Pedagogy: Dr. TubaEuph by Joe Dollard
Dear Dr. TubaEuph:
I am really trying to practice every day, but sometimes I sit down to practice and don’t know how to start. Can you help?
Practicing is a difficult but necessary part of any musician’s success, and you are right that sometimes the hardest part is knowing where to start. I decided to ask one of our greatest performers and teachers, Dr. Brian Bowman, to weigh in on this question and he was happy to help out. I think we can all learn from his excellent advice regarding this most basic of musical behaviors.
Best of luck and keep those questions coming!
One of the best ways to avoid troubles in practicing is to have a beginning routine, an assignment of materials by a teacher or yourself, that gives you a goal or list of goals to achieve. I (strongly) encourage my students to begin every day with a warm-up session of fundamental skills to include sustained tones, controlled lip flexibilities, tonguing, and range exercises. I believe that a regular system of working on the fundamentals of playing for 15 or 20 minutes minimum will set you up for a good solid practice session.
Next: Practicing should be mostly on things that you have not mastered, not just rehearsing solos, etudes, or band pieces that you already know well. Take your assignments one at a time and evaluate what needs to be improved in each. I am a firm believer in practicing with five things in mind for everything you prepare: 1. Tone quality, 2. Rhythm/tempo 3. Intonation, 4. Technique, 5. Musicality/ style.
In order to accomplish these five goals, take the first piece of music you are preparing and study it for a minute before you begin playing it. Note where there may be problems in any area and perhaps mark them lightly with a pencil. The secret to playing well comes with practicing well, or perfectly! Practicing perfectly means to practice starting at a very slow tempo so that you don’t make any mistakes, listening for perfection in all five of the areas above. Many people play the piece much too fast to start with and keep playing at the fast tempo trying to eliminate the mistakes. If, after 20 times through, it is possible that you play it without mistakes, there are still 19 times that you have played it with mistakes! The chances of performing this in a lesson or in public are therefore 19:1 that you will make a mistake. However, if you play it slowly enough the first time to play it without mistakes and then gradually increase the speed each time, at the end of 20 times achieving the desired performance tempo, you have never played a mistake, increasing your chances of a more perfect performance.
Practice difficult fingering passages by singing them and moving the fingers on the valves very firmly, starting slowly and gradually increasing the speed. This way you don’t waste your chops in developing your fingering skills. In difficult tonguing passages, practice the tonguing pattern on a single note, then apply it to the moving passage. Practice tongued passages all slurred to feel a constant air flow and then imitate that while tonguing same. Visa versa will sometimes help difficult slurred passages if you tongue them and then slur them especially in complex or difficult rhythms.
Usually the biggest problem with practicing is getting started. Once you get started it is a lot more fun and you can accomplish the goals that you have. Set up a schedule of practicing and keep to it. Make a weekly chart listing everything that you want and need to practice with a column for each day. When you work on one item check it off for that day. This way you can see what items you have possibly neglected and catch them up in your next practice session. Usually it is best to have more than one session if you have a lot of material to prepare. Two or three 45 minute sessions are usually more productive than a marathon two-plus hour session.
Remember the three secrets of success: PRACTICE! PRACTICE!! PRACTICE!!!
Dr. Brian Bowman
Regents Professor of Euphonium
University of North Texas