What is "Practicing?" And How do I do it?

What does it mean to “practice?”

To most non-lawyers, doctors, and artists of all stripes, this word sounds like what one does to improve at a leisure activity. For medical professionals and lawyers, a “practice” is what is done to make money, a remunerative activity in itself. However, to artists, “practice” is what they do to hone or maintain their craft in order that they are able to make money. In this use of the word, one’s “practice” does not directly create revenue but instead leads towards the ability to create a career in a separate genre of activity, often (but not exclusively) called “performance.” While it is true that performing at a high level is a skill itself, I believe the vast majority of musicians would agree with me that the skills they display in performance came first and foremost came from “the room.” 

Therefore, in order to display maximum competency in performance, it becomes wholly important to gain as much skill as possible in the practice room. This is achieved by practicing appropriate repertoire, in an efficient manner, within proper sequence.  In other words, how you practice is just as important as what you practice. In my experience, most high school and collegiate, and even many graduate student musicians practice inefficiently (read: poorly). Practicing efficiently is work: nothing more, nothing less. You must be efficient in the practice room to improve at any acceptable pace. And in order to do this, you have to have to practice strategically.  Put simply, it takes a lot of discipline to “practice” in a manner that efficiently grows one’s ability on stage.

To assist young trumpeters in tackling this huge issue, the next several blog posts will form a mini-series on some of the items on the sheet below. Obviously, not every strategy will work for every passage, but it has been my experience that any passage you can imagine will benefit from using one or more of these practice strategies while preparing for performance. I will display how one could use between one and three strategies per post. These strategies will be displayed via their effect on the specifics a difficult passage in a trumpet solo, etude or orchestral excerpt that has, in my experience, benefitted students and my own playing while preparing for performance. This type of activity constitutes a full 50% of the time I spend teaching in lessons.

I received this sheet from Tom Booth at The Round Top Festival Institute in the summer of 2011, and have since expanded and adapted it for my own playing. While it has brought me much misery in the practice room, it has definitely brought a larger return on my “room” time than I could have ever imagined: without the practice strategies I gained at Round Top, I would not be close to the caliber of player I am today.

The first post on this list will be Theo Charlier’s ubiquitous etude #2 “Du Style,” with the goal note, mouthpiece buzzing and all 12 keys strategies. (#6, 10, 28). So here’s the sheet:


1.   10 Coins

2.   Permutations

3.   Backwards by Beat/Note

4.   Down the Page

5.   Very Slow to Very Fast with Met

6.   All 12 Keys (or 24 by switching modes)

7.   With a Drone

8.   Fermatas with a Tuner

9.   With Recordings

10. Buzz with berp and/or a fixed pitch instrument

11. Solfege with Piano or Generic Syllable Singing

12. Harmon Mute

13. Flutter Tongue

14. Spread out Met/Offbeat Met

15. Occasional Tuner

16. K Tongue Everything (and other various K Tongue strategies)

17. Memorize

18. In the Dark

19. Other Horns

20. Skeletonizing

21. Computer Program (using technology)

22. On the Lead Pipe

23. Short Notes

24. Take it to the Easy Place (Separating the needed skills)

25. Dotted 8th/16th and reverse

26. Very Soft to Very Loud and Very High to Very Low (extremes)

27. Play for and with non-trumpet players

28. Goal Notes (Over-phrasing until it’s just right)

29. Air Patterns

30. Put the Horn Down and go have fun