A simple blog about things which an aspiring musician or music enthusiast might find interesting. New segments out on nonspecific dates. Author is available for answering questions and accepting comments. (More content available on web version)
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Friday, August 24, 2012
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect
The expression "practice makes perfect" is more or less true, but I'd add to that "perfect practice makes perfect", because to practice the same mistakes over and over again without change will not make perfect. This is true to anything that you can practice at. In this case I'll use music, and more specifically playing the saxophone, to make my point.
In music, there are some very basic things that you should incorporate into your practice: intonation, sound quality and rhythm. Proper intonation, or being in tune or on pitch, can be achieved through a tuning device, which I recommend should be purchased and kept with whatever instrument you play.
You can also tune to a partner or friend. Specifically someone who plays piano would be best, as their instrument is often tuned professionally and makes a good base. Proper intonation is crucial to playing critically: it helps you to be aware of other kinds of mistakes you might make, and allows you to eliminate improper tuning as an issue.
Similar to intonation, sound quality is important to your basic practice. If you're playing the alto saxophone, make sure that you're playing with the appropriate embouchure- try not to let the instrument squeak too much, and allow enough air to bass through, playing to an acceptable volume. You can take your sound quality up a level by trying out different things to make yourself sound better. This may differ depending on the type of music you're playing. Try playing smoothly and evenly during some concert pieces you're practicing, and then try playing a little more roughly, maybe toss some growling in, as you try some jazzy pieces. Figure out what sounds good to you.
Rhythm and timing issues are some of the most common among all players. Luckily, it's also one of the easiest to remedy. When you practice, you should always work with a metronome. A lot of tuners have one, but if not there are free ones all over the internet that you can download onto your computer. Check for apps for your phone, if you can, as well, but make sure it's loud enough to hear, and of course look for metronomes on sale out in stores. If you're practicing a piece, adjust the metronome to the beats per minute (bpm) of the selection. Play your piece like this, and you'll be better able to follow your conductor in ensemble practice and concert. You can also use it for rhythm exercises. For instance, you can set the metronome to 120bpm and play along with it, playing different rhythms. Start with quarter notes, then move to eight notes, then sixteenth. Some metronomes will have a setting with which you can set to 120bpm, but click the eight notes for you. This subdivision could help you, and is a good practice tool.
Imperfect Practice Makes...?
Once you get along in your skill, and you know your way around your instrument, there's a certain amount of goofing off you can do that, in my experience, teaches you things. On my saxophones I often jam with my brother and do some strange and wild stuff. Sometimes we try to do a progression only in altissimo, and see how high up we can go (my record is octaves over the altissimo D). Other times we try hitting semitones and multi phonics that sound pretty bad in our riffs. However, we do this for a reason, other than to laugh and have fun. Doing this actually teaches us a lot. It shows what we can and can not do or what notes we can and can not hit. It shows us that there are certain exceptions to scales and modes that sound good over different progressions. It also makes us learn that there are a lot of things that we can do that aren't necessarily written about anywhere: things that you have to learn for yourself- about styling and phrasing and sounds. Give it a try sometime- let loose.