We Talkin About Practice? – v 2.0

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This post is part one of a two part blog. To read part two, click here.

On January 15th, I posted an article outlining a method of practice that I was following that incorporated progression principles of powerlifting (say that three times fast..) on my blog. If you haven’t had a chance to see that, you can find it here.

Since then, I have done a considerable amount of work on this concept, and I am happy to be able to say that I can now provide full practice programs for musicians. Much like custom workout programs for athletes, these practice programs would lay out all the information you would need to know to use this new method to reach whatever goals you have for your playing. Whether it be for an audition, a recital, a jury, a concert, or you are just looking to learn an etude for fun, I believe the method I have developed will allow you to deeply learn the music you want to learn in far less time than you might think is possible.

Now, I realize this is an incredibly bold statement to make. However, for the past few months I have been writing sample programs for various people and having them test this method out, in order to have some field research on its effectiveness. So far, the results have been overwhelmingly positive. With my own students, I have been shocked to see how well they are able to play a given piece after running one of my programs. They have ended up with the ability to play almost perfect performances of the music they prepared. Sounds crazy, I know. But stay with me, I promise it’ll all make sense.

My programs are aimed at trying to understand how we learn best. There are so many ways a person could spend their time practicing, and honestly, you could make a justification for just about anything being beneficial. Whether you choose to play it slow to work on a difficult passage, or you play it at tempo to get the feel for the piece, most practice strategies out there are going to be able to benefit you in some way. So, to me, the question is not “What could I practice right now?” The real question should be “What SHOULD I practice right now?”. How should I approach a given piece based on how much time I have to learn it, how well I already know it, and what challenges does it provide for me. What is the right solution for me right now, in this moment. What will benefit me THE MOST.

As I talked about in my previous article, when learning about powerlifting programming, I noticed that it’s all built on slowly progressing in reps and weight, with certain reps and weight being chosen based on how far into a given program an athlete is. When you’re just beginning a program, you’ll have more reps and lighter weight, when you’re further into the program, you’ll have fewer reps and heavier weight (This is a very simplistic way of viewing programming, as it can get incredibly complicated. For this example, I thought of K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)).

How does this translate for musicians? Well, early into a program, you’ll be doing slower tempi for many repetitions. Later into the same program, you’ll transition into faster tempi for fewer repetitions. This way we ensure the bulk of our repetitions are slower, and that more often than not, we’re building towards sounding the way we WANT to sound, not staying at the level we are at now.

Alright, enough talking. I’m going to put a sample program in this post. This program is 3 weeks long, and it’s designed to be practiced 4 times per week. This does not make you only practice your instrument 4 times per week, rather you are practicing the material in the program 4 times per week. I believe days in between where you rest are just as important for deep learning as what you do when you’re playing. I also laid this program out for a piece that can be divided into 4 sections. I realize not every piece can be easily divided into 4 sections, so I suppose you have two options. Find a way to turn a piece into 4 sections, or just pick a piece that is clearly 4 sections and use it to try out this program. Either will work. I would recommend trying this out on something that “doesn’t matter”. That is to say, it’s not leading up to a performance or something important. I would just pick an etude and casually learn it following this program, and note how it might be different from other ways you might learn something similar. ALSO (IMPORTANT): If you can remember to keep a record of how long you practiced the program on a given day, it is a powerful part of the program when you can add up the time spent practicing and realize it’s probably not as much time as you thought it was.

Without further ado, here’s the program:

Week 1 –
Day 1 –
Section 1 – 3 times at 50% tempo
Day 2 –
Section 2 – 3 times at 50% tempo
Day 3 –
Section 3 – 3 times at 50% tempo
Day 4 –
Section 4 – 3 times at 50% tempo

Week 2 –
Day 1 –
Section 1 – 1 time at 75% tempo
Section 2 – 2 times at 65% tempo
Section 3 – 3 times at 55% tempo
Day 2 –
Section 4 – 1 time at 75% tempo
Section 1 – 2 times at 65% tempo
Section 2 – 3 times at 55% tempo
Day 3 –
Section 3 – 1 times at 75% tempo
Section 4 – 2 times at 65% tempo
Section 1 – 3 times at 55% tempo
Day 4 –
Section 2 – 1 time at 75% tempo
Section 3 – 2 times at 65% tempo
Section 4 – 3 times at 55% tempo

Week 3 –
Day 1 –
Full run at 80 %
Section 1 – 1 time at 85% tempo
Section 2 – 1 time at 75% tempo
Section 3 – 2 times at 65% tempo
Day 2 –
Full run at 85% tempo
Section 4 – 1 time at 85% tempo
Section 1 – 1 time at 75% tempo
Section 2 – 2 times at 65% tempo
Day 3 –
Full run at 90% tempo
Section 3- 1 time at 85% tempo
Section 4 – 1 time at 75% tempo
Section 1 – 2 times at 65% tempo
Day 4 –
Full run at 95% tempo
Section 2 – 1 time at 85% tempo
Section 3 – 1 time at 75% tempo
Section 4 – 2 times at 65% tempo

On two of your off days, sing through the piece at 100% tempo with a metronome for a total of 3 repetitions. This is to help ingrain what the goal tempo sounds like without having to play through the piece at tempo. We should also change the metronome on each repetition that is sung. For example, if you use it on Beats 1, 2, 3, and 4 the first such repetition, try singing the next repetition with the metronome on the upbeats. You could also experiment with having the metronome on Beats 1 and 3, or 2 and 4. Changing this up will allow you to check your time in numerous different contexts, to ensure you have total mastery over the time and rhythm of that excerpt.

The goal of every repetition is perfection (or as close to it as possible). When you only play a section 1 time, you are forced to focus as much as you possibly can on all the cues you need to give yourself the best chance for success. That could be “support the lower note” before a leap, or “lead through this decrescendo”, so it doesn’t slow down as it gets softer. Those cues are going to be incredibly important, as we only get one shot to do it right in a performance, so we need to perform when we practice.

If you try this method out, and you are interested in something that is customized for you and your goals, I am able to make customized programs for purchase that can fit your personal needs. As I mentioned earlier, whether it’s an audition, recital, jury, or a concert performance, I can make you a program tailored to your learning style, your prior knowledge of the piece and your schedule, so that you don’t have to worry at all about WHAT to practice, you just need to show up and do the work. If interested, just send me a message on any of my social media sites and we can talk about your goals and pricing.

If you have any questions, I’ll be streaming 4 times a week on Twitch. Come check out my livestream, ask any questions you have, I’m happy to help in any way I can!

If you do run this program, I would really appreciate if you were able to fill out this after program survey, so I can learn more about how to better serve all musicians. You can get get the survey here:

After program survey

Fill that out and email it back to me at rbtrumpet86@gmail.com. Thanks so much!

Happy practicing!

Until next time,

Ryan

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