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Thoughts on Practicing Away from the Instrument

January 13, 2012

This past week I have been battling a cold, which as I am sure all of us brass players can attest to, is not conducive to great horn playing or quality practicing.  I was still muscling through a couple hours a day without getting much from it… really it was to not feel guilty, something else I am sure a lot of you can relate to.

Not being able to find the productivity I wanted, I began to think about ways to practice and improve away from the instrument.  I am sure many of these will be suggestions you have heard in the past, but it never hurts to be reminded of all the things we should be doing!

1)      Listening – Obvious right? Making music is what we do, so we should be listening to music all the time.  When we take the time to focus and be an active listener, it can help bring inspiration, clarify ideas on phrasing, and strengthen our mental sound concept.  I recently read a paper that said the aural cortex is directly connected to the motor cortex.  What does that mean for us?  The clearer the aural concept, the cleaner the signal sent to your muscles.

2)      Visualization – Your brain doesn’t really know the difference between actually performing a task and just thinking about it.  Scientists took a group of people, the goal being to teach them to shoot free throws.  This group was divided into 3 smaller groups.  Group A was allowed to practice 20 minutes a day for a month, Group B was not allowed to touch a basketball at all, and Group C was instructed to sit down and try to visualize in great detail successfully shooting free throws for 20 minutes every day.  The result?  At the end of the month there was very little difference between the performance of Group A and Group C.  What is more interesting is that after only 2 hours of physical practice, Group C became markedly better than Group A – not having developed any bad habits in form or technique.

3)      Study – We practice, right? Is that the same as study? Consider this; Chess players spend hours and hours reading theoretical books and reviewing opponent’s strategy.  Coaches review hours of game play.  All this being work done away from the chess board or off the field.  There is a wealth of amazing books out there addressing some of the battles we face as musicians.  Score study can also be an invaluable tool in preparing for a performance.  I find books to be inspiring and bring new insight into the practice room.  Sometimes I have been battling a hurdle for months and just reading a chapter will shed new light on the issue and allow me to blow through it.

4)      Review – This is similar to study, but I thought it warranted its own bullet point, reviewing your own work can be so beneficial.  Record a session a day, then make time to sit down and take notes.  What did you like?  What was your most noticeable flaw? Write down 5 ways to address this problem.  Set a goal for your next practice session and how you will tackle it.  Keep a practice journal, review old entries, look for patterns and trends to your playing and improvement.

How do you like to practice away from your instrument?  What has been most effective for you?  Comment below, tweet me at @BrassChatter, or comment on my Facebook and let me know your thoughts!

Happy practicing!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Johanna Yarbrough permalink
    January 13, 2012 8:39 am

    What’s most important for me is the listening aspect. If I can find a recording that really inspires me and makes me excited about what I’m spending all this time and effort doing, it can be more beneficial than practicing. Inspirational recordings make me want to be better and make me excited to practice. Also, the more the concept you hear in the recording becomes the concept you expect to hear from yourself, the faster you will improve.

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