10 Practice Tips
1. SLOW, SLOW, SLOW. Many students get discouraged when trying to learn a new song, exercise, or excerpt. The problem for many is that they just start out too fast. Slow down to a comfortable speed where the piece can be learned, then focus on upping the metronome. Take the time to learn it correctly from the beginning and you will find that you have less bad habits to fix later. Many of my students think it might be boring to play something slow… but you just have to get over this. I enjoy playing things correctly more often than making mistakes, regardless of tempo!
2. Take lessons and apply. Invest in private lessons. This is a must! However, private lessons are a waste of time if you do not apply the principals that your teacher is sharing with you. Hopefully you are taking lessons from someone that you respect as a teacher AND as a performer. The methods he/she is sharing have generally worked for them or their students in the past and they are working hard to help you. So, when practicing away from them, use the concepts and practice those habits.
3. Invest and maintain good equipment. You gotta keep your gear in top shape! Get a solid instrument and take care of it. I witnessed several students with valve problems at solo contest this year and it's a shame! Take care of your equipment! Play on the right mouthpiece! Keep your slides clean and slick! Show some respect (to your instrument)!
4. Focus on the immediate goal. Sometimes you just have to set the clock for 20 or 30 minutes (for school age musicians – maybe more for you!) and practice a few measures instead of trying to hit the entire solo (or all of your assignments). Break up your practice into small, reasonable chunks. Stay happy. When things get sour, take a break and come back to it when you are fresh.
5. Use Technology (SmartMusic). I am not a school band musician and I LOVE smartmusic (it's not just for band kids!). The built in tools are awesome, and the exercises are incredible. So much flexibility and it makes practicing fun! A whole library of orchestra, concert band, and jazz ensemble literature built in! Pick your song, download the part, and practice! My sightreading skills have improved from downloading tunes and practicing with the whole ensemble recording backing me up. Technology is great today… take advantage of it!
6. Practice all styles. Make sure you spend time practicing all styles of playing. If you are in jazz bands, concert bands, and orchestras, they all have their own demands and styles… practice them all!!
7. Allow yourself to have some bad days. There will be some days that will be great and some days that for whatever reason don't go as well. Don't take bad days as an indication that you can't do it. When I had bad days, I just kept it at that — a bad DAY.
8. Try the 10 minute rule. On the days when I really struggled with motivation, I would tell myself to practice for 10 minutes. If I still didn't feel like it after that, I would allow myself to stop and at least have the satisfaction that I tried. But once I got out there, I found the energy to go another 10 minutes — and then another 10 minutes or however long I had left. Before I knew it, it was over! So focusing on smaller time increments can help if you're struggling with motivation.
9. Breathe. As a wind player, this solves all problems – hands down. When I find things not working like they should, I take it back to the basics. Breathe. Instant fix.
10. Don't tell yourself you can't do it until you've tried it. My runner friends told me running is as mental as it is physical, and I definitely found it to be true for every aspect of life. Your mind can either set you up for success or failure. So don't defeat yourself before you even start. There were times when I would look at a piece of music or exercise and have a mild heart attack. But when I started thinking “There's absolutely no way that I can do that…”, I would stop myself and think “At least try it first before saying that.” And amazingly, I would be able to do it using all the tips above to get me through that first 5 minutes, 8 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes.
(original post from coolrunning.com – a GREAT website!)