What you should be practicing.

July 5, 2011

Before the school year ended, I told the students here at IU that they should make 2 lists.

1) Things I suck at,


2) Music I want to learn.

With those lists, anyone should have plenty to do over the summer.

In a broader sense, there are 3 categories of what you should always be practicing so that you can continue to grow in both the attempted mastery of your instrument and as a musician.  Here they are:

1)  Fundamentals

Without great fundamentals, you will not be a great performer.  And let’s make this perfectly clear now:  You can stop practicing the fundamentals of your instrument as soon as you don’t want to sound good anymore.

2)  Assigned music

This is the music that you are either:

a) given by your teacher to play in lessons,


b) going to perform.

When it’s what you are assigned for lessons, this is material your teacher thinks is important for your growth.  Since you’re paying your teacher, you should trust his/her ideas and invest your practice time in them.

Everyone wants to play well in performances, so practicing the music you are going to perform seems like a no-brainer.  It’s amazing how many people, especially in ensemble playing, will skip this step, thinking that rehearsal time is plenty of practice on this music.  A conductor will spend time on what the whole group needs, not necessarily what any one individual needs.  The better each individual is prepared, the better the whole group can sound.

3)  Music you want to learn

It’s fascinating to me how many people skip this step.  I don’t think many people started playing musical instruments so they could play music other people chose for them.  Find something you want to play and then spend the time learning it.

Okay, get to work.


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