How to Develop a Practice Routine

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We’ve all heard the saying “practice makes perfect.”  In music this is not true at all, and can in fact make you worse.  A better saying is “perfect practice makes perfect.”  This article will answer the who, why, what, where, when, and how questions when it comes to practicing music.

Who should develop a practice routine?
Anyone who wants to get good at something should practice so he/she can get better at that particular skill.   Also anyone who is part of a team–in this case a band, orchestra or choir member.  The reason for this is because if you are on a team you are responsible for knowing what you are doing.  It’s not only about you, it is about your team.   You should always show up prepared and know what you are supposed to do and how to do it well.

Why should I develop a practice routine?
As stated above, you should want to be great at whatever you are doing.  All people have skills, but some people are outstanding at what they do.  You can only get that way if you practice consistently and practice the right way.  The better you get the more fun you can have.

What should I practice?
Posture, sound, and breathing
Practice what you are going to be doing when you hit the stage.  That means practice great posture.  Posture is what helps you get a great sound.  Sound is the most important thing that people identify you as.  Sound should always be the most important thing you focus on.  Long tones (holding out sounds for a long time so you can focus on the basics of your tone) are the best way to develop your tone (sound).  This can be done by playing a certain pattern of whole notes or longer–preferably at least eight beats, with a great breath of fresh and consistent air.  You can naturally get the best air in your body by simply yawning.  Breathe as if you are yawning.  Ask your teacher what set of long tones they would like you to play.

Scales
Scales are the best way to learn notes, increase your range (higher and lower), and learn how to stay within the boundaries of the various key signatures of music you will be playing.  Scales are also an excellent way of increasing your technique and working on your various articulations.

Solos

Solos are the most important thing you can work on to increase all of your musicianship.  A solo will demand that you play with great phrasing, dynamics, technique and style.  Always have at least two different types of solos to work on – a lyrical one and a technical one.  If someone asks you to perform for them, you will always have something ready.  If you keep increasing your library of solos then you will always have music to work on and perform.

Where should I practice?
Find a place in your house that has good lighting, no distractions, and that will least disturb your family.  If you have one certain place, then you can associate it as a place you will use to improve your skills.

When should I practice?
Be sensitive to your family and come up with a consistent time that works for you and your family.  If you don’t develop a practice routine (same time, same place and same way of practicing) then you won’t really make the improvement you would have if you did have a routine.  Routines are great as they are actually habits.  So set yourself up with a good set of habits.  It’s like working out–if you have a consistent routine of staying in shape and getting stronger, then you will get in shape and get stronger.  But if you don’t have a routine, you will most likely just hit or miss working out and therefore not get in shape or get stronger.  Our bodies need consistency and routines help us with that.

How should I practice?
You are going to do the same things on stage the same exact way you do when you are practicing!  The first thing you must know is that you get good at whatever you practice, so be careful that you are practicing correctly; otherwise, you will get great at being bad.  What I mean is that if you practice by slouching over while sitting on your bed and the music is on the floor, then you will bring that posture right to the stage.  If you are not paying attention to the key signature and you are playing the wrong notes, you are getting good at playing something the composer never intended.  Then when you go to play along with the others in the band, you are going to be wrong and won’t fit in with them.  If you practice music are not actually reading the rhythms correctly, you are getting really good at playing the wrong rhythmic patterns.  If you practice with poor tone, you are getting great at sounding bad. If you practice wrong articulations (where you are supposed to tongue and slur etc.) you are practicing not speaking correctly musically.  So be very careful how you practice. (See the article How to Practice Music by Setting Goals for more on how to practice).

Be sure to practice the music correctly–correct sound, notes, rhythms, articulations, dynamics and phrasing.  Practice difficult music from slow to faster.  Take your time and build your way up to the correct tempo.  Always be sure that your sound is great first and be sure you are playing the correct components that the composer intended.

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Jim Matthews

About Jim Matthews

Jim Matthews is a veteran band director of 30 years at Jackson Middle School in Titusville, FL. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree from Florida State University. His bands continuously received superior ratings at band festivals. The bands have received the Florida Bandmaster’s Association Five, Ten, Fifteen, Twenty and Twenty-five Year Superior Awards for continuous Superior ratings. He is presently the Brevard County Music Instructional Coach for all secondary band directors. Jim co-founded the FLBandWorkshop for band directors held each summer in Titusville. It is a hands-on, in-depth workshop. For more information see FLBandWorkshop on FaceBook. He is a member of Florida Bandmaster’s Association, Music Educator’s National Conference and Phi Beta Mu – an International Honorary Band Director’s Fraternity. He is also a National Board Certified Teacher in music. For more information, see the About section.
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