Even a gap of just 24 hours will send you backwards. So someone who practices 5 times a week for one hour, will greatly outperform someone who chunks through two 3 hour sessions. Find time every day, and you will be amazed how much faster you improve.

Fundamental Skill Development: the first part of practice – The fundamentals are those concepts that when improved, will directly improve your ability to play your instrument. Fundamentals should be one of the primary foci of each and every practice session. You should develop a routine, in which you progress through the fundamentals in this specific order: Air, Buzzing, Sound, Flexibility, Articulation. The reason for this order has to do with the hierarchy of these fundamentals that I will explain later on. There are numerous exercises for each fundamental, and these can be varied from day to day. I recommend starting your practice session with this work, as it can also serve as a warm – up. We will go into more specific detail about the fundamentals later in the manual.

Musical Practice, the second part: During this time, you will be developing your ability to play specific music. Continue to focus on proper fundamentals as you work through more technically difficult music. Work on intonation and rhythm in the context of the music.

Focus on the problem areas: analyze the playing problems, and develop a solution. Work on very small sections of music at a time.

Don’t be afraid to slow down a passage. Slow repetition is often necessary in order to develop the skills needed to perform on your instrument. Gradually work things up to the desired tempo.

Learn it right the first time! It is pointless to rush through a piece of music and learn something wrong. You will only be backtracking in order fix your errors. Learning it right implies all the right notes, articulations, fingering, tuning and dynamics. See above about "slow repetition!"

Simplify complicated rhythms: Sometimes it helps to take out slurs, ties and faster notes for learning purposes. Once the basic rhythmic outline is understood and playable, you can start to add these elements back in one at a time.

Work on Fingers/Slide positions without actually playing: Finger or slide coordination is a purely mechanical part of playing. Make sure your fingers can get it right and in time. Again start slow and work up to speed. By practicing this without playing, it can save a lot of face.

Coordinate Fingers with Tongue: It is essential that tonguing lines up with the valve changes. Again work away from the instrument, and use a wind pattern (we’ll discuss this later). Make sure the valve movement and the tongue line up. Take it slower if need be.

For sound problems, use buzzing: Very simply put, whatever signal you put through your mouthpiece is what ends up in the horn. If you can make your mouthpiece sound excellent and connected, you will definitely be able to sound good on the horn.

For articulation problems, use wind patterns: Wind patterns address the problems at the source, make sure you are putting the correct air signal through the horn by practicing it away from the instrument. Once you have perfected it, replay the passage on your horn and you should see some progress.

Typical Practice Session

PART I Fundamental Skills Development (warm up) 30 minutes

Air | 5 minutes

Buzz | 5 minutes

Sound/Flexibility | 10-15 minutes

Articulations | 5-10 minutes

PART II Musical Practice 30 – 60 minutes These times can be adjusted for longer or shorter sessions.

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