Most people that ask about my practice habits have the impression that I practice every day for hours. Truth is that there is a lot of my day where I am practicing but not with my horn in my hand or with my percussion gear. It is more along the lines of getting things that I want to do in my head so that I can call upon it when I do have the time and location to put horn to lips or hands to percussion.
Let’s start with my warming up for a gig. Since I am normally in my car alone on the way to the gig, I use this time to mentally prepare. I start with singing 5-note scales, up and down. Using numbers (instead of solfeggio) I pick a note and sing the first five steps of the major scale. Move up a half-step, and repeat. I continue this until I cover all 12 keys.
Then I move to the minor scales again doing only the first 5 notes up and down. Follow this with the diminished scale, whole-step – half-step, up and down. While doing these exercises, listen for pitch so that you can get your ear tuned the exactness of a whole step vs. a half step.
Next exercise is doing thirds, using numbers again, 1-3-2-4-3-5-4-2-1 in each of the modes, major, minor and diminished. Step up a half-step and again do all 12 keys. All of this generally takes me about 30 minutes but it might be a bit longer at first for you. Now on to practicing.
Practicing for me isn’t always a physical thing. I sometimes pull up a practice book, like the Klose exercises for saxophone, and study the exercises like reading a book. But like when practicing with horn in hand, if I come across a pattern that I find difficult to read visually, I go back, slow down and repeat it until I get back up to speed. I have this and a lot of the real books on my iPad so that I can practice these things wherever I am. Then, when I am at home alone, I can get my horns out and really play the things that I have studied visually and mentally. For me, I find that it makes it easier to play if I already know what the passage is. It’s kind of like memorizing lines for an actor, but for musicians.
So now that you are at your practice time you have a foundation that you have been practicing on the road and away from home. Start with the 5-note scales. Play them at a tempo where you can get thru all 12 keys without making a mistake. I was taught that the 5-note run establishes the mode and is the makeup of all scales. This was one of the things I retained from the Army/Navy School of Music.
From running all this warming up you can now pull out your tuner and check your warmed up pitch. Just so you know, once you get this warm-up under your belt, it will be a quick warm-up and you will be ready for whatever lies ahead in your practice regimen.
If you are looking for material to practice, visit The Petrucci Music Library and search your instrument and click and pick something to practice.
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-Frank Valdez – MU Columnist