A practice schedule is an important part of your musical development.
My sax teacher, Nathan Davis, used to tell me, “Go without practicing one day, and you know. Go without practicing two days, your friends will know. Go without three days, and everyone knows.” Good advice.
When you implement a practice schedule, here are some critical points to focus on:
- Ritualization – Beginning a practice schedule can be difficult. But if you push through it, it will become a very valuable habit.
- Objectivity – There’s no sense in beating yourself up over mistakes or for not being at the level you think you should be. Take an objective approach to mistakes and progress and your practice time will be more productive and enjoyable.
- Singularity – Work on one thing at a time. Focus your energy for better results.
- Organization – Keep detailed notes of your strengths, weaknesses and your progress. Frequently check your practice history to see how far you’ve come and how far you need to go.
- Prioritization – Work on most difficult things and areas of needed improvement first. It may be good to warm up with your greatest strength in order to build your confidence level before embarking on more difficult endeavors.
- Emotional State – Take a moment before beginning your practice routine to check yourself. Simply being aware of your emotional and mental states will help you transcend them and be better equipped to handle the pressures of mastering an instrument.
- Constant and Never Ending Improvement – Quincy Jones said, “Standing still isn’t staying neutral. It’s moving backwards.” Never allow yourself to stagnate.
For Saxophone Players:
- Breathing – Practice taking deep breaths by filling the diaphragm with air and with minimal shoulder movement and physical stress. Pull as much air as you can into the lungs and allow the abdomen and rib cage to expand. Hold the breath for a few seconds and exhale completely. You can add resistance to the abdomen by lying on your back and placing something on the abdomen such as a large book or two. Not only is this a good exercise for strengthening your diaphragm and increasing lung capacity, it also increases blood flow and improves your lymphatic system.
- Mouthpiece Alone – Since the tone and pitch of the saxophone comes primarily from the larynx, it’s a good idea to strengthen this connection by practicing on the mouthpiece alone. Play scales and intervals over the range of at least a tenth and avoid biting the mouthpiece or using too much pressure. Let the larynx do the work.
- Overtones – Use a minimum amount of embouchure movement to execute each overtone. Place the emphasis on laryngeal activity. Also concentrate on intonation and timbral quality. Working on your overtones will help you create a warm, big tone.
- Long Tones – Check embouchure positions in regard to quality of tone. Practice long tones chromatically, stepwise and intervallically. Occasionally, crescendo and decrescendo using pre and post tones and checking intonation constantly. Concentrate on evenness of sound and breath. Try to pre-hear the intervals.
- Miscellaneous – Experiment with position of tongue for both sustained notes and for tonguing. Practice single, double and tripple-tonguing at various speeds, levels of intensity, and using all combinations of tongue and reed areas. Try out expressive and coloristic devices. Explore.
- Reading – Practice sight reading both classical and jazz solo transcriptions. Play exercises and patterns for finger dexterity and smoothness in all ranges.
- Scales, Arpeggios and Intervals – Practice legato at quickest overall speed in various articulative and rhythmic configurations. Always use a metronome!
Write down your goals. Begin with long range goals (5-10 years), then medium range goals (1-5 years), and finally short range goals (3-12 months). After considering your goals and the steps it will take to achieve these goals, create a weekly goal schedule. Keep a diligent journal of your practicing and you’ll be sure to improve. Once a year, reevaluate your goals and their progress. Remember, when it comes to goals, the sky is the limit!
Good luck and never give up!
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