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A balanced approach to practicing.
For years I used to beat my face with endless blasting and loud dynamic drills in the hopes to gain more strength and power in my French horn playing.
Many of my teachers and colleagues encouraged this kind of practice with the philosophy that if you pound at it hard enough you will in time develop a stronger embouchure. For me, it didn’t quite work out that way. The more diligently I worked, the weaker I felt.
Tough times in college
Getting through graduate and undergraduate ensemble playing was a difficult challenge for me. My chops always felt tired and fatigued from overwork. As a result, both my playing and mental states suffered. Yet, I held to the firm belief that I just wasn’t working hard enough. Little did I know at the time, but I was actually doing more harm than good.
Later in my professional career I discovered a very simple, yet effective methodology that worked for me – practice in opposites. The trick, I learned, was to balance my professional demands with opposing techniques in my private practice routine.
Practice in opposites
For example, if my schedule demands very loud, high and sustained playing, my practice routine that week consists of soft, low, non-sustained playing. If my woodwind quintet demands very soft, medium-ranged and articulated playing, my practice routine is made of loud, extreme ranged (high and low), legato drills and etudes.
This ‘balanced’ approach has changed my whole thinking about the daily practice routine and it has changed my overall performance in a very positive way. Today I feel much more confident and secure in my performance abilities than I ever did when I was a student. No longer do I worry about a fatigued embouchure and weak performances.
Do you want a better high range? Try spending more time on your low notes. Do you want better fortissimos? Try balancing your loud playing with more pianissimo playing.
Even further – do you want more power? Try working on your flexibility. Do you want to perform better on those pesky 30-second audition excerpts? Try working more on long etudes that go on and on for several pages.
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