For those of us learning and working from since March, endurance practice has taken on a whole new meaning! There is a whole different sense of endurance when it comes to practicing by yourself at home. There are many distractions, it's harder in someways to motivate yourself, and the unpredictability of performing with another human does not challenge your ear and muscles in the same way. Because of this, we may need to rethink our at home practice goals and routines if our main, or only, performance opportunities are at home right now. If this is resonating with you, these tips from Denis Wick Artists Andy Baker, Tim Coffman, and Christpher Bill are just for you!
Stamina, Goals, Deadlines / Andy Baker
Not playing live more than a few times since March has been a massive shock to the system! Two things I’ve had in the front of my mind - stamina and goals/deadlines.
The first couple of times I performed, I was surprised to find that my stamina was waaaay down. My usual practice routine worked great, but had always included multiple performances each week. So, I’ve been focusing on reproducing those conditions in my practice room - playing full pieces back-to-back over 30 or 40 minutes at the end of the day.
Without concerts to work towards, motivation can definitely become an issue. Set yourself long and short-term goals. Short-term could be arranging to play a Rochut once a week for your family or roommate. Long term goals may be memorizing a concerto, playing a transcription in different keys (again with a “performance” deadline), or applying for a competition or audition that’s happening 3-6 months down the line - even if you don’t think you have a chance, the target is the most important, and you never know what could happen!
Add Some Variation / Tim Coffman
I still practice the same material I’ve always practiced. Long tones, lip slurs, scales and arpeggios and certain etude books I like. I have dug out some old etude books, classical and jazz that I had not played in a while and it’s been enjoyable to play some different things.
One thing about online lessons that I found to be effective is to have the students record themselves, so I’ve been doing that as well. It’s truth serum. You immediately hear what’s working and what’s not working. For my lessons, I would have students send me several short recordings of themselves playing. A Rochut etude, a Tyrell etude, an Urbie Green exercise, a difficult bebop head, improvising with a play along track or improvising by themselves, a transcription, etc. The idea being that the students get comfortable with recording themselves and remembering to regularly do it. We all tell students to record themselves and it’s easy to not follow up and forget about it. I’ve been doing the same thing. It’s very humbling…..
Also, I upgraded to Finale V 25, actually now 26.3 I believe and I’ve been working on that. I’d like to make a small group jazz recording sooner than later and I don’t want to have to hire someone to write out the charts.
I’ve been listening to music now more than I ever did while working my regular schedule. I have over 1,000 CDs and a few hundred LPs and of course, a streaming service. There’s no shortage of music to listen to.
Also, I’ve been playing a little more piano than usual. Playing through tunes. A fun exercise is to hold down chords on the piano with the sustain pedal and play my trombone while holding the chord.
I’m also playing along with Aebersolds and other things like that and playing along with big band recordings. I have a stack of big band lead trombone charts and I’ll play with the Basie Band, John Fedchock’s Big Band and many others. It’s not the same as playing with a big band but it’s better than nothing. I even pulled out some other Music Minus One type of books and played those. The Canadian Brass ones are fun. Crank up the volume and try to mimic playing a gig.
Other jazz etude books I use have play along tracks and that’s beneficial as well.
Finally, I’ve transcribed a few jazz solos. I assign that kind of thing all the time and it had been a long time since I had done it.
Create Your Context / Christopher Bill
For me, practicing at home is all about goal setting. Often that simply means giving myself a deadline to create something and share it with the world. I find both sides of that equation equally important. You can't just make something, and you can't just share your progress (although both are still valuable!) When I get in the mindset of knowing I have a certain amount of time to prepare for something, just like I would a concert or any other performance, it puts me in the right head space to practice efficiently and effectively. So setting pseudo-performance deadlines and sticking to them is super important! Another thing that has been super positive for me has been focusing less on etudes and technique books, and more on music. That's not to say I'm not focusing on technique! It's just saying I do it in the context of music. When we're playing with other folks all the time I think it's less important because we're hearing all sorts of phrasing and musical ideas constantly, so when we get in the practice room it's time to really focus in on the few skills that are giving us the most trouble. Now, half of our job is to just enjoy playing. If you're having fun making music, you'll do it for a longer amount of time, you'll be happier, and you'll learn more. Next, and I know this is a common answer among my friends and colleagues, don't put the instrument in the case! Put your instrument in a spot you have to walk by and I guarantee you'll end up playing multiple times a day. Finally, if you've taken a day off... or ten days off... the worst thing you can do is feel bad about it. You're allowed to take days off or not feel like playing, but the more you feel bad about it the harder it will be to actually get back at it and pick it up again. If you let go and allow yourself that choice, in my experience I've always wanted to play!!