Last summer I wrote about focusing on a single goal and going all-in on a single weakness in my playing over the summer break. You can read about it here. That approach was effective, so I'll do it again this summer, but with a few tweaks. This summer I'll be focused on a single goal (moving in and through the top of the staff), but I'll have other tasks as well. I've already planned-out what repertoire I'll be performing next Fall. While I won't start working on the repertoire until July, I've planned out the means by which I'll improve my playing in order to better execute the repertoire when it comes time to perform.
Here's what I did. Once I'd chosen the solos I'd perform on my next recital I looked through them and considered what techniques and skills each piece would require. The idea is that in an ideal world you should always have more of said skill than is required for the given piece. In other words, your performance skills (or lack thereof) should never govern how the piece is performed. This requires an awareness of your deficiencies as a player, the challenges of a piece of music relative to those deficiencies, and how to go about improving those deficiencies. This is a topic that's been an interest of mine for a while. I even wrote my doctoral project over similar subject. You can read it here.
Here's an example: technical pieces like Carnival of Venice are often performed with the theme at the written tempo and the variations (especially the final variation) at a slower tempo. This usually happens because the player lacks the requisite skill to perform the whole piece at the full tempo. In this case the technique in question is finger speed, coordination, and dexterity.
Next year I'll be performing Metallic Figures by Kevin Day. Here's the protocol I developed to get myself ready to perform it. I've listed each movement and the challenges associated with each as well as some general challenges that apply to the whole piece.
The reason for Loud Playing is that I'll be performing the piece with the band. Playing solo over is generally extremely demanding in terms of volume of sound. It's one soloist against 50-80 band-members. It's sort of like how you play louder with an accompanist than you do in the practice room, but way worse!
I've done that for each of the pieces I'll perform on my recital in the Fall. I've started working on them every day which is the bulk of my practice after completing my routine. There's a lot to cover, so I try to hit everything at least once a week. I'd like to know what you're working on this summer. Leave a note in the comments below.
Thank you for reading and happy practicing!
Today we'll discuss getting ahead of the competition by staying focused over the summer.
Summer is a great time to get ahead of your competition by working on fundamentals. Many people take it easy over the break. Last summer I made it my mission to improve my range both low an high. I set a goal of adding an octave and ended up adding about an octave and a half. You can read all about how I did it here.
Staying focused on the single goal of increasing range last summer worked so well that I decided to pick a different goal this summer and work towards it. This summer I want to increase my double tongue speed from sixteenths at quarter = 150 to sixteenths at quarter = 200.
I was inspired by a shooting drill that basketball superstar, Lebron James does after practice. He takes three point shots until he's made 400. That's probably around 1,000 shots after he's been practicing and training all day, by the way. I like the idea of trying to improve double tongue technique with a high-volume (lots of repetitions) drill. My plan is to play through the Brum! exercise from the Brass Gym (euphonium and tuba) 200 times each practice day. There are 12 lines, so if I play the exercise top to bottom 17 times that's a total of 204 lines!
In the past week I've increased the tempo of the exercise to 160. I don't expect linear gains for very long. At some point I'll have to slow tempo increases down to 5 beats per week, then 2.5, then 1. Once I reach a plateau I'll switch exercises to some of the more advanced double tongue examples from the Arban book. After that, a different exercise. After that, maybe I'll experiment with tongue placement and try to find something more efficient/faster.
Without getting too far into the weeds, make sure your goals are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely). You can find more about SMART goals here.
What're your goals for this summer?
Thank you for reading!
Jeremy is Associate Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at West Texas A&M University.