That’s right, we are featuring a new student blogger, Music major Andrew Unger! Read his first blog post below on some quick tips to make the most of practicing your instruments during winter break!
Andrew Unger is a junior B.A. in Music major who studies horn with Kathryn Mehrtens. He has been playing in both the TCNJ Wind Ensemble and Orchestra since he was a freshman. When he’s not performing, he enjoys writing, listening to music, and Star Wars.
If you’re anything like me, you dread tirelessly practicing your instrument during long semester breaks.
Don’t think that I dislike playing; I’ve been a hornist since I learned how to ride a bike when I was nine years old (I wasn’t the most coordinated child on the block). The horn is what gets me up every morning, and, incidentally, it’s what keeps me up at night. Performing in orchestras, bands, and chamber groups is my passion! However, that satisfaction comes with a price: hours and hours of practice. And if you think you’re exempt from this hard work just because you’re done with finals and taking a month off from classes – think again.
Now that I’ve scared you, here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years which might help you practice (relatively) painlessly during winter break.
1. Early and Often
Bowing your strings, oscillating your vocal folds, beating your drums, or buzzing your lips for five hours a day, one day a week won’t cut it. You know that by now, but you just can’t figure out why you never feel like practicing after dinner. The fact is, we only have so much creative energy to use every day, so take the initiative to play for 30 minutes right after breakfast (don’t forget to brush your teeth). If you can, play for an hour or two in the afternoon. Trust me – if you’ve warmed up in the morning, it’s much easier to get work done later in the day.
2. Plan Ahead
As you’re swabbing out your clarinet or disassembling your trombone, think about or write down your practice plans for tomorrow. When you have more or less time to practice than you usually do, it’s important to prioritize as much as possible. This is especially important if you have rep that needs to be ready as soon as school starts. I’ll be working on my parts for the upcoming Wind Ensemble performance at the NJMEA conference in February. Achieving a short term goal will be easier if you…
3. Set a Deadline
If you’re in college, you’re familiar with deadlines. Right now, my goal for the week is to study excerpts of the first horn parts from Dvořák 8, Mahler 7, and Schumann 3 (easier said than done). Whether they’re etudes, scales, or solo rep, you should always have an idea in your mind of how quickly you want to progress with your practicing. Going in blind can be fun, but it doesn’t always work in your favor.
4. Study with a Pro
If you take lessons with a TCNJ faculty member, you’re already doing this. However, sometimes your teacher isn’t available when the semester ends, but you feel like you need in-person guidance. If budget permits, seek out a professional musician with whom you can study for a lesson or two. It can be very beneficial to work with a different teacher, as long as you’ve discussed it with your regular teacher first. Last summer, I took two lessons with a horn player from the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was hard work, but my playing improved and I got to meet a wonderful musician.
I can’t stress this enough. Take the time to listen to recordings of the music that you’re preparing. This goes for ensemble rep, solo pieces, and everything in between. When I’m away from my horn and I need to practice, I listen to recordings of the Chicago Symphony and the Berliner Philharmoniker. Absorbing the sounds of prolific musicians does wonders for your sound, and you might not even know that it’s happening. If possible, record yourself and listen to your own practice sessions. You’ll notice things that have never been there before, even if you’ve been playing as long as I have.
6. Play With Groups Outside of School
This includes single Christmas gigs, steady work with small ensembles, volunteer playing with community orchestras and bands, and anything else that will get you on stage and performing. Why sit alone in your room when you could be out on a job, meeting new people and experiencing new kinds of music?
Anything else? Oh, get some sleep.