The start of another year and that inevitable feeling that the year ahead needs to promise more than what has gone before. Time to think about setting some goals or targets and thinking about what you would like to achieve – a time to consider how you are going to make yourself feel as though you are in an even better place this time next year.
The main problem with many New Year’s Resolutions is that they are vague and long term with no real way of gaining a sense of achievement. This blog will help to guide you through the process of getting some goals that will work for you, with a clear sense of direction and achievement.
I know that this is usually reserved for whole life situations, but what about applying it to your own playing? What a great way to set some long term targets and consider how to break these into manageable tasks.
Now, I know what you are thinking, New Year’s Resolutions normally only last about a couple of weeks before life takes over and life returns to how it normally is. However this is now a chance to change that mindset and take things forward. With regular small goals and a bigger long-term aim we can give ourselves a real sense of direction and a chance to achieve.
The first thing that is important to decide is what our long-term aim may well be. It doesn’t really work saying anything vague like be a better player, as the way in which we can define ‘better player’ will change as we change and is different to each individual. The New Year’s Resolution (or long-term goal) needs to be something specific, measurable and achievable. Some of you may be thinking – ah! Smart targets – and you would be correct!
So instead of thinking about becoming a better player, it would be much more useful to consider actually what constitutes you becoming a better player. For me personally, this year I would like to focus on breathing technique, articulation and range. Quite a lot really!
Please notice – I am resisting the urge to write practice more. I feel that this is really important. It will work much better to have a focus on what you want to achieve during a practice session as if a technique is going to improve you will have to actually practice. For me, having practice regularly as your New Year’s Resolution is a focus divider. Practice – ok, good, but what and how?
It would be a good idea to may be say that you would like to develop an effective practice routine so that you fit in two practice sessions a week. I feel it is more important to say what you would want to achieve in these practice sessions.
So what would make some good New Year’s Resolutions? Here is a list of what I intend to work on this year by way of some examples:
- Develop breathing technique so that I can play long sustained phrases. For example, second movement of Vaughan Williams Concerto & Bourgeois Fantasy pieces
- Develop my low register so that I can achieve a good quality sound at loud volumes. For example in the First & third Movements of the Vaughan Williams and Gregson Concerti
- Improve intonation and awareness of tuning when performing as a soloist. Work on Bach preludes and check tuning via the piano
- Develop legato playing and awareness of line by listening to Yo-Yo Ma, Alfie Boe, Cecilia Bertolli, John Fletcher and Oystein Baadsvik
- Develop a practice routine of a series of 30-minute sessions that include work on scales, arpeggios, studies and pieces. Research the ideas of others via Google.
(Try and keep the number to a maximum of 5 as too many can really put you off and can drive you away from them.)
Now, these as they stand are fairly good, achievable targets that are specific and measurable. But these targets are far too big and daunting to really allow for full development. The next step will be to break this down and work toward them in smaller steps. For example:
Develop breathing technique so that I can play long sustained phrases. For example, second movement of Vaughan Williams Concerto & Bourgeois Fantasy pieces
- Small target 1: practice 3 stage breathing and try a number of breathing exercises
- Small target 2: long note practice over 2 months in the middle register
- Small target 3: long note practice over 2 months in the low register
- Small target 4: Scale practice, long notes with metronome over one octave within the middle register
- Small target 5: Scale practice with a metronome over two octaves
- Small target 6: Scale practice with a metronome over the whole range
Develop my low register so that I can achieve a good quality sound at loud volumes. For example in the First & third Movements of the Vaughan Williams and Gregson Concerti
- Long notes from Eb (concert) downwards at a medium volume focusing on control, tonal qualities and start/end of note
- Repeated staccato notes in groups of 4 from Eb (concert) downwards at a loud volume, heavily accented
- Pitch bend down from Eb to pedal Eb (open), then D to pedal D (2nd valve), then Db to pedal Db (1st valve) etc. Focus on even tone and control across the range
- Octave scales
Improve intonation and awareness of tuning when performing as a soloist. Work on Bach preludes and check tuning via the piano
- Scale practice – Major, minor (harmonic, melodic and natural), whole tone and modes
- Arpeggio practice – major, minor, dominant 7th, diminished 7th, added 6th
- Singing practice – with a piano – scales and arpeggios as above
Develop legato playing and awareness of line by listening to Yo-Yo Ma, Alfie Boe, Cecilia Bertolli, John Fletcher and Baadsvick
- Arban slur exercises
- Scales & arpeggios
- Structured, active listening
Develop a practice routine of a series of 30-minute sessions that include work on scales, arpeggios, studies and pieces. Research the ideas of others via Google.
- Use Google to search well known brass player websites and forums
- Write down a variety of schedules to follow to mix up practice format and maintain interest
- Aim to record some exercises or pieces to provide a way of assessing current ability and progress
This way I will be able to monitor progress and keep myself on target and heading in the right direction. The New Year’s Resolutions can now seem like useful targets and provide a weekly and monthly focus. This will give a sense of purpose and direction when practicing and also give a real reason for the thought of practicing!
The other useful thing with these is that we can also adapt and amend the targets in a controlled way. If you meet or exceed your New Year’s Resolution targets you can then push things on a little further.
It would be a good idea to print your New Year’s resolution targets and display them where you practice. This will remind you of your overall targets and help give your practice a real sense of focus. (Please feel free to download and print the free template provided for you, here)
Having them on display will also mean that you don’t forget them!