These tips are intended primarily for intermediate/advanced students
- Use a metronome to help you master those tricky passages. Set the metronome to a tempo at which you literally cannot fail the passage in question - yes, it will feel ridiculously slow, but that's ok! Right now the goal is to play the part correctly, not quickly. Play the lick correctly 3-5 times at your no-fail tempo, bump the metronome up 1 click, rinse, and repeat. This may seem tedious, but by the time you work your way back up to performance tempo one click at a time, you'll never play the passage incorrectly again (though you may be singing it in your sleep for the next month and a half).
- If you're able to get through a passage pretty well but are struggling with consistency, try the following technique (stolen from Carl Lenthe at IU): Take a big breath and loop the part as many times as you can before you have to breathe again. This is a great way to limit your repetitions so you don't drive yourself crazy, plus it helps you practice air support and breath control in a musical context.
- You've probably heard this line before: sing it --> buzz it --> play it. It may sound simple, but simple works! Singing a passage will help you build an aural picture of the music, and buzzing it will help your lips and facial muscles figure out what they need to do to make that picture happen, so by the time you get to playing you've already got a pretty accurate idea about what's going to come out your bell.
- There are 3 things you need to do in every practice session: Plan, Execute, & Reflect. Before you even unpack your horn, plan out what you need to get done and how you can best do it. Planning for a practice session doesn't mean you can't make changes when you need to (or, if you're a free spirit, "go where the music moves you"), but it does mean that you're less likely to waste practice time. Plan for breaks rather than quitting every 5 minutes to check your phone. Give yourself 15 minutes to work on a particularly frustrating passage, then move on. It doesn't matter what your plan is, but it does matter that you have one. Once you've set your game plan, sit down, shut up, and execute it. After you're done practicing, take 5 minutes to reflect on what went well and what didn't, what you got done and what you still need to do, and how you can do better tomorrow. Use this reflection to inform the next practice plan you make. It may be helpful to record your plans and reflections in a practice journal.
- Always try to minimize outside distractions during practice. It's hard enough to think about notes, rhythms, style, and technique all at once - once you add texts/emails/Facebook/screaming siblings into the mix, it's game over for your concentration. Turn the phone off, close a door, and indulge in the simplicity of limited focus.
- With the preponderance of recording devices built into our daily lives, there is no excuse not to record yourself practicing and performing on a regular basis. Not only will you gain great insight into your own strengths and weaknesses by putting down the instrument and listening with a different set of ears, but you'll also come away with a concrete record of your own improvement.