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The Power of Daily Practice!

Friday, February 9, 2018 by Brett Lemley | Uncategorized

The power of daily practice

Brass playing is simultaneously a set of skills, like tone production, tonguing, fingering/slide skill, etc., and also a physical activity, though one that uses small muscles. Also, air control plays a huge role in playing a brass instrument. The only way to get better at all these facets of brass playing is to practice, and how often (and how well!) you practice will determine how fast you improve.

First, Let’s Get Real

When I say practice, I mean focused work on your instrument. As a beginner, you’ll be spending 30 minutes every day working on your skill, 45 minutes if you’re in Intermediate School, and 60 minutes in High School.

Side note: Some elementary school band directors try to make it sound easier by saying that 20 minutes a day, or even 10, will do the trick.

But, let’s do the math:

Let’s say we have two brand new 5th grade trumpet players, Michelle and Ben. Michelle practices 30 minutes every day, while her classmate Ben takes his band director’s advice and practices 10 minutes a day. After a week, Michelle has spent 210 minutes (7 x 30) playing the trumpet, while Ben has only spent 70 minutes (7 x 10) minutes playing. At the end of a month, Michelle has played 900 minutes (30 days x 30 minutes), while Ben has only played 300 minutes (30 days x 10 minutes). Let’s see, who’s going to be the better player? Clearly, Michelle is on her way to being the best player in her class, and Ben is barely keeping up.

So, with that out of the way, 30 minutes it is. :)

Why Every Day?

(Or “well, there goes Friday…”)

One issue I hear a lot goes something like this: “Well, on Saturdays I have soccer games, so I can’t practice on Saturdays.”

Of course, the truth is that you can do anything you want. You can practice only one day a week if you want to. But, before you decide to do that, re-read that paragraph about the math. Also, remember that brass playing is a physical activity, much more so than playing a woodwind instrument. To train your body and get stronger, your body needs consistency. When I was a kid, my first trumpet teacher, Norman Bailey, put it to me this way:

“Every day you skip, erases a day of practice.”

So sure, skip Saturday if you need to, but just understand that by doing that, you’ve erased the practice you did on Friday. Again, let’s examine Michelle and Ben, but now Ben’s gotten the message and is doing 30 minutes a day. Well, sort of. He still doesn’t practice every day, but he practices every other day. So:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Total
Michelle yes yes yes yes yes yes yes 7 days
Ben yes no yes no yes no yes 4 days

So, just by looking at the above example, Ben is way behind Michelle to begin with. But, by Mr. Bailey’s logic, each of Ben’s “no” days erases the “yes” the day before. So, Tuesday erases Monday, et cetera, so effectively the chart looks like this:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday Total
Michelle yes yes yes yes yes yes yes 7 days
Ben no no no no no no yes 1 day

Now you begin to see why “every other day” practicers don’t do so well. Effectively, Michelle is practicing 7 times as much as Ben! And Michelle gets all the accolades, and all the solos. :)

Now, is it really true that you lose all your progress when you skip a day? Probably not, but it’s definitely worse than just not practicing that day. Think of it this way: Either you’re getting better (practicing), or you’re getting worse (not practicing).

So next time you decide to take a day off, you know you’re not just losing one day. Keep that in mind on that day when you’re “busy.” And, I hope this helps clear up why we teachers are so keen on practicing every day!

In a future post I’ll talk about what a good practice day looks like for brass players. But until then, just make sure you’re playing every day, and see what happens!

Best of luck, and let me know how you’re doing!

Mr. L