Five ways to improve individual practice

Finding individual practice time is crucial to any musician, thus making the most of your time is important. Here are five ways to improve practice time.

If you are a musician, you know the importance of individual practice time. If you are in school, your ensemble leader or private instructor likely nags you about finding more time in the practice room. It can be hard to find enough time, therefore making the most of the time you have crucial.

The way you practice matters as much as the amount of time. Maybe more. And there is not “one-size fits all” method. Many of us make similar mistakes which impedes progress in our performance. Playing a piece from beginning to end, for example, each and every time does little to correct the issue found in measure 52. Doing the same thing over and over again expecting difference results is said to be the definition of insanity. I don’t know about you, but not making progress in my practice is rather frustration.

As the school year enters its final months, here are five ways to improve your individual practice time.

Better Practice Time

1. Make a plan: Before you begin, create a plan. Layout the music you are working in front of you and figure out what passages need the most work. Write down what the biggest concern is, including why. For example, “the second beat in measure 52 includes four sixteenth notes and crosses the break.” Knowing the what and why will bring focus.

2. Go slow: Just because the tempo says  Allegro does not mean you have to work on it at that speed. Repetitive, slow practice builds technique and memory. Set the metronome between 60 and 72 and play everything slowly. You will soon find where your tempo fluctuates. Slow works cures  all.

3. Create a routine: Having a set routine improves focus. Start your time with some breathing exercises or even meditation. Then, spend time warming up and on technical etudes. Establishing  routine can lead to better practice times.

4. Record yourself: We listen to recordings of others and wish to sound like them. But, when was the last time your listened to yourself? For most of us, the only time you hear yourself play is when you are practicing by yourself. Recording to yourself and listening to that recording provides a medium for assessing your tone, rhythm, pitch, and musicality. Take the time to listen to yourself play.

5. Reflect: At the end of the day, reflect back on your time. Write down your thoughts on what went well and things which could have been better. Think over every part of your practice and compliment yourself on improving. Sometimes, the only compliment will be “good job for practicing today,” because our practicing was rough. No matter what, end your reflection with a positive thought.

Try these items over the next few weeks. The results will not be immediate, but you will find your practice time more enjoyable.

The purpose of college marching bands

It is college football season, and nothing adds to the atmosphere like marching bands. But, bands are more than crowd entertainment. 

Turn on any college football game on a Saturday afternoon and you will hear the sounds of marching bands filling the air. These bands are filled with young students that participate for various reasons. This could be simply because they love the atmosphere, or enjoying performing. Others enjoy the social aspect of the activity.

For spectators, they see the marching band as part of the package, or a spirit organization. Bands are visible during pep rallies, tailgating, or other athletic related events. What is often overlooked are the multiple functions that these organizations fulfill for the university, community, and the student members.

For the University and Community:

Bands performs a crucial role within the college or university as a whole. Sure, they are part of games, leading cheers and providing timely music, but there is a great deal more. These groups of students and leaders are responsible for creating an exciting and enjoyable spirit throughout the school. Bands are the keepers of the fight song and traditional songs, and are asked to maintain their energy and importance.

It is the band that is responsible for turning students into active alumni and community members into supporters and fans. Through performances of traditional music, bands help alumni recall their “glory days.” It is the energy and song selections that kids turn into fans and students into alumni. And, the visibility and performance quality of the band that draws the community to the school.

For the Student Membership:

While the function of the marching band is regarded to many as a spirit organization, the true purpose is to serve the students in the ensemble. This is done in several ways.

First, the marching band gives students the opportunity to interact and work together with other from various academic pursuits, races, cultures, and backgrounds. For many of these students, marching band serves as a social or creative outlet. But, whether it is at band camp or at a football game, the students are working with others that are different and building quality relationships.

Band encourages working on tasks in order to meet a deadline. Sure, this happens in other classes as well. But in marching band (and other music ensembles), students have a limited amount of time in which they can meet with the entire team to learn a show for the next game. Add to this the standards of high achievement and performing in front of thousands and tens of thousands of audience members. No stress, right?

But there are other functions within the ensemble that do not get discusses as greatly. One function is leadership training. Within an ensemble, opportunities for leadership abound. A student could be a section leader responsible for keeping a small group on task and provide musical or visual instruction at each rehearsal. Others could be drum majors. These students often fulfill administrative tasks like attendance or distribution of copies to 100 – 400 people, and lead musically from the front sidelines during performances. Every band has some level of leadership established, and the opportunities are endless.

Lastly, many of the students within the marching band are going to be teachers. Through their experience in the ensemble, students can learn organizational skills and classroom management. Future music teachers are provided laboratory experiences by teaching or creating music and drill for performances.

It is more than just a marching band – it is a community of college students keeping spirit alive and energy flowing while learning to be leaders and creators. Marching band just fits on a t-shirt better.

Four-step Survival Guide for Freshman Music Majors

The summer is almost over. All over the country young adults are preparing for their first true adventure into independence. They will attend college, live in dorms, play inter-murals sports, and pledge Greek organizations. And some of these people will be music majors.

Now, let me be honest, being a music major you will have a difficult schedule. While some people are taking four or five classes, music majors will be taking six to eight. Homework is not normal homework in music. You have music analysis and learning the difference between a dominant seventh chord and a German augmented sixth chord. Ensemble rehearsals. Lessons. It is not always easy. Hard work is involved.

But, when the work is completed, it is the most amazing experience in your life.

So, in order to help you prepare or your first year as a music major, here is some advice.

Plan your schedule before you step on campus.

Time management is crucial to all people, but more so for music majors. Between the hours of rehearsals, managing homework, lessons, and eating, planning a schedule is important. From day one, schedule every minute of every day. Set a time to work on homework daily. Schedule individual practice times, daily. Plan your lunch time, rest/relaxation time, even your naps. If you plan your routine from day one, you are off to a better start than most students.

Music majors must practice.

Private lesson instructors and ensemble directors are not kidding when they say music majors need to practice. And, they are right when they say you should practice two hours daily. Now, this does not have to be two hours consecutive in the day, but it is important. Spend 30 minute on tone exercises and technical etudes. Spend another 30 minutes on scales. All of them. Then, go do something else. Relax for an hour, go eat breakfast or lunch. Get on Facebook. Go to class. Later in the day, come back to the practice room and work on your solo repertoire and ensemble music. And do your scales again.

Note: Ensemble rehearsals do not count as individual practice time.

Set a homework routine.

The great thing about classes in college is that you schedule them. From day one, you know what classes are suppose to meet when. Well, you are suppose to know at least. With this knowledge, here is a tip: do homework daily. One of the most powerful concept that I learned from an influential professor was “constant contact with the subject matter brings true knowledge.” Simply put, music majors must regularly participate in studies of all subjects. For example, if you have College Algebra on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, make sure you schedule time to review materials on Tuesday, Thursday, and on day over the weekend. Schedule this time. You should do something in every class everyday, whether it is attend class or review the material from the day before. Even it is going over your notes again, contact every subject daily.

Remember, take time to relax and refresh.

Building relationships with people and enjoying life will benefit all other parts of your life. Having a community of people to share life with, to discuss problems, or to just to hold you accountable will be a value asset during your college years. In other words, be a young adult. Hang out with your friends, play video games, attend concerts. Yes, take care of your course work and practice time, but also be sure to be a human being. Schedule regular time off to exercise, go enjoy the outdoors, or just take a nap. While it is important to study and fulfill your duties of a music major, your mental and emotional health are just as important.