After averaging 3 hours of practice each day for (coming up on) eight months now, I feel like I have made great progress not only in playing, but also clarifying what I need to do to improve. In some ways I feel like the amount one practices is only important if one is focusing in the most productive directions. Otherwise some of the time is wasted. I have learned to appreciate the intense amount of sacrifice I (and my family) are investing in order to practice three hours every single day. If for no other reason than to honor that sacrifice, I need to make sure that my efficiency is second to none.
Practice “This” First, then “That”
I have learned that the way the muscles coordinate in my face is changing (for the better), and I need to prioritize this change above all else. As my face ‘changes’, my tongue will be working within an environment that is different in shape. As my face gains the ability to avoid 'buckling' in the extreme registers, the tongue will have a different space to work in. Therefore, to focus on articulation too much now would be like doing a home renovation where you thoroughly paint a wall that you will eventually knock down.
Warm Up Once
My face sucks. It is stubborn and clunky. My best sounds are pretty good, but my worst sounds are still awful. I have learned that I will have to work in a different way than others in order to fix that. Maybe it’s my cupid’s bow. Maybe it is the scar tissue. Maybe it is the odd muscular development in my chin or my missing tooth or the asymmetry in my face. It just doesn’t matter. What DOES matter is I am becoming acutely aware of how it works- or doesn’t. If I practice for an hour and then walk away for twenty minutes, I will have to warm up all over again. I will pick up the horn and it will feel as if I am starting over.
A common practice question is how to distribute practice throughout the day. I know of several successful musicians that suggest a handful of 45-minute practice sets spread out through the day. Though it makes sense to give the chops and brain frequent breaks so one can be highly focused and well-rested, I think the question can be more complicated for some. I think there is a ‘goldilocks zone’ for both the chops and the brain. I find that a more immersive schedule enables me to minimize the number of warm-ups (more efficient in terms of time) but also creates an alpha practice zone of focus and optimal chops. As long as I don’t beat up my face and work efficiently, I find that a single practice session (3-4 hours to get my 9-10 units) works the best for me. I put my rep in the last one or two units. If I have to split up my practice day, then the rep gets moved to the last unit within each practice session. It feels good to admit that it is OK to think that. You have to find what works for you- even if that means going against conventional wisdom! Now that I have that sorted out, I can plan accordingly, which will save me time and mental resource. Win!
I have added two units to my plan.
One of stability-agility (combining the two elements). Now that my stability and agility are in a better place, I feel like I am ready to combine those elements. Starting on a pedal Bb, I slur up the Bb arpeggio to F4 and then slur to Gb4 and sustain. Repeat. G4, Ab4, A4, Bb4. By the end of the 15 minutes, I am slurring a Bb arpeggio 3 octaves and sustaining the Bb4 at the top. I think it will be a game-changer for me.
The other is dynamic clarity (articulation of multiple notes that cover a wider range of the instrument). My static clarity (articulation on a single repeated pitch) is improving to the point where I think it is time to add this focus. I take my contemporary interval exercise and articulate everything. For example, stacked perfect 4ths. As the range widens, I need to figure out how to tongue everything (efficient air and efficient tongue). Another big game-changer. It feels good to be ready for these exercises!
More to come...
I am excited to report back with progress!