My Daily Practice Routine
It has been two years since finishing my studies. Without the weekly commitments of school ensembles or lessons it was a challenge knowing what I should be working on. Just by adding a little structure to my daily practice sessions I have seen quick improvements in my overall playing.
I like to break up my practice sessions into three sections. My practice sessions then vary based on how much time I have, if it is a recovery day versus a regular practice day, or if I am preparing for an audition. I leave my practice sessions open in terms of the exercises I do but the exercises always address the same targets. If I have enough time, I may practice multiple times a day and each section will become its own session.
The three sections are:
1. The Warmup
3. Current projects
1. The Warmup
I like to spend about 7-15 min on this section. Depending on the amount of playing from the day before, I will vary the length of this section. If yesterday was a “heavy” playing day and today is “light” day then I will focus on playing within a smaller range and vice versa. I like to start with Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet edited by Goldman & Smith page 13 exercise #10. The exercise consists of long tone phrases that I use to focus on tone production. The simplicity of the long tones allows me to focus easily on playing relaxed and with an efficient vibration of the lips. My professor Charles Daval during my master’s studies at the University of Illinois always said, “practice is about setting habits”. He would also include that when we perform, we “revert to our habits”. For this reason, I start a practice session reinforcing the habit of efficient sound production.
Next, I like to play slurred scales. With these phrases I focus on purity of tone and clarity moving through notes. For me, focusing on finger speed takes the attention from the line and into mechanical playing. Next, I will play Chicowicz flow studies or Stamp exercises in various keys. I play these with the focus on playing through each note to avoid bumps in the sound. Finally, I will play arpeggios slurred and articulated. I reinforce the idea of going through notes by slurring first and then trying to replicate the same idea when adding articulation. My goal is that by reinforcing these ideas every day I am slowly reinforcing it in my playing. Trumpet playing is unnatural, it is easy to form inefficient habits that may work for specific moments but may limit my overall playing. Ronald Romm Professor of Trumpet at the University of Illinois would say “your body does not know what are good and what are bad habits” & “you cannot forget a habit; you can only create a stronger one instead”. For this reason, I work to reinforce good playing habits everyday.
This section will take about 20-45 min. I hit scales, triple tonguing, flexibility, preparation exercises on the turn, transposition, sight singing, intervals, and double tonguing out of the Arban’s book. Since there are many skills to work on, I have a 2-day cycle where I touch on a little bit of everything over two days. Next, I will work on an etude. I will finish this section with a sight-reading excerpt. I end up spending about 2-3 minutes on each exercise because my focus is to touch on each skill. I may even use a timer to make sure I keep it moving. I also make sure to slow down exercises to where I can play them best and slowly move up the tempo over the course of a month.
I have found that by touching on things over the course of 2 months I can make significant progress. In contrast if I only focus on triple tonguing for a few days, I end up not reviewing other things. Then, when approaching a new piece for an audition or performance you will save time preparing because you are constantly working on technique. An indirect benefit of having a daily fundamentals routine was added confidence when performing with minimal or no rehearsal time.
In this section I prepare the repertoire for upcoming auditions and performances. I write down in my practice journal the excerpts I worked on to stay organized. It is easy to get off track and either stay on an excerpt for too long or forget to hit certain spots before the practice session is over. Depending on my schedule, I will have multiple practice sessions just working on this “projects” section. It is also helpful for me to practice in this order because I find the habits I work to reinforce in the warmup and fundamentals sections carry through the projects section as well.
Too much playing will force me to overcompensate for a tired embouchure, creating inefficient habits; not enough playing each day will not prepare me for the performing I do. To try and balance the amount of playing each day, I will do each section of my practice routine at different times during the day.
I hope that these notes on my personal approach have you curious to observe patterns in your practice sessions. Thank you for reading!