Wellness, practice, and how to actually improve

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This semester our guest for our horn day was Richard Seraphinoff. One focus was on injury and wellness, and that is a topic I have a conversation with him on in Episode 33 of the Horn Notes Podcast (available on Spotify, iTunes, etc.). If the topics of brass playing and injuries are of interest at all (and they should be!) give it a listen! The direct link is here.

However, our first session of the horn day was on the topic of practice. A version of his handout materials may be found online (here), but one particular statement, made almost in passing, has really stuck with me. It was this:

You can practice for years and not get any better.

This is absolutely the case. We tend to think of practice being something that should directly lead to constant and linear improvement in your playing ability. However, it is no guarantee of progress, and the results of your practice will vary due to potentially multiple factors. In other words, your playing can absolutely stall out and never get better – if you do not practice correctly, or get some key suggestions on how to fix your problems and go beyond your present issues.

Part of the solution is to practice in a way that works to solve problems. Which is easy to say but hard to do sometimes, and then you get stuck. Repetitions at some point only reinforce the problems rather than providing insights toward solutions.

If you are stuck a fact is that you are not likely to fix the issue working only on your own. It may take a number of lessons with multiple teachers in fact to figure out what the key thing is that is missing, what is holding you back.

Over the summer I often tell students that you can make a semester of improvement over the break from school. I feel sure I did probably every summer, but that was the result of not only practice but lessons with competent teachers. Do your best to find those teachers, get insights into how to improve, and practice in an effective manner that confronts your weaknesses. It will certainly pay off with better horn playing.

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