By Zach Marley
For practically all musicians from students to professionals, we go through periods of time that involve less performing for a multitude of reasons. In my general practice I hope to be progressing in every aspect of my playing, but with fewer performances, I have to change my practice sessions so that I maintain my endurance and range. These two elements require special focus or they will often get worse in periods of little to no performing.
Without specific attention, endurance is at risk when you have weeks or even months in between performances. For me, I found that much of endurance comes from playing my instruments for few hours each day, through practice and/or performance. When I am not performing, it is important that I am practicing more to maintain my level of endurance that I may need for some performances. When I have a performance, I always spend some portion of the day practicing prior to the gig but there has to be a balance between practicing to get better and making sure I can do my job later in the day. On performance days, I often try to keep my practice sessions on the shorter side, often several twenty-minute practice sessions. On a non-performance day, I will often try to practice for longer sessions, closer to forty minutes at a time. For me, this simulates more of a traditional performance structure where you may play multiple sets or have an intermission at a performance. I rarely try to practice longer than forty minutes at a time which helps me keep my practice sessions focused and allows my mind and body to have adequate rest in between.
If you stay ready, you never have to get ready.
Range is another key element of my practice sessions both when I have performances and when I have days off. Without consistent work on range, you run the risk of having a less reliable high or low range, or possibly worse and you may struggle to play in those ranges at all. I believe in the idea, “if you stay ready, you never have to get ready.” This approach to range means that I want to be ready to play any note that is in the practical range of any instrument that I play. Many people only think about the high range in this regard but it is important to consider the full range of the instrument. I have a few range exercises that I play everyday and in the absence of performances, I am more likely to play those exercises more than once throughout the day. In my own practice and through teaching students of all skill levels, I have found that range development requires time. I spent many years throughout my education working making sure that my range was taken care of and I would not want to progress backwards if at all possible.
To me, these are the two most obvious concerns when performing less often but the other elements of practicing are important as well. When I zoom out to evaluate a week’s work of practice, my desire is that every facet of my playing has gotten better with nothing neglected.
I hope this was helpful or thought-provoking and might encourage you to approach your practice session differently. Happy Practicing!