by Henry Henniger
All wind instruments, especially low brass, require great breath support. Practice your breathing before, and throughout your practice sessions. Strive to reach a feeling of ease as you inhale and exhale fully. Breathing devices can be useful (breathing bag, tubes, etc.) but I recommend using a pinwheel for easy flowing, relaxed air. Even a single sheet of paper can be useful as a visualization of your air.
Tuner & Metronome
Professional musicians rely heavily on practicing with tuners and metronomes. I find many students own them and/or have multiple apps (TE Tuner) on their phone but few use them. Make them part of your regular practice. Check in with them everyday and you will start to recognize tendencies in your playing. Realize that bad rhythm and/or intonation is the “silent killer” in many auditions.
Time vs. Concentration
We have all had those moments were we are proud of the amount of time we’ve practiced. You feel you have accomplished a great deal. The truth is, it’s not about the time but about your productivity. Many can practice long hours but how productive was the practice? Start developing smart practice habits. Time spent is not the goal, the final product is! Before you even pick up your instrument ask yourself what it is you will be trying to accomplish for that practice session. Don’t zone out practice– think about what you need to do to make progress.
This is the most important trait to have as a successful musician. Regardless of your occupation the idea of setting a goal naturally leads the mind to find a way to reach it. It ranges from setting small personal goals in your own playing to bigger long term goals of winning a job, performing a solo, running a race, good grades, etc. You should have goals in every practice session. They can range from learning the notes/rhythms; better sound, more clarity in articulation, greater range, musicality, etc. You should be thinking about goals for today, tomorrow, a month from now, a year from now, 5 years from now.
Make it a habit to record yourself every week. Get to know how you sound in front of the bell. Don’t think that you need to wait to record until the perfect moment or when your work is ready. Recording should be an immediate feed back system for your practice. You can record a solo, orchestral excerpts, scales, etudes, slurs, and anything you are working on. Recording yourself is the fastest way to improve. We are our hardest critics. Use your recording to help you prepare for a performance or to analyze your playing during a practice session. You can buy high quality microphones and recording devices but I find my phone works really well for the majority of what I need to hear. And it’s usually with me all the time making recording on the whim very convenient.
Play for Others
Play for your teachers, peers, and anyone that will listen. We usually practice in rooms by ourselves all day long but we must remember why we are practicing – to perform! We must practice the performance. Create times to play for others that will be an informal mock audition or run-through of your material. Start to understand how your body responds to pressure and nerves. You will learn a great deal about how prepared you are and if you can play your best on your first attempt. Realize that music is created in the moment. There is no second or third chance.
Take the Initiative
Don’t wait for someone (aka your teacher) to say its ok to start working on an etude or solo. Your ability to improve is on your shoulders. Be curious and start exploring new recordings and/or solo works. Have fun seeing/ hearing the possibilities of your instrument. YouTube contains a vast source of material from which to draw from and a great place to get started. Also seek out sheet music stores such as Hickeys Music Center to purchase your etude books and explore other etudes you might not know about. Let your curiosity lead your drive and further your initiative. If you’re a student, ask yourself if you are waiting for your teacher to assign you everything or are you also giving yourself permission to tackle other material.
You are the product. You are a product of your teaching, of your practicing, and most importantly, of what you repeatedly do. Understand that you will be trying to sell your product, as any sales person would do. At times you may find that your product needs an overhaul. Have time to self reflect on your playing ability and what is necessary to improve your overall product as a musician.