Phill O'Neill


How to get the most out of your practice

Love it or hate it we all know that practice is a must for all musicians. It doesn’t matter weather we are a professional or enthusiast, we all like performing at our best and to do that we must practice regularly. Weather you have a routine you like to get through each day or you prefer to practice pieces I have 7 simple tips that will help all musicians get the most out of your practice sessions.

1.       Make sure you get a good warm-up. Warm-up your chops, instrument, ears and mind. Make sure you get the air flowing!

Never underestimate how important a good warm-up is. Warming up isn’t just about getting the chops working. A good warm-up should get the air flowing correctly, the embouchure set, centring the instrument to play in the middle of the horn, warming up the instrument itself and most importantly of all warming up your mind and ears. A good warm up will make sure you are completely ready to play under any conditions.

2.       Plan out your practice time. If you only have 30 minutes think about how you’re going to spend those 30 minutes. Cover all aspects of your playing. If you have 3 hours to practice that’s great but don’t worry if you only have 30 minutes, you can still get plenty out of a 30 minute practice session.

Write a list of everything that you need to work on for the day and start with what needs the most work first. Be sure to spend an equal amount of time on each element that requires work that session.

3.       Plan your practice session. Set goals for the session and make sure you achieve them.

Be mindful to set yourself achievable goals for each session. Some goals I like to use include, getting all the right notes for a challenging phrase, play through a study without stopping (warts and all), play all scales at a set speed without mistakes, playing as soft as possible, playing as loud as possible.

It almost doesn’t really matter what the goal is just as long as you have one for the session and make sure it’s achievable. Don’t try to be as good as Wynton Marsalis after playing for a year its not going to happen.

4.       Don’t dwell on one thing. If you get bogged down on 1 section your mind will wander and you won’t be focused on the music. Move onto something else and come back to it. This will keep your chops and mind fresh and make all the difference.

5.       Break down your practice into smaller sections. I like spending 7 minutes on each goal. If I haven’t achieved the desired goal in those 7 minutes move onto the next one and come back to it either later that day or the next day.

6.    Practice until you can't get it wrong. There is an old saying "amatures practice till they get it right, professionals practice till they can't get it wrong". Never underestimate the importance of repetition making sure each phrase is exactly how you want it to sound every time you play it under any possible circumstances. 

7.       Remain positive. Never underestimate the power of human emotions. If you’re in a good mood chances are you will play well if you’re in a negative mood you will suffer through. If you need to pick yourself up do something that will make you happy and then come back to practice.

I hope these tips have given you something to think about. Write in the comments below how you get the most out of your practice and if any of these tips have helped you become more efficient at practice.

Happy practicing