The purpose of this page is to give students a starting guide for structuring their practice. This list is a result of gathering tips from many different sources and we believe it to encompass most of the philosophy behind successful practice. We believe that the skill of practice is also useful outside of band, that it is a life skill. If students are able to understand the power of practice and hard work now, in high school, they will be much more productive in their college studies, jobs, and lives. We encourage students to implement one tip at a time, starting with set a daily practice time and practice every day.
The entire practice philosophy hinges on students who take individual responsibility to improve themselves. No amount of coaching or bribery will make a difference if students are not willing to make change. They must take on the responsibility for their own success.
Vision is the energy behind every effort and the force that pushes through all difficulties. Establishing a vision will help motivate you even when it is difficult to practice. Make your vision something that you can dream about. Some examples include: success of the band, success for yourself, mastery of music.
Handle your equipment properly.
Handling your instrument properly includes knowing how to take care of it. This includes cleaning it after every use, avoiding eating sweet foods before playing, keeping it in proper maintenance, and playing it in the proper position. Proper position entails press box horn angles, back away from the chair, feet flat on the floor and playing “in tune”.
The more you give, the more you get.
The more you give, the more you get is true of life as a whole. If you put a lot of effort into your practice routine, you will reap an equivalent reward.
Do research before playing a note.
Studying the music before you play will allow you to find parts that will be troublesome without being distracted by playing and set the piece in context historically. You will be able to appreciate a piece more if you know the story behind its composer, the message it was meant to convey, and the reason that it was written. Search Wikipedia for an article about the piece or composer to learn about the style of music. Certain composers and time periods are meant to be played in different styles than others. Use a pencil to write in what you find, you might be surprised how much you learn without ever playing a note.
Use the tools you have available.
Using your available tools creates much more efficient and effective practice. Use a pencil to mark in any mistakes made and write out any difficult rhythms. Use a metronome to play consistent tempos. Check out the Metronome and Tuner page and the resources described there. Use a tuner to adjust your instruments tuning as you play. Know which notes are flat and which are sharp on your instrument.
Have a well-define warm up routine.
Having a well-defined warm up routine will help you develop habit, and ensure you are ready to play. Warm up using long tones for air support, tonguing for articulation, and scales for general music knowledge.
Practice outside of your normal comfort zone.
If we never fail, we never learn. Practicing outside of our normal comfort zones allows us to grow as musicians. Practice higher/lower notes, longer holds, faster tonguing, or more vibrant dynamics. Practice your sight reading skills.
Set a daily practice time and practice every day.
Setting a daily practice time will help develop habit and ensure that practice takes place. The only way to get better as a musician is to practice. The Nike slogan spells it out perfectly: “Just Do It”. It becomes very difficult to pick up practicing again if you skip a day. Find a time, and stick to it every day.
Use alternate methods other than playing.
Using alternative methods helps us to understand the music on a deeper level. Try singing your part, clapping it with your hands, playing it on a different instrument, playing in front of a mirror, listening to a recording and/or click track, or buzzing.
Let muscle memory work for you.
Letting muscle memory work for you is the correct way to practice. This point ties directly into quality not quantity. Practice only the first note to begin, and master that note i.e. develop the muscle memory for that note. Next play the first two notes, and master them together, again your muscles will remember these two notes in this combination. Continue to add on notes until an entire phrase has been stored in muscle memory. Now move to the next phrase and repeat. Last add the two phrases together until they are mastered together. Work through the entire piece phrase by phrase. Never play through a piece of music continually because your muscle memory is never developed.
Practice as you would perform.
Practicing as you would perform ensures that you will perform as you have always practiced, during the performance. Bad practice habits will transfer into a bad performance. Set up a regular practice space that is right for you, where you can focus on practicing. Practice rehearsal skills such as where you set your instrument while not playing, watching the conductor(s), wearing your uniform, and press box horn angles. Many auditions require scales, sight reading, and a prepared etude; practice each of these every day to be prepared.
Quality over quantity.
The quality of practice is much more important than the quantity. See “let muscle memory work for you” on how to practice. It is better to practice five measures of music for 15 minutes every day than to run through notes for an hour every third day. While the level of improvement still hinges on the quantity of practice, ensure that it is above all else, quality.
Taking breaks allow you to maintain focus and thus the quality of your practice time. The average human being can easily maintain sharp focus for approximately 45 minutes, after that time it is better to take a short break to refresh the mind. If you find that your mind is wandering, your mouth is tired, or that you are making mistakes, take a break and come back later.
Evaluate your playing and make a plan accordingly.
Evaluating your playing allows you to measure how much you have improved. Look in a mirror at how you hold your mouth, record your playing, participate in competitions that you earn a score in, and have someone qualified critique you as you play. You should shape your plan for each practice based on feedback you receive from evaluating your previous practices.
Master the challenging parts first.
Mastering the challenging parts first allows you to play more of the music without stumbling. Let muscle memory work for you in this case. Once you have mastered a challenging part, revisit it often so that come performance time it will be as sharp as the day you learned it.
Learn from people who are better than you.
Find and buy/download CD’s, and attend concerts of artists and groups who inspire you to play and perform better. Check out the Finding Recordings page and the resources there. People who have chosen musical performance as their career have a passion for it, see if you can discover some of that passion in your own playing by listening to them.
Take lessons from a professional on your instrument. Private lessons can be one of the best ways to improve as a musician. The Private Lessons page of our site has a list of recommended private lesson teachers for each instrument.
Take advantage of extra opportunities to play your instrument where you can learn from guest conductors and professional musicians. Participate in IMEA, Solo and Ensemble, an Honor Band, a music Summer Camp, or one of the many local Opportunities.
Talk to your section leader or other student who is ahead of you in their playing and learn from them Section leaders, take aside your friends and teach them, improve together!
Find someone who has been successful at practicing everyday and have them teach and encourage you as you learn the discipline of practice.
"Winners practice until they get it right; champions practice until they cannot get it wrong." - Anonymous