What do you do when you start practising?
Most people, if they’re honest, generally start their practice session by picking out a piece and starting to play. A few minutes in, and a number of mistakes in fingering and tonguing later, they pause, take stock, actually look at the music, and start thinking about what fingers and tongue really ought to be doing.
Of course, I would never start a practice session this way… *tries to look innocent*
Why do we avoid long notes and technical work?
Here are my best guesses:
- We think we’re saving time
- We prefer playing ‘real’ music over exercises
- We think (secretly or otherwise) that working on scales and technical work is boring and difficult
The fallacy of this as a practice strategy has been brought home to me by watching my son work with his trumpet. He starts nearly every practice session by ‘buzzing’ with just the mouthpiece, and then by running through basic flexibilities – a series of exercises designed to work on breath pressure and finger control. Once he has done these, he turns to his pieces. And what I have noticed is that he plays the pieces so much more effectively and accurately after the flexibilities, far more than if he skips the flexibilities (which happens rarely).
So I am wondering what would happen if we recorder players behaved a bit more like brass players in our attention to warming up. It seems likely to me that we would benefit from spending some time on thinking about breathing, breath pressure and co ordination with fingers before embarking on repertoire.
So let’s have a go at playing long notes at the start of a practice session. I’ve been experimenting with it, and have noticed the following:
- I think more about how I am lifting the instrument, so experience less tension;
- I think about my breathing;
- I listen to the sound of the instrument I’m playing. Each note has its own timbre, and varies depending on dynamic;
- Playing long notes gives me time to focus my attention on the activity I am about to do. I find myself thinking about playing recorder in the present moment, rather than the rest of the things on my to-do list.
My experience is that playing long notes helps my focus, breath control, and the efficiency of my playing, and all of these help me when I start to work on scales or pieces.
So… will you give it a go?