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Practice Like a Pro

When looking to improve our playing, who better to ask for practice advice than some of the best players in the banding world? I approached some of the most talented players our community has to offer, to find out their top tips for effective practice sessions. So, without further ado, let's hear from them!


Gary curtin

Principal Euphonium | Foden’s Band

Gary Curtin | Principal Euphonium | Foden's Band
Photo Credit - Goldy Solutions

“My current best practice tip is to try to improve on an area that I’m not as proficient in. It’s much harder to find enthusiasm if you don’t get very much from a practice session and that is lessened if you only play the material you can already play. We all do this naturally, as we want to feel like we are playing well. For me though, if I take an area I’m not so good at and feel like I’ve made some good in-roads, it makes me want to come back the day after and play again. Also, try to find multiple uses for every exercise.”


Mark Wilkinson

Principal Cornet | Foden’s Band

Mark Wilkinson | Principal Cornet | Foden's Band
Photo Credit - Goldy Solutions

“My number 1 practice tip is to improve. We must practice not play - there is a difference. It is important to have a ‘practice routine’ so the player can spend time improving and working on basics, i.e. breathing, tonguing, scales, flexibility etc, as well as any areas that need improvement. Keeping on top of the basics will improve your overall playing.”


Owen farr

International Tenor Horn Soloist, Tutor and Besson Artist

Owen Farr | International Tenor Horn Soloist and Besson Artist
Photo Credit:

“I’d say it’s important to take a minute or two before you practice to jot down what you’d like to work on. It’s a good idea to plan how much time you can spend on different techniques, so nothing gets left out. It’s quite easy to get carried away on one area of your practice and finish your session with other things being overlooked. Having something tangible in front of you also helps to see where you’re aiming to get. It’s similar to using instructions for building a Lego toy. It’s good to stay on track and build your playing in an orderly fashion. Also, don’t forget to rest in your practice. It’s not a game of brute force (like boxing), so it’s very important to keep your lips fresh and supple. If you can finish your day’s practice feeling fresh and responsive, then your progress will be so much quicker!”


Tom Hutchinson

Principal Cornet | Cory Band

Tom Hutchinson | Principal Cornet | Cory Band
Photo Credit:

“My best practice tip is to find a balance between practicing what’s good for us and having fun at the same time. It can be demoralising to sit and play through exercises from the Arban or similar method books every day without any light relief. Test yourself by improving the basics, sure, but it’s also important to keep things fresh, by picking new solo repertoire, challenging yourself to a study or simply playing along to recordings of your favourite band pieces. We’ve all missed banding dearly - it gave us a purpose to practise and to strive for better results, but we have to find our own motivation! Playing a musical instrument should always be fun and I try to keep it that way in every practice session, but not forgetting the basics. Fail to look after them and they’ll fail to look after you when you need them most!”


Zoë Wright

Solo Horn | Hammonds Band

Zoë Wright | Solo Horn | Hammonds Band
Photo Credit:

"I have a 30 minute routine that covers a warm up and pretty much all the basics:

  • Long tones

  • Tonguing (single, double, triple)

  • Flexibilities

  • Finger exercises

  • Air Flow

30 minutes isn’t a long time and to just keep the basics ticking over is really important. I often find that after 30 minutes I want to just keep going anyway! Just get the instrument out, say to yourself: “okay, 30 minutes” and if you stop after that, that’s fine and if you keep going - great!"


John Barber

Solo Trombone | Foden’s Band

John Barber | Solo Trombone | Foden's Band
Photo Credit: Goldy Solutions

“I’m not a huge fan of enduring hours and hours of practice. I’ve never really had the time (or discipline!) required to work for 2 or 3 hours each day, as others can do. Even when I have a big playing deadline (the premiere of a new piece for example) I’m just not motivated to stand in a room without distractions and ‘knuckle down’ for the hard slog. So, for me, I’ve had to find a way that I can develop as a player, keep on top of the basics and, if needed, prepare for a major performance. As with all things, it’s very much horses for courses. However, for me, ‘little and often’ has been the key to making things work. I’ll spend no more than 10-15 minutes at a time practicing as, after that, I’m normally bored out of my brain! What I’ve found though is that by leaving the trombone set up on a stand in the spare room, I will go back to it a few times a day, pick it up and invest another 10-15 minutes before walking away again. This way, 15 minutes becomes 30, becomes 45, an hour and so on. When we think about our day (when we’re not at work) there are usually set ‘chunks’ of pre-designated activity:

  • Meals

  • Study

  • Trips out (Covid-dependent)

  • Downtime

  • Games

In between these ‘events’ (a bit like grouting between the tiles in your bathroom) there is space, perhaps not much, but maybe 10 minutes to walk into the spare room or wherever your practice station is already set to go. Time enough to refine a little more, break down the next challenging passage of music or whatever the focus might be for that day. As I say, it’s horses for courses, however with someone with the attention span of a fish, it’s always served me well!"


Simone Rebello

Percussionist, Tutor and Deputy Head of Wind, Brass and Percussion at RNCM

Simone Rebello | Percussionist, Tutor and Deputy Head of Wind, Brass and Percussion at RNCM
Photo Credit:

"Always plan your practice. At the end of each practice session write down in your practice planner specifically what you want to practise in the next session (for example, Mozart concerto 1st movement from figure A to figure D. First 32 bars of study number 15 at crotchet = 100 ). Be clear why you are practising it - maybe it's to clean up the semiquavers or to work on your intonation. If you have a clearly defined and achievable goal when you start your practice I find it is easier to stay focussed and motivated through the session."


So there you have it! There is a vast array of different advice within this article, so if you’re finding yourself in a bit of a rut, choose one piece of pro practice advice, pick up your instrument and have a blow!

I hope this has inspired and motivated you - it’s certainly given me a kick up the behind to get my instrument out today! Let’s get practising!

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1 Comment

Allison Morris
Allison Morris
Jan 28

This is honestly so refreshing to read. The variety of practice approaches described here make me feel less alone in my practice boredom! Sometimes, the days when I want to practice the least are the days when I get the most done, because I try to make every minute count.

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