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Horn Practice Strategies

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(or, how to demonstrate that you are, in fact, prepared)

  1. Mental preparation and focus on lesson itself-- on time for lesson, at scheduled time, warmed up.
  2. Preparation of materials assigned
    1. Mechanical preparation-- Demonstrate familiarity equivalent to at least a week’s worth of work (i.e., 7 days); Accurate notes; Accurate rhythms; Accurate articulations and other notated details
    2. Musical preparation-- Appropriate tempo; Appropriate phrasing and other musical gestures (e.g. Dynamic contrasts, tempo changes, etc.); Appropriate style (including tone color/quality, awareness of historical, composer, genre, etc. issues); Evidence of outside listening (especially in case of solos, excerpts)
  3. Other
    1. Questions arising from study/effort (vs. those arising from unfamiliarity, lack of effort)
    2. Evidence of problem-solving (e.g., making an etude out of a problematic passage, or using an exercise to build needed range)
    3. Progress and improvement on material previously assigned
    4. Evidence of application of methods or concepts from previous lessons, other work or classes


(or, how to prepare yourself to perform)

  1. Learn piece of music as described for lessons above. Try to include a “performance mentality” in your practice and preparation.
  2. Practice the performance itself
    1. Play straight through (no stops) many times
      1. Get used to recovering from mistakes “on the fly”
      2. Get used to thinking of the whole piece as the performance
      3. Get used to thinking ahead-- try not to dwell on “what just happened”
    2. Be sure to rehearse with accompanist, if applicable, more than once
    3. Try to arrange or find time to get into the place you are performing
      1. Get used to your sound in the hall or room
      2. Get used to the climate of the hall
      3. Visualize the audience, including people’s faces, while playing
      4. Practice walk-through’s of entire performance, including walking on and off stage, performance clothing (esp. shoes), bowing.
      5. Bring friends (good ones) along to listen-- practice getting nervous and playing well anyway.
    4. If possible, arrange several performances in front of different audiences so you do not become dependent on the results of a single performance.
  3. Philosophical/mental attitude toward performances themselves-- I try to treat performances as stops along a long musical path, rather than “life-or-death” struggles or attempts to win, prove something or beat someone. For more information about this subject of competition, please follow this link. While each performance is important, the success or failure you associate with it is dependent NOT on what actually happens, but on your attitude toward and response to the performance itself and the pressure (positive or negative, realistic or not) that you place on yourself. If you treat each performance as a possible learning experience for something more and better, you will always have a successful performance (because there is always something to learn...). Still, we all need to find our own ways to perform successfully.
Practice Strategies
  1. Why practice?
    1. To improve (in general and in specific areas)-- to work on what you CAN’T do yet (!!)
    2. To prepare for a performance-- to work on what you CAN’T do yet (!!)
    3. For fun, to enjoy doing-- playing what you can do well.
  • NB: Thus, two out of three reasons for practicing support working on what you CAN’T do.
  • How to practice I-- Components of Practice Session(s)
  1. Warmup-- stretching mind and muscle-- Why? basic maintenance
  2. Technique-- exercises/etudes, patterns-- Why?
    1. reinforce what you can do
    2. refine
    3. learn new things
    4. increase breadth and experience (reconfigure or reorder the familiar)
  3. Musicality-- real pieces, listening-- Why? growth as a musician
    1. to learn more about yourself, self-expression, your own capabilities
    2. to learn more about your instrument and its capabilities
    3. to learn more about making music in general-- increase breadth and experience
  4. Repertoire-- Why?
    1. to try out and learn new things
    2. to make plans for future
    3. to satisfy natural curiosity
    4. to evaluate your own progress
How to practice -- Tricks of the Trade

(including pithy sayings, etc., in no particular order)

Ultimate goals:
  1. repetition, to train muscles
  2. to make what you practice harder than it already is
  • Practice phrases, not notes
  • Practice run-through’s (no stops, count rests)
    • use a metronome
    • play along with a recording
  • Practice (Recreate) the “real” performance; give yourself only one shot (many times!)
  • Change practice venues
  • Practice slowly (as you can stand)
  • Play backwards
  • Change rhythms (reverse, swing, etc.)
  • Practice “slots” (from Tom Gause)
    • horizontal (notes without rhythm)
    • vertical (rhythms without notes (e.g., all rhythms on a single easy note)
  • Change articulation (don't forget to change it back)
  • Play all stopped
  • Play in a new/different transposition (including octave displacement)

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