New Year's Resolutions: 8 Practice Tips to Keep You on Track in 2017

Here are eight of our favorite practice tips that are sure to help you with your New Year’s resolution… practicing!



1) The Practice Routine- "Clarinet Practice Routine and Practice Tips A-Z" by Dr. Michael Dean

Warm-up

  • Pre-Playing Warm-up Stretches
  • Relaxation/Air (Balance)
  • Tone (Embouchure & Voicing/Articulation)
  • Long Tones (Projection)
  • Misc. Excercises (over the break, high c, high notes, tonguing, legato fingers, octaves, tuning, reeds, etc.) 


Scales

  • Chromatic 
  • Major & minor arpeggios
  • Fully diminished 7th chords
  • Others (whole-tone, octatonic, related to a work, etc.)


Music

  • Sight-reading/Transposition
  • Etudes/Studies
  • Solos
  • Excerpts (Band, orchestra, chamber)
  • Improvisation/jazz


2) Practice for Improvement- "Practice Space: Key Ingredients" by Eric Berlin

Vince gave me the most concise and no-nonsense approach to improvement that I have ever heard. I will present it with more detail in another post, but in its simplest form it is:

  • Define your ideal sound

  • Record and play along with your ideal without judgment

  • Listen back and compare the recording with your ideal

  • Assess strengths and weaknesses

  • Define goals for improvement

  • Address issues (traditional woodshed with clearer goals) and start again

There is no better way to improve. The first point is so vital, but most often gets lost among more pressing concerns as  “putting in the hours” or “building up endurance” or “building muscle memory.”  The second is training us for the real job of performance. For many young players, the first time they play through a piece without stopping is in a lesson or in a concert. The third part is impossible without a model to compare to.


3) Slow Practice- Two Misunderstandings from "Is Slow Practice Really Necessary?" by Dr. Noa Kageyama

So why don’t we do more slow practice? It’s not because we’re lazy; I think it’s just a big misunderstanding.

1. We are too concerned with the outcome, not the process

Meaning, we forget that how we get there is just as important as whether or not we do.

The point of slow practice is not just to slow things down in order to play it perfectly. It’s about fine-tuning the execution, and looking for additional ways to play it even better while we are playing slowly enough to monitor and think about the little details.

Are you cultivating the right habits, so that when the tempo increases, you are still playing it the right way? Or are there lots of inefficiencies, or bad habits that will lead to breakdowns when you increase the tempo?


2. We don’t practice slowly enough.

Since the whole point is to be able to think, monitor, and analyze our technique as we are playing, practicing at a moderate tempo defeats the purpose. It’s too fast for us to observe, fully process, and tweak all the little details.

The idea is to utilize super slow practice so that we can pay attention to all the subtle nuances of our mechanics, increase our awareness of what is actually happening, and find ways to make things better.

So it might be more accurate to think of this as slow-motion practice or super-slow practice, rather than regular old slow practice, which tends to lead to mindless play-throughs of a passage at a moderately slow tempo.


4) Improving Your Saxophone Technique from "Six Things You Can Do to Improve Your Technique Today by Doron Orenstein

Get As Much Classical Repertoire Under Your Belt as Possible.

Although there are exceptions to just about every rule, the odds of you coming across a great saxophonist who hasn’t spent a considerable amount of time studying classical music are slim to none. Classical repertoire forces you to move your fingers in ways that you would have never come across were you simply sticking to scales, arpeggios, and most jazz vocabulary.

Here is a small sampling of classical material that will truly take your technique to the next level.

  • Universal Method for Saxophone, by Paul Deville

  • 25 Daily Exercises for Saxophone, by H. Klose

  • Concertino da Camera, by Jacques-Francois Ibert

  • Sonata Opus 19 for Eb Alto Saxophone, by Paul Creston

  • Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Piano, Op.109, by Alexander Glazunov

  • 25 Caprices (and an Atonal Sonata) for Solo Saxophone, by Sigfrid Karg-Elert

For a more extensive list of great saxophone books, take a cyber-stroll over here.


5) Practicing for an Audition- "All-State Auditions: Practical Ways to Prepare for Auditions at All Levels" by Dr. Carol Jessup

Always play musically.

  • Use many different dynamics (printed in the music and other).

  • Work to play appropriate musical style.

  • Consider length of articulation (tonguing).

  • Observe legato versus staccato.

  • It is especially important to play with even rhythm and sound.

  • Work to feel subdivision of beat (especially on the slow etude).

  • Produce notes with same quality of sound whether playing  loud/soft or high/low.


Preparation for auditions benefits all areas of playing.

  • Thoughtful preparation produces positive results.

  • Working toward goals enables growth in musical skills and confidence.

  • Positive experiences are fun and rewarding for all.


6) Sight-Reading- "How to Practice Sight-Reading" by David Pope

  • Read the notes in groups.  Find the starting pitch and look for scale steps, skips, and familiar patterns (such as triads, seventh chords, scales in thirds, etc.).

  • Think relative to the key.  Learn to hone in on specific notes that you are likely to see, such as the root, fifth, and seventh (the leading tone).

  • Practice reading small chunks at sight.  Put on the metronome, read a single measure in your mind without playing, then play the measure in time with your eyes closed.  Repeat this process with larger chunks, always with the metronome, always in time.

Once you start to get a handle on grouping notes and seeing pitch patterns quickly, you will be on your way to being a better reader.  But pitches are only part of the problem.  If you can’t execute rhythms accurately, you will quickly lose your place. Stopping and starting is a defining characteristic of poor sight reading!  What to do? Here are some thoughts:

  • Visually break the measure into parts.  Most meters can be broken into halves.  4/4 is two chunks of two beats, so always identify beat three with your eyes – in cut time, this is “big beat two.”  6/8 is two groups of three eighth notes, so look for the fourth eighth note, again like the second big beat.  9/8 has three big beats, and 12/8 has four.

  • Use the big beats as landmarks.  Try to notice if you are playing on the big beats, or if you are resting, or sustaining through with long notes or ties.

  • Tap the subdivisions!  Speak the rhythms while tapping steady subdivisions. I find it helpful to tap with two hands on my lap, always starting with the right hand, and always alternating hands. For example, when subdividing eighth notes, the downbeats will always be in the right hand, upbeats with the left.  In compound time, I tap the big beats with the right hand (think RIGHT, left, left, RIGHT, left, left).


7) Pump Up Your Saxophone Sound- "8 Things You Can do Today to Instantly Pump Up Your Saxophone Sound" by Doron Orenstein

Overtones

For those of you new to the concept, overtones are basically alternate fingerings for notes that generate a louder and more resonant, albeit harsher, sound on the horn (newbies can get themselves up to speed with this article). But once you start moving up through the range of the horn, some of these overtones become quite difficult to play consistently. Truly mastering the overtone series forces you to develop control of the muscles in the mouth and larynx that allow you to enlarge and focus your sound in a MAJOR way.

The trick is to keep working towards matching the size of the sound of the normally-fingered notes to that of the overtone-fingered notes. Of course, that will be like a dog chasing its tail, since the bigger your normally-fingered sound is, the bigger your overtone sound will be, so your normally-fingered notes will never match the volume and resonance of the overtone fingerings. But there’s a ton of growth available in the chase.

You can find some great overtone exercises with sheet music and audio examples here.


8) Practice Space and Gear - "Practice Space -- Physical Space" by Eric Berlin

Equip it with the right equipment

  • Mirror

  • Metronome

  • Tuner

  • Chromatic Drone

  • Amplified speakers or headphones

  • Recorder!!!

With all of this said, making an absolutely perfect practice space in one’s home is difficult. All we can do is the best we can. As for my own space, I laid claim to one quarter of my basement for my dedicated practice space. (Thanks to my wonderful wife!) Finishing the space was not difficult as 3/4 of the basement walls are concrete. The fourth wall still had exposed fiberglass insulation. My first step was to enclose the insulation and make a hard reflecting surface. With plastic sheeting and a staple gun, I laid a vapor barrier to further insulate and protect the new wall I was about to install. To create a better reflecting surface, I used furniture quality plywood sheets which I cut to fit. Regular plywood would have been okay, but for $5/sheet difference, I felt the smoother surface would not only look better, but may reflect better. Once these sheets were attached to the walls, the experience of playing became MUCH easier.


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