It is amazing how many players have such obvious passion, ambition, and love for their instruments … but such a hatred of practicing.
When did practicing become a four-letter word? Does it have to be?
A good practice session is focused. Turn off, or silence devices. Place yourself in a practicing environment: a room conducive to few or no distractions. When possible, find a time span large enough to not feel rushed.
Warm up. Warming up is not merely about the instrument or the reed, it is about centering your mind and body. This is not the time to think on homework, dinner, or friends: it is time to focus on breath, tone, and posture.
Our time is extremely valuable. We are stretched in many directions, pursuing many fields. As such, time in the practice room must be both effective and efficient. Before you conflate these terms, let us discuss them separately. An effective practicer will spend ample time on Scales, Intonation, Tone, Technique, Articulation, etc. before progressing to repertoire. The fundamentals of playing are critical. You cannot adequately perform Marriage of Figaro if you are not well-versed in the intonation and technical inequities of D-Major. Similarly, when assessing the Figaro excerpt, an efficient practicer will identify concerns to address directly: if struggling with rushing, he/she might employ different rhythms at slow tempos, rather than repeating the excerpt at the goal tempo repeatedly. An efficient practicer will have a toolbag of practicing techniques -- including (but not limited to) metronome games, looping, isolation, backwards practicing, articulation, style, or rhythmic alterations, and recording – to identify and remedy specific issues.
All practice is performance practice. Every time you pick up your instrument you are in a dress rehearsal. If you work with this mentality, it will change your perception of ‘practicing.’ There will be no more pointless noodling, no more playing a phrase without dynamics, no more performing on a decrepit reed. Imagine every note you play is for an audience: the standards are much higher. Practicing is ultimately about creating habits for your muscles: both the fine motor skills which operate your instrument, but also your embouchure, your air, and your mind. Do not create bad habits, only good.
In summation, we strive for both quality AND quantity in the practice room, but of the two, never sacrifice quality. Remember, it is easier to create a habit than to break a habit.
Happy practicing! –Dr. S