Maintaining Effective, Consistent Practice: Practice is a Life Skill, not Just for Music.

Updated: Jul 9, 2018

First, vacations are good! I always tell my students this. During vacation and recreation, which is a form of practice, the brain prunes itself, letting go of what it does not need, because the behavior is no longer used. To survive, we need to know behaviors that help us do so. When we return to work or change to an activity non-recreative in nature, we do so with more substantial networks formed retained, and for a while at least, extraneous confusing behavior and thoughts are let go of. Ideally, we would never engage then in the old bad habit again.

We learn. To do so requires us to take risks, try things out, until finally there is for us a sense of, “Ah, ha. I understand.” Often with, “Oh, it is so simple!” On a large scale this behavior is called enlightenment, on a small more normal scale this is called learning, understanding, comprehension. In the course of learning, risk taking, we try things out and add to the confusion as well as preparation. So, vacations prune the unnecessary confusion. We add to all things upon our return.

The process of neurons firings then wiring networks forms the very basis of learning. In effect, one neuron says, “Hey, I’m doing the same thing with subtle differences and seems to me you need that.” So, they fire, wire and connect by chemical reactions forming a bond with the initial wire (neuron) who was “attracted”. This is then used by the brain to establish some routines, burgeoning networks. Firing like activities to form neuronal networks ultimately becomes stronger and more naturally a part of our behavior. The larger the network, the more we understand and behave in this new network’s way. We even develop confidence, self-assurance, but more important we develop routines we know will cause further learning, growth and development on any instrument.

Though, remember this business of enlightenment is by all means not complete. We cannot find all that is necessary for the development of a great sound and expect our music difficulties are over. There is always a new development on the horizon, which is our next challenge. This happens due to our limited ability to perceive. Our perceptions give us a picture that is not totally real or complete. A golden eagle can take a man’s hand off, moving so fast the man does not have time to notice until after the deed is done. However, there are men who befriend the golden eagle, for their abilities to see. Dogs smell way beyond our ability to do so, and so we developed a friendship based upon mutual needs. It takes work to develop such bonds. All of these point to a common reality: in order to improve our abilities, we practice. We practice to build neuron networks, and to improve our sociability, hence improve our skills and safety.

When I teach I hear what the student does, remember what it felt like to play that way, and that informs my corrections and helpfulness. Practice taught me that skill. Our developed skills are embedded in our memory. Thus, knowing how to play a musical instrument later on improves one’s chances of understanding an even newer challenge. We practice. This is why musicians are often viewed by prospective employers as a better candidates. Why colleges view music students better prospects. Why most perceive those with a musical background as prepared to do learn how to do a job.

So, with all that in mind, what constitutes good, helpful practice?

Well, pruning goes on every night. So, if we drop a day or two practicing, we sacrifice or compromise growing neuronal networks. Such is a set back, an added confusion needing correction. So, the next time you practice, you focus on corrections and replacing instead of building new and improved skills. Note all this behavior is reality, we have no choice but to work with our bodies.

Consistent daily practice may seem unnecessary, particularly when we fool ourselves by justifications over life priorities and ignorance, or denial. However, look back upon the biology we have; do we have a choice if we wish to make music? The pruning process occurs with our cooperation or without it. The skills we need developed are really our goal, so we may return when needed to practice, learning and performance. These are life skills, discussed in greater detail below and a requirement for doing good work.

Next to consider: the content of our practice time. There are several elements proven to help get the most out of practice.

Now we have reason TO practice. WHAT shall be practiced.

One thing is for sure. Whatever you do, do it in as daily a routine as you possibly can. Remember, sleep gives the brain opportunity to prune. While that is ultimately good, the brain prunes whatever seems unneeded. So, if you practice sporadically, your brain will decide what you have practiced as not essential and necessary, then pruning much of what practice you did.

So this does not happen to your detriment, practice a routine. A flexibly daily routine that includes technical exercise, improvisation and literature. Improvisation develops mastery over the instrument, a skill of ability to shift and change according to the immediate needs. So, do not worry what genre you use, if any, focus on making music and meeting challenges to good soundings.

Technical exercise include whatever your particular instrument demands so your sensations making music derive from understanding of the instrument. Control, mastery, a state of oneness, these describe your goals with technique. For a brass player, these goals might include, Long Tones, to stabilize tone production, breath control and make a consistent response through the instrument. Tonguing, to control a good beginning to each note, no matte the rhythm. Harmonic practice, to master the overtone series on the instrument, necessary towards understand the scope of the instrument. Slurs are a must for flexibility, so as with tonguing you know how to produce a long stable good quietly musical line, as well as rapid, rhythmic and loud movement. You will develop breath control this way. All kinds of Scales and patterns using all kinds of scales, to know the materials you encounter when making music. Arpeggios to know and understand harmonies, so while sight-reading no longer does any piece throw you.

Long tones





Sight Reading

Other instruments pose different problems and lists for each can be made as an aid.

Then, practice solo literature to hone your abilities to produce the most beautiful sound/music you can possibly make. Study pitch, rhythm, articulations, phrasing, form, range, harmonies, melodies, the role of other instruments if any, dynamics, articulations, markings, making sure you maintain progressive studies, that is: literature that will improve your playing, by challenges within reach.

Doing this daily the time flies by and without knowing it you improve again and again. Each time you skip a day, you leave yourself open to mistakes, most often the form of the lack of awareness and body tone such behavior encourages. You loose track of the music and, as Bernstein would describe: the melody within. The underlying movement of pitch, rhythm and expression suffer without a message to ourselves that what you do is important, valuable, worthwhile: and it makes you happy. Recall that while making music, allow the passage of time to disappear in your perceptions, and enjoy.

Then the words used on these blog posts often come to life: discipline, determination, perseverance, determination: excellence.

Now, go and make music.


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