How much should I practice?
The answer to this question depends mostly on how quickly you want to improve– the more you practice, the faster you’ll learn! However, you should take a break any time something hurts or you can’t make a good sound on your instrument anymore. If something starts to hurt after only a few minutes, you might be doing something wrong, so let me know about this at your next lesson.
At the very minimum, try to practice a little every day rather than a lot on just a couple of days each week. Ideally, practice at least 30 minutes each day. But on days that you can’t do 30 minutes, practicing even 10 minutes will help maintain muscle strength (and develop embouchure for brass students). If you only have a few minutes to practice, just do a solid warm-up.
How do I warm up (for brass students)?
Your warm-up should include the following items every time you practice:
Buzz (2+ minutes)
- First, buzz without your mouthpiece. Ideally, do this in front of a mirror so that you can check your embouchure. Try to buzz sirens (slide up and down) or at least several different pitches throughout your range.
- With your mouthpiece, buzz sirens throughout your whole range. Try to slide smoothly and fairly slowly, noting any spots where there are “gaps” in your range. Go back and work on those spots.
- Buzz a scale.
- Buzz a familiar song or part of a solo you’re working on learning.
- While you’re buzzing pay special attention to these things:
- don’t push your mouthpiece too hard to your lips– only enough pressure to make a sound
- check your embouchure to make sure it looks and feels right (using a mirror is really helpful!)
- make sure your mouthpiece is in the right place on your lips (again, use a mirror!)
Long tones (3-5+ minutes)
- Using lots of air, play and hold each note for as long as you can (use the last bit of your air!) with good tone.
- Focus on holding a consistent embouchure and using consistent air speed the whole time.
- Play a variety of notes in different ranges. Depending on how much time you have, you could do a scale, or all the notes in your range.
Lip Slurs (3-5+ minutes)
- Slur (don’t tongue each note) a series of notes without changing fingerings.
- Choose a pattern of open notes (like C – G – C), then repeat the pattern on the following fingerings (going down by half-steps): open – 2 – 1 – 12 – 23 – 13 – 123.
- Do some patterns that use open notes (partials) right next to each other (like C -E – G for horn or C – G – C for trumpet) as well as patterns that skip partials (e.g. C – G – C for horn or low C – G – high C – low C for trumpet).
- See the “French Horn Lip Slurs” document on the Materials page for more specific exercises.
Scales (3-5+ minutes)
- This will vary a lot depending on your skill level, so do whatever type of exercises we’ve discussed in your lessons.
- For all levels, don’t forget to vary the articulation patterns (tonguing) of your scales (ask me if you don’t know what this means) and to practice scales in 3rds or other interval patterns.
Play by ear
- Figure out how to play a familiar song without sheet music to look at.
- Once you’ve figured out how to play a certain song, try playing the same song in a different key (starting on a different note).
How do I learn to play fast passages?
- Select just a few measures to work on at a time (probably 8-16 at the most).
- Identify a tempo at which you can play the whole passage comfortably and accurately (use your metronome!).
- Play the passage 2-3 times at that tempo.
- Increase the tempo on your metronome by 5 (e.g. from 85 to 90). Play the passage 2-3 times at that tempo.
- Repeat step 4 until you get to a tempo where you can’t play it accurately, even after repeating it 2 or 3 times (doing it more than a few times probably won’t help you get better at it right now).
- Now, slow down just a little to a tempo where you can play it accurately. Play this passage in context– start a few measures before the passage you’ve been practicing, and keep playing a few measures after.
- Practice this same thing again tomorrow. You’ll probably want to start at a tempo a little slower than where you ended today, but you’ll be amazed at how the tempo that felt really hard yesterday feels much easier today!