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Practising Techniques For a Musical Instrument
Playing a musical instrument is great fun, whether it be by yourself, with one other person playing duets or in a group such as an orchestra, rock band, flute choir, chamber group. In order for you to be able to do this you need to be able to play the pieces. So what needs to happen?
PRACTISING. This is the art of focused, repeated, playing. Practising is likened to the training a sports person does to be good. A coach or music teacher explains what the problems are and the real work is done by you at your training or practise sessions. Here are some tips.
1. Play slowly: This enables you to focus on all areas of the piece and get it accurate. When you learn a piece of music you go through a number of steps. Firstly you get the notes accurate. Secondly you get the rhythm correct. Thirdly you add the require musical features such as dynamics, ornaments, appropriate speed and anything else which the piece requires. Take this step one feature at a time. If the piece needs to go at a fast pace then you will need to do lots of repeated playing to build up the speed with ease. Lots of slow, focused practise will aid with this.
2. Repeat difficult sections: This could be two notes, such as an interval change for tone, or two bars to practise a difficult rhythm. Then practise a couple of bars or a phrase either side of the difficult section(s) to flow it through. Extend the number of phrases you practise around the difficult part(s) and eventually play the whole piece through at the speed of the difficult section(s). Sometimes when people practise the difficult section on its own and get it correct and then when you it is put in context with more of the piece, the original mistake reoccurs. This is common. Just keep up the slow, focused practise. Practising difficult sections on their own help make the sections as easy as the simpler parts. Sometimes when there are easy and difficult sections people play them at different speeds and then do not get the understanding of how the piece should flow at one even tempo. This is where you play the piece at the speed of the harder sections.
3. Play extra exercises: If there are problems in any section of the piece then you can do extra exercises away from the piece eg in rhythm or tone exercises. A music teacher can advise some exercises. Rhythm exercises could include clapping and counting out loud, slowly. Then playing several times. A metronome can keep you in time, especially if you play a wind instrument and can’t count out loud when you play. Tone exercises could include playing long notes, listening carefully and changing something you are doing if you are not happy with the sound. If you are playing notes up a scale start with a tone you can play well and move that sound onto the next note. Try and get the same effect.
4. Repeat Often: You need to repeat your practise sessions on different days of the week. It is much better to do a little practise (as low as 5 minutes) and often than one big practise (30 minutes) one day a week or before the lesson. This is like anything in life, if you repeat it often enough then you get to know it. Draw yourself up a practise honesty chart with weeks down left hand side and days of week across the top. Fill it in every time you practise. Try and do at least 5 practise sessions each week.
5. Practise for a similar time each session: The amount of time to practise will vary according to you level. Beginners can start off with 5-10 minutes, Intermediate people (at grade 5 level) should expect to do 30 minutes and Advanced people (grade 8 and above) may practise 2 or 3 hours. Regular training works. Just remember the whole point of learning an instrument is to enjoy it. So always play music you like for fun. Your focused practise sessions will be separate so that you can improve and then play more difficult pieces for fun.
6. Correct Posture: Make sure you practise using a posture suitable for your instrument eg for wind instruments you will need a straight back ie not slouched and relaxed shoulders in order to breathe properly and produce a good tone. You could be sitting or standing. It is a good idea to practise both ways if you can. Just remember if you are aiming to play in a group such as an orchestra or chamber group then you will be sitting down. If you want to be a solo performer you will stand if the instrument allows you too.
7. Use a Mirror: Play pieces, exercises in front of the mirror and have a look to see if there is anything which may need correcting eg posture, holding the instrument.
8. Wear Comfortable Clothing
9. An example of a 30 minute practise session:
~ warm up with simple pieces you like to play
~ 5 minutes tone exercises
~ 5 minutes on current scales and technical exercises
~ 5 minutes or more on current studies, repeating some old ones
~10 minutes on the pieces you are currently learning with your teacher if you have one.
You can take a break in the middle.
You have read the tips on practising. Take note of them, do them and you will reap the rewards. Go forth and enjoy your instrument and the benefits of PRACTISE.
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