One problem that comes up a lot with students, especially younger students or when there aren’t clear short-term goals, is what to practice.
When the All-State music comes out, or if there are upcoming seating auditions, then the practice plan becomes clear. But one thing that separates the average students from the outstanding students is the ability to always find something to practice.
While there are definitely ways to over-complicate this choice, I heard a really good metaphor recently that concisely explained how to do it. It’s called a practice menu
The Practice Menu System
It’s just like a menu at a restaurant. If you go into McDonalds and try to order some tacos, you’re not going to be successful. You must pick something off their menu.
Implementing this system is both simple and easy.
First, you need to make a list of things you can practice. This may be the hardest part of the system, especially for a young student, so here are a couple of examples:
Beginner Practice Menu
- Putting the instrument together
- Finding a certain note (usually middle C or F) reliably
- Technique lines (from whatever band method book you’re using)
- Song lines (from whatever band method book you’re using)
Intermediate Practice Menu
- Scales (5 note, 1 or 2 octave, major, minor)
- Lip slurs/Harmonic series
- Long tones
- Articulation studies (single and double tonguing)
- Etudes (from simple band methods to more complex things like Kopprasch, Gallay, etc.)
- Band music
- Solo repertoire
And that’s it. Of course you’re own situation may not line up with one of these exactly, but you get the idea.
Second, you need to pick a time to practice. This ideally will be a consistent (or nearly consistent) time every day, but 4-5 days per week is good. Avoid doing a long session 1-2 times per week. You’ll simply not see the same amount of progress (and the risk of injury or developing bad habits goes way up).
Finally, once you have a list and a set time, simply pick something and start there.
You can, of course, make it more complex (and more productive) by using a practice log and devising a reliable and consistent warm-up and all that, but having all these tools is useless if you don’t put in the time behind the horn.
So make your own menu, and get to practicing!