San Diego Saxophone Lessons

San Diego Saxophone Lessons
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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Running Out Of Time

A quick and easy tip that will improve your practicing immensely is simply to set a timer.  Life is wonderful when I have a free day - I have plenty of time for warm-ups and then can practice my horn for hours and hours on end.  However, this is not the usual scenario for most of us.  We only have sporadic moments in our schedule available for music, and we need to use that time as efficiently as we can. 

Between school, work, email, and of course Facebook, it can be hard to focus and get in the right mindset for practicing.  Here’s an easy solution that has worked wonders for me: set a goal and set a timer.  Feeling rusty on your Db full-range scale?  Put 20 minutes on the timer and play until it goes off.  This will give you absolute focus on the problem at hand with no distractions (it also helps to put your cellphone in the other room).

If you only have a short amount of time, it’s very important to set a small, specific, achievable goal.  Like working on a ii-V-I in one key, playing a certain scale-pattern, or working on one technical section of an etude or piece. Charles McPherson always recommended setting an egg-timer and working out small finger problems.  Any time you’d come across a finger-snag during a solo (a.k.a. “playing yourself into a corner”), he would stop and work out that specific problem until the timer was done.  For sax players, this does wonders for fluidity in the palm-keys or for getting more relaxed with awkward pinky finger movements.  I remember during one lesson we worked on the left-hand ring/pinky for 5 or 10 minutes straight and I felt immediate benefit.

With 20-minute intervals, you can tackle three small musical concepts in one hour.  This is a big improvement over just noodling for an hour!  If you have even more time, say an hour or three available, think bigger – like transcribing a whole section of a solo, learning a new tune, or working out several scales. 

The most critical part of this method is to set a simple goal and focus intently on it for the allotted time.  I’ve heard this referred to in another book as “target-bombing”.  Pick a specific musical target and knock it out.  Pick something you aren’t familiar with.  Don’t play the G major scale or chromatic scale!  You probably know those already.  If you are terrible at doing diatonic thirds in harmonic minor, try that… Or work on overtones or lip-slurs for 20 minutes.

Do this regularly and you will slowly start to fill in the gaps in your musical knowledge.  Of course, when I have more time available, it’s great to practice without constraints.  But for days when you only have an hour and don’t know what to play, this is a good technique to use. 

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