Practice technique reminders: specific ways to learn a piece

-Warm up well and then play the new music slowly and deliberately.

-Play with purpose and set goals for EVERY practice session.

-Change ONLY the tempo.

-Play with sensitivity, good dynamics, proper phrasing.

-Do some "dynamic mapping:" Say to yourself in each piece, "if this is my "p" what should my "f" sound like? Am I truly  representing the full dynamic range of the music or am I just playing by feel and NOT by how the sound is reaching the audience."

-Use more air.

-Be a storyteller. Focus, and play as well as you can every time.

-If there are issues with slow playing, such as “ghosting” or “air-balling” notes, try playing passages more quickly to feel how the air should flow.

-Use more air!

-If you do make a mistake, use this approach in solving the issue. Ask yourself these questions: What happened? Where did it happen? Why did it happen? How do I fix it? (As an example: What happened: I played the rhythm incorrectly. Where did it happen: Two bars before letter I. Why did it happen? I wasn't looking ahead, or--I didn't understand the rhythmic figure. How Do I Fix it: I'll practice that measure with a metronome slowly and subdivide until I understand it and then will gradually speed up to the tempo marked)

Dissect technical passages patiently—be honest with yourself

-Rather than focus on what you CAN’T play; look for familiar and comfortable passages in the etude or solo. Look at and read rhythms carefully by subdividing.

-Try “skeletizing” passages, such as playing only the first notes of each of four 16ths; then the first and third notes, or the first three notes of each passage, etc. This also establishes exact placement rhythmically of the notes in the line, giving each importance (The additional benefit is that this activity enhances sight-reading significantly, by making you move your eyes along the page).

-Play only the valves, so that they are played absolutely perfectly and so you can actually hear the shape of the phrase in your valve movement. It makes sense that unless the valves are perfect, it won’t matter how well you are executing tongue and air concerns; the passage will still sound sloppy.

-In a long, technical passage, go to the end of the phrase and play to the final note gradually, even just one note at a time. If the last note is a whole note, preceded by sixteen 16th notes for example, play the final 16th and the whole note; then the last two 16ths and the whole note, etc. working all the way back to the beginning of the phrase. Do not proceed to the next step until you are playing each section the way you want it to sound musically and technically.

For large “interval-leap” passages

-Remember the “centering” technique when executing large intervals. Rather than change your embouchure and try to play the passage as written, select an “equator” note somewhere near the center of the largest interval. Then play the entire passage with that one note, playing as musically as possible (as you would in the original form). Feel how the air moves on your lips. Try then to re-create that comfort zone with the correct notes, and thinking in terms of air intensity and note length. For higher tessitura playing, the “center” may be higher. (This can be practiced by, for example, playing your second space "C" with your best sound and then move slowly down chromatically and try to maintain the same embouchure as long as you can without "shifting with a good sound. Open the sound by warming a larger airstream. Once you've reached a point where there is a shift or dramatic change in sound, return to the "C" and repeat the process by ascending chromatically with a good sound. You may need to speed and narrow the airstream, but avoid changing the embouchure. You will find that you can play at least an octave or more with the same basic embouchure. By keeping a relaxed and stable embouchure, you will improve the uniformity of the sound and increase your stamina and ability to play with good intonation.)

-Play as if it was a duet; first play only the top notes, then play the “second part,” or the low notes—figuring out the exact rhythms of each “part” and putting it together-slowly! (This is effective in reading the Bach Cello Suites, athletic Baroque sonatas, and the challenging contemporary solos.)

How to perform unfamiliar phrases/cadenzas/non-idiomatic music

-Don’t be afraid to experiment with phrasing/articulation/movement or the dynamics. Widen your dynamic range considerably, as it is easy to return to the appropriate level for the music. Use space in music to create expression or drama.

-If you don’t have a clue on where to begin, look for a recording of the piece for some guidance. (Note; my favorite interpretation of the Bach Flute Sonata in Eb is by the trumpet virtuoso Maurice Andre!) HOWEVER: Do try to use all of the information presented in the music FIRST to make an educated "guess" about how to perform the music. Clues are in the title of the piece, the tempi, any special markings such as dolce, doloroso, con fuoco, a piacere, and many more. If you don't know those terms, look them up. As an example, I asked a student once how they would perform a passage marked "doloroso" and they said; "I don't know...........maybe go faster or excitedly." This actually be almost the opposite of how the music should be played since "doloroso" means sorrowful or sadly. Additionally, if you may not know where to start, look at other works by the composer of the piece you're practicing. Many have a distinctive style in their writing which you may be able to apply to the study of your piece. This is much like learning a language in a way.


-Additionally,  try playing in the style of an artist/performer you admire or respect. (For example, if you tend to be more reserved as a performer, try playing as someone who is extroverted and maybe even “over the top” in their performance. If you tend to play things loud and bombastic, listen to players who play with gentle control, etc.)

Improvising Tips on Bb Dorian (for starters!)

(Concert pitches: Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb)

-Run the scale up and down slowly at first, then speed up when ready. Then do the same thing starting on a different scale note.

-Play short fragments lyrically.

-Lyrical ascending licks (avoid going down!)

-Lyrical descending (avoid going up!)

-Triplet figures—keep it simple and comfortable

-Staccato ascending/descending

-“Spirals,” “Pyramids,” “Stacks,” etc. (whatever it means to you.)

-Play until a motif/idea strikes you; then stay/develop that idea.

-Use familiar tune rhythms to add interest: “Happy Birthday” or rhythms you like from favorite band tunes.


-Practice to play perfectly, but do not expect perfection!!

-Be kind to yourself. Set reasonable goals and “reachable” bars and be patient with the process of playing well.

-A quote by writer Leonard Pittman says, "For some things, for the things that enable and define us and make us fully human, there are no shortcuts. You have to take the long way around". This refers to relationships, your work, and your passion for any discipline.

-Enjoy the process!

Marty Erickson