The Three T’s to Build Technique, Key Literacy, and Endurance
Just like an athlete’s regular workout to achieve specific goals for improvement in form, strength, and stamina, musicians need to adopt consistent practice habits, and apply a daily routine of the Three T’s:
- Tuning and slow/long-tone warmup
- Three Scales a Day
- Technical Etude or Study
Even if time is very limited, the music directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra recommend that, at a minimum, every musician spends at least ten minutes a day on a regime of playing scales and at least one technical exercise or etude (usually prescribed by a private teacher) to “maintain their chops,” increase flexibility and resilence, and further their technical proficiency.
The TECH TIP #1 outline below provides a suggested framework to follow (especially suitable for violin, viola, cello, and string players, but adaptable to any instrument).
This involves the following approach:
- Consistent drill (ten minutes a day, seven days a week)
- Focused drill (no distractions or interruptions, or it doesn’t count)
- Repetitive drill (many revolutions and repeats)
- Creative drill (innovative and inventive: new keys, articulations, rhythms, etc.)
How to Practice: “Variety is the Spice of Life!”
Key to this formula is venturing out of your “comfort zone” and exploring the entire “Circle of Fifths” – different key signatures (don’t just play in the same key every day), Major and minor scales, and numerous varied patterns:
- Repeated notes
- Unique rhythms
- Slow to fast tempos
- Bowings (strings)
- Intervals (e.g. scales in thirds, etc.)
- Dynamics and other expressive markings
Other practice strategies have been previously shared here (click on the “fireside” menu above or go to https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/), and offer a host of problem solving techniques suitable for instrumentalists of any age and abilty level.
In addition, here are a few more tips for effective practice:
- Play your instrument every day, at least 5-7 times per week. Practicing in short amounts daily is more preferable than “cramming.” Developing technique is much like an exercise workout. Teach your muscles by doing a little bit daily.
- Set regular time(s) to practice. Consistency is the key to success.
- Find a comfortable, well-lit, quiet place to practice. No television or telephone interruptions!
- Practice standing up, not sitting (except cello players). Remember to keep muscles relaxed and loose. Relaxation and breathing exercises prior to the start of a practice session can be especially helpful.
- Use a mirror to visually check your form and technique. Use a recorder to aurally check your playing.
- When trying to improve intonation, play SLOWLY. Try to memorize your music or passage, close your eyes or play in the dark. By restricting visual input, you may help enhance your aural ability, becoming more sensitive and “attuned” to tuning.
- Experts say “start slow and small.” After sight-reading (without stopping) your new selection, break it down into “practice goals” and “problem solve.” At each session, focus on a small section or difficult passage(s). Gradually increase your tempos or add more difficult fingerings/positions/bowings. As you learn each section, overlap your practice goals into repetitive longer “run-throughs” of the music.
- Test yourself performing “ten-times-in-a-row” with 100% accurate notes, rhythms and articulations.
- LISTEN! If you are having trouble with an orchestra piece, or a new solo work, buy a recording, research it on YouTube, or try to get one from the library. Even better, get multiple recordings of it so you can hear different interpretations. Then, listen to it a lot. Listen to it in the car, on your headphones while taking a walk, as background music while talking to a friend, during dinner, etc.
- Don’t forget that the ultimate goal is not to produce the notes you see on the page as you would type in words on a keyboard—the goal is to produce beautiful music. Listen to yourself and “make music” as you practice.
SHJO’s mission is all about supporting school music programs. (For more information, about the Southwestern PA community ensemble, please visit www.shjo.org.) Consult your band or orchestra teacher, as well as a private teacher (if you have one) for more detailed instruction on warmups, tuning, scale reading, and etude assignments.
If you do not own a scale book, here are a few guides for string players:
Best wishes on setting up a daily ten minute PRACTICE PLAN!
Three T’s to Build Technique, Key Literacy, and Endurance
- Three Scales a Day (two Major and one minor)
- Technical Etude or Study
What is needed?
- SmartMusic, eTuner, or other standalone digital tuner
- Lists of scales in different keys
- Supplemental materials (such as Essentials for Strings or Essential Elements 2000 for Strings Book 2 p. 44-45)
- Violin or Viola Etudes: VIOLIN/VIOLA: Wohlfahrt Foundation Studies Book 1 or Wohlfahrt Foundation Studies Book 2*
- Cello Etudes: Sebastian Lee or Alwin Schroeder*
- String Bass Etudes: Simandl*
Other instruments: any etude appropriate to your instrument *(ask your private teacher)
- Per daily warm-up, perform two Major scales and one minor scale.
- Play one scale slow with focus on natural tone production/vibrato and precise intonation.
- lay one scale fast with emphasis on articulation or bowing style.
- Play one scale using unique rhythmic, slurring, melodic patterns, shifting or in positions.
- Play at least one of the above scales in a flat key (Major or minor).
- epending on level of achievement, two octaves is the norm; one octave for novices or playing new keys starting on D (violin), G (viola/cello), A (bass) strings, C (all other instruments); three octaves for advanced string students.
- Check off the different keys you play on the Circle of Fifths. (The goal is that all string musicians should be able to play scales in keys of 1-5 sharps and 1 to 4 flats.)
- Vary your workout to include a range of expressive elements including articulations (staccato, marcato, legato, spiccato, hooked bows, pizzicato) and dynamics (forte to piano).
- Major Scale: Do-1 Re-2 Mi-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 La-6 Ti-7 Do-8 half steps between 3-4 and 7-8
- Natural Minor: Do-1 Re-2 Me-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 Le-6 Te-7 Do-8 half steps 2-3 and 5-6
- Harmonic Minor: Do-1 Re-2 Me-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 Le-6 Ti-7 Do-8 half steps 2-3, 5-6, and 7-8
- Melodic Minor UP: Do-1 Re-2 Me-3 Fa-4 Sol-5 La-6 Ti-7 Do-8 half steps 2-3 and 7-8
- Melodic Minor DOWN (same as Natural Minor)
- Speedy Rhythm Drill (looks like an upside-down pyramid): four sixteenth notes per scale note (up and down), three sixteenths, two sixteenths, and one sixteenth
- Speedy Slur Drill (looks like a normal pyramid): one quarter note (once up and down), two eighth notes slurred played twice, three notes (triplet) slurred played three times, and four sixteenth notes slurred played four times.
- Slow-Fast drills: four eighth notes followed by four sixteenths (or vice versa)
- The 2 + 1 Pattern (or 1 + 2): Triplets Do-Do-Re (or Do-Re-Re), Mi-Mi-Fa, Sol-Sol-La, etc. playing the entire scale using a steady beat in a moderate to fast tempo.
- The 3 + 1 Pattern (or 1 + 3): Sixteenths Do-Do-Do-Re (or Do-Re-Re-Re), Mi-Mi-Mi-Fa, etc. playing the entire scale using a steady beat in a moderate to fast tempo.
For a printable copy of this TECH TIP #1, click below:
© 2018 Paul K. Fox
Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fire” by Alexas_Fotos