Plan of Action - Planning Practice
You may remember a video I made at the beginning of the year about being stuck in a practice rut - here it is if you fancy watching it!
Thank heavens banding was allowed to return this year!
I'm surprised cobwebs hadn't grown in my instrument, it had been left in its case for so long during lockdown!
After a few rehearsals, when the lockdown had started to ease, I was frustrated that I was so far away from where I was before Covid kicked off.
So, something had to change - I had to fall back in love with practising again and start making some progress (that wasn't glacial).
I'll be honest, me and practice have had a love-hate relationship from being a young player, which has meant there are some gaps in my playing - even when I'm on top form.
Practice has never really been a positive experience for me, particularly due to me being such a damn perfectionist and expecting this perfection instantly.
However, one thing that this pandemic has given me is perspective and time to look at the way my mind works.
Bottom line - if I don't enjoy practising, why am I going to do it?
As I've explained in a previous post, this is why I launched InstruMental.
InstruMental is the dedicated practice section on It's Not a Trumpet, which combines mindfullness and practising to ensure practice isn't a negative experience.
Over the last few months, I've put together and used a process for creating practice sessions that have made my rehearsals and personal practice work together to create progress and I'm really happy to say that I have seen positive results!
Since a lot of us have returned to band and are even performing again (which is amazing to see!), I thought I would share in case it's helpful to you!
So, without further ado, let's jump into it!
Tools of the Trade
Now, they may seem common sense at first (maybe they are), but nevertheless, these tools are important to the process.
This may seem obvious, but don't click away, it will make sense how important a pencil is to this process in a sec.
I use a Harry Potter-themed one with the Deathly Hallows logo on, but this isn't strictly necessary, although one that looks nice may make you more likely to use it!
Furthermore, I would choose a notebook that is small enough to pop in your instrument case, bag or music file, - I recommend A5 or smaller or even a pocket sized one.
Basically, one that is easy to carry around.
I use a free phone app called The Metronome by Soundbrenner, which is free from Google Play.
It's got a vast range of time signatures and also breaks them down into different denominations of notes - so if you're like me and sometimes find it a bit tricky to subdivide, this app is a lifesaver.
Why is a metronome, so important?
Well, this is a lesson that has taken me many years to learn - yes, I have been a very lazy player and only used a metronome every now and seldom - shocking I know!
But now I look at building a performance in a totally different way.
Think of building a performance or a particular musical skill like you're building a wall.
Every personal practice session and every rehearsal is a brick.
The progress we make is the mortar that sticks the bricks together and allows our wall to get higher and higher.
The metronome is the spirit level that makes sure our building is accurate and structurally sound.
Since using a metronome more regularly, I can see why its so important.
Phone Camera/Voice Recorder
Recording your performances in your practice sessions gives you a chance to listen back to your playing.
This is really useful, as how we sound to an audience and how we can sound in our heads can, sometimes, be completely different.
It can help you to gain perspective on your playing - very useful for my fellow self-critical people - and it can also help you to fix posture issues and improve stage presence!
Phew, now we've made our way through our tools, let's move on to the actual process!
plan of action
Planning for your practice session starts in the band room.
Grab your pencil - this is where it comes in handy!
Before we go any further, how do you treat your rehearsals?
Do you wait for your conductor to tell you instructions before writing them on your part or do you write your own notes as well?
I've talked about active vs passive rehearsals before and I might write an entire dedicated post on the concept, but I'll give a brief description below.
Not much input other than playing.
Very little note writing, except maybe some direction from the conductor.
Essentially, playing your part and going home.
Proactive approach to rehearsals.
Writing your own notes to aid your playing.
Highlighting specific sections you need to rehearse.
Listening to what is going on around you and how it relates to your part.
The kind of rehearsals I'm going for in this process is active - I try to make a conscious effort to notice parts of my playing or a specific piece that needs targeted work.
Throughout the rehearsal I get out my pencil and mark any sections of music that need practising - I use a little star to distinguish these sections, but feel free to use brackets, circles, whatever stands out to you!
Then at the end of rehearsal or when I get home, I go through the pieces we worked on in rehearsal and find all of my 'star' markings and note down the bars that need practising in my notebook.
Now I have a clear idea of exactly what I need to do in my practice session.
This prevents me from running all pieces from beginning to end unnecessarily and avoids wasting practice time and instead makes practice targeted to specific sections that need work.
It also means I'm not stood at my practice stand wondering where to start and what to work on.
Now we've covered planning - let's move on to the session itself!
The Practice Session
I've never really used a practice diary - this was a major mistake - they are so helpful!
I use my practice journal sheets, which you can download for FREE here.
Not only does this help me to outline exactly what I want to work on and in what order, it is helping me to be more mindful with my practice to prevent being too hard on myself and to ensure I'm enjoying practising.
I then take my notebook, look at all of the bars that need work and add these into the 'practice material' section of my practice journal sheet.
I then add in any exercises that I want to work on, such as breathing exercises, lip slurs, technical drills, etc.
Then I get to work.
At the end of the session, I make a note of everything that went well in the 'best part of the session' section and anything that still needs more work in the 'goals' section.
Putting IT All Together
Now, this last bit is key to my practice routine.
Once I've practiced a section to the point where I'm happy with it, I do NOT remove the marking from the piece of music.
I go back to rehearsal and, only if I get that highlighted section right with the rest of the band do I erase it from my music.
At the end of the day, if I can play my part alone, but not with the band, that means it isn't sorted, so it goes back on the list to practise in my next session.
If the highlighted section is correct with the rest of the band, then and only then, is it secure enough for me to remove the marking.
So there you have it, that is how I currently plan my practice sessions.
I hope this has been helpful!
I'm not saying this is the best or only way to practice - everybody is different!
But this process has really helped me and I hope it helps someone else!
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