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Notes on Making Music, especially Wind/Percussion Bands

Developing Effective Practice Skills


tuba player

What is it?
How do we do it?
How to approach a tough lick

Thoughts on practicing
Rule of Fives
Rhythm difficulties
Nasty note combinations (nasty rudiment combinations)
"It's too high!" (or too low) (or too fast to stick evenly)
Basketball Analogy

Go to the Practice Practicing sheet (to print)



  • Practice makes permanent, not perfect! If you start out by practicing wrong, you will permanently play that spot wrong!!
  • Good practice is hard work.
  • Practice is NOT always fun (sometimes it is - especially when you can feel the improvement!). (Guess what! Even professional musicians don't always want to practice (too busy, too tired, want to do something else), but our mothers are no longer living with us, so we have to nag ourselves: "You know the only way to get better is to practice, so just go do it!")
  • Practice is working on small sections until you can play them; then add the small sections together to make slightly larger sections, etc.
  • Practice and run-through are different procedures (both useful).
  • Putting the horn to your face and blowing (or grabbing the sticks & banging) is not practice. Think before you play. Think before you play. Think before you play.
  • "Great! I got it!!" Tomorrow you probably will have lost it... But the good news is that it won't take as long to get it back as it took to learn it the first time!
  • It may take many days or weeks to get it right and be able to play it correctly every time!!
  • Practice is more than just notes and rhythms. Go for the details. Get a beautiful tone. Make sure the notes speak clearly. Get the dynamics & accents... DETAILS!
  • If you start making more mistakes or getting really frustrated, take a break. Come back to the spot later in your practice, or even tomorrow.
  • DO NOT PRACTICE UNTIL IT HURTS!!!!!! If a body part hurts, stop. If it continues to hurt every time you play, see a doctor!

THE RULE OF FIVES: Don't quit as soon as you "get it". Do it five more times!! If you really want to make it permanent, make yourself do it correctly five times in a row. (If you mess up, you have to start counting all over again.) Think about it, if you've messed up a spot a whole bunch of times and then you get it right once, what is your body most likely to do the next time? Mess it up, of course! You have to fire the correct synapses many times to create that brain path that leads to the correct playing.



THE TOUGH LICKS: How you approach a tough lick
depends on what is difficult about it!!!

A - Rhythm difficulties

  • Rule number 1-- Never play until you understand the rhythm. (If it is an easy rhythm, it is a good challenge to see if you can play it through right the first time, but then go back and make sure you were correct by doing little chunks & thinking about the rhythm.)
  • Intellectualize about the rhythm. Write in the counting if you need to, or write in where the beats fall.
  • Feel the rhythm in your body. Count through it, or speak through it while tapping your foot or being your own metronome.
  • Work slowly until you understand the rhythm. Be your own metronome. Work with a metronome. Figure out how tapping your foot helps. Gradually speed up.
  • ALWAYS work in small chunks - one or two measures at the most. Sometime you will need to work on 3 or 4 notes at a time!! Don't bite off more than you can chew or you will choke!

B - Nasty note combinations (nasty rudiment combinations)

  • Again, as always, work in small chunks. Here you will need even smaller numbers of notes - sometimes only 2 at a time!!!
  • When you have the small section you are working on learned, add more to it. Add the pickups or the measure before. Take it into the next measure.
  • Be sure to practice the "links". If you practice measure 4, then measure 5, and never practice linking 4 & 5 together, you will stumble every time you cross the measure. Practice measure 4 into the first note of measure 5.
  • Go over to offending notes in many different ways - forwards, backwards, different rhythms, staccato, legato.
  • Start slowly & gradually work faster. If you are thinking, "I can play it best fast", you haven't really got it learned yet! If you can only play it fast, you are missing notes. Play it at all tempos.
  • Do you know your alternate fingerings (standard sticking patterns) that help make the tough spots easier?

C - "It's too high!" (or too low) (or too fast to stick evenly)

  • Be sure you have practiced you basic skills. Brass players, are you working on lip slurs every day?? Those are your push-ups; they strengthen your chops so that you can slur more easily, but also so you can be more flexible on the low notes and have the strength to do the high notes! Woodwinds & brass, are you playing long tones? They strengthen muscles, too! Boring, but important!! Percussionists, are you practicing your long rolls and even single strokes??
  • Do you warm up before every practice? You must warm up the muscles slowly or you will injure something and never have the strength to conquer the extremes.
  • Work up to (down to) the note gradually. Play the notes around it and be sure they are solid and gradually add the next one.
  • Is your embouchure/position correct for this note?? You may need to tighten your lips or open your jaw more or take more mouthpiece in your mouth or angle the instrument differently. Ask your teacher.
  • Practice every day. That is a must for a good tone and a good range. You and your instrument need to work together every day so that the muscles are in good condition. You can not expect to play high/low notes if you don't practice. Percussionists can not expect to play smooth sounding rolls and fast patterns if you don't practice.

D - Dynamics

  • Exaggerate. Play the louds really loud and the softs really soft. Yes, you will miss & splat notes, the tone will be gross, and you may not be able to get the notes to come out, but it's OK - you are strengthening muscles by pushing them beyond what they can do.
  • Practice like you'd practice free-throws in basketball (see below for the Basketball analogy)


Basketball analogy: If you want to get to where you can shoot free throws well, do you always practice at the foul line if you can't get the ball in? No, you'll miss most of the time. Do you find the place from which you can sink it and always practice there? No, you'll never get better. What do you do? You start where you can sink the ball and then back up. Whoops, missed again. Darn, missed. GOT IT! Missed again... And gradually you can get it most of the time. So you back up again. Etc. When in a game, do you go to the place you know you usually miss? No, of course not! Hot shotting never wins a game. You move in to where you know you can sink the ball and score the points. How does this relate to dynamics?? If you always play in the levels where you know you can play well and get the note to speak and have a good tone, you never get better. When you practice, "back up" a bit. Let the note splat because you are playing too loudly, let the sound not come out because you are trying to play too softly. Those are missed baskets. Your muscles will learn how to hit it every time and then you back up a little more! Exaggerate the louds & softs in your practice. When you get to rehearsal or concert time, stay within the range you know you can do well!


Now that you have some ideas on how to practice,
Go to the Practice Practicing sheet (to print)


(SVNHB follow the link to go on to the next eLesson or go back to the last one)