Appropriate and Sustainable Practice

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
I read elsewhere about a Brass playing University Student who was told that he needed to play eight hours a day to maintain his current skill level and more if he wanted to improve. That Student decided that the path shown to him was too hard and once graduated didn’t follow music as a career, he does something completely unrelated now.

The question in my mind is what is the process (or, indeed, what are the processes) we should include in our reasoning about our own musical path. What level of skill can we, as ‘unique’ individuals, reasonably achieve and then maintain? What focus or not should we put on our playing in terms of various styles of play and various different types of instrument. How do we become efficient in maintaining and gaining skills? Actually it’s quite a broad topic though I hope it looks well beyond ‘do an hour of Arban every day and all will be well’. Appropriate (to the individual) and Sustainable (for that individual) Practice is the thread’s tittle.

Your thoughts please.
 

GER

Active Member
Probably me being a bit thick, but not quite sure what you are saying but will try to answer as follows: in my younger and developing days I would say my main motivation or process was curiosity-hearing something/someone and wanting to emulate it. Finding out the relative information I needed to achieve and then practising until I mastered the technique, 'banking' that and moving on to something else. This led to a regime of practising roughly 5 hours a day and going to band practice/concerts as often as possible.
I was also fortunate to have a top class tutor, who knew how to 'press my buttons' to keep my curiosity peaked
What level of skill can we, as ‘unique’ individuals, reasonably achieve and then maintain?
We are unique so that is difficult to answer, I think everybody eventually finds their level, become happy with their level of playing and stop striving to achieve anything further-once they get there the 'do an hour of arban and all will be well' mentality kicks in. Practice then becomes as much as necessary to maintain the level they have reached, this could be anything from going to band practice once a week to x hours per day.
Appropriate (to the individual) and Sustainable (for that individual)
Is the crux of peoples achievements- how much do they want it (appropriate) and what are their personal circumstances (sustainable)
Hope this is not too far of your topic.
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Thanks for you comments GER, they are helpful and certainly overlap well with the concepts I have in mind.

I really wonder about practicing things until they are perfect and then ‘Banking’ them. My experience is that unused skills waste away and so need planned refreshment, so if they are ‘Banked’ then the interest rate is negative. Of course you can ‘Bank’ effort but only if you’ve turned it into money instead (by doing something of value to others), the interest rate is tiny but it is still positive. Without too much further thought would could say that many of us waste potential income by practicing our instruments when we could be using the same time in a way that someone else will pay us for. The benefits of particular time spent practicing waste away over time but the alternative income earned wouldn’t.

‘Appropriate’ could include many factors but to my mind inherent talent and intellect certainly are part of the mix. Many of us could practice fourteen hours a day for years but without the two factors mentioned we’re never going to become the type of players Black Dyke want. Understanding what you’re actually capable of achieving and what the cost of that achievement will be is a useful quantification, the relationship between the two is different for us all but the evaluation process might not be.
 
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Tom-King

Well-Known Member
I think the key is realistic expectations.

The better we get, the harder it can be to notice progress, especially if (like me) you're prone to a degree of hypercritical perfectionism - it's easy to curse ourselves for what we can't do (whether that's technical, consistency, etc) and lose sight of progress that's been made.

I think the idea of "banking" somewhat dangerous - very little is ever truly conquered to the point that it can't still be improved... And the best way to make sure we keep our current level is to work on improving it - by pushing further, existing standards become more comfortable.

I'm not sure to what extent people's ability to improve varies - it's easy to notice someone else improving quicker and assume they're naturally gifted...
But how much are they practicing? What are they practicing? Are they taking lessons?

Personally, I focus on myself - what needs improvement the most, what music needs looking at, etc.
I find a certain amount of self-competition helpful - record yourself periodically, compare present with past. If past wins on anything, you have to work harder, always be the best you've been.

I rarely practice more than an hour a day these days...
And I'm still improving at a noticeable pace (which I'm rather pleased with considering where I've already got to).
 

John Brooks

Well-Known Member
Not sure I agree with the initial quote "....eight hours a day to maintain his current skill level and more if he wanted to improve". As commented, that resulted in the individual turning his back on a music career and who knows what the ultimate cost of that decision was, both to the individual and music in general.

I heard the great Trevor Groome speak of his start, when he approached Bert Sullivan for lessons. Sullivan wasn't interested in taking another student and, in the hopes of discouraging Trevor told him to go away and play one note as loud as he could for a week and then come back. To his surprise, Trevor did just that and returned for more the following week......the rest is history.

I also read an article in which Mark Wilkinson was quoted on his approach to learning a test piece (Fraternity if memory serves). When he received the music, he decided to practice the difficult cadenza about 10 times each day, in addition to his regular daily practice routine (of about 2 hours I think). By the time of the contest he had played that cadenza about 1100 times. Mark did what he needed to do, both in terms of general performance and also specifically targeted a significant challenge.

I think Trevor's story illustrates the impact of his initial desire to do whatever it took to get lessons from the esteemed Mr. Sullivan. Mark's story speaks to Tom-Kings comment "what needs improvement the most, what music needs looking at, etc." and doing what he needed to do to achieve continual improvement. At the highest levels, it's not sufficient to maintain the status quo and again, to refer to Tom-King, even with an hour a day he is still improving.

I also heard a well known euphonium player state that if he couldn't take at least 2 hours to warm up before a concert, it impacted his confidence and ultimately his performance. I responded that if I did that, I wouldn't have anything left for the job!!!

2nd Tenor's analogy about 14 hours practice not being sufficient to get many of us into Black Dyke introduces another dynamic.......maybe that's because we need to spend 7 of those hours learning how to read the music Black Dyke plays??

This is a really interesting topic. Obviously it's also very personal and varies with each individual; there is no one size fits all.

I hope this adds to the conversation.
 

GER

Active Member
I really wonder about practicing things until they are perfect and then ‘Banking’ them.
I think the idea of "banking" somewhat dangerous
I think you are both taking my comment too literally, or I gave the wrong impression, I meant mastering the technique, not perfecting it e.g. learn how to triple tongue, once the basics are mastered it becomes a skill that stays with you, however the refinements e.g moving triplets do not, and need continual practice to perfect, this also has the 'knock on' effect of improving your tripleting generally. I would also agree that other techniques need constant refinement, but the techniques do need mastering first.
Hope that explains it better :)
 

dennis78

New Member
Maybe. I do believe I’m only a good electrician because I spend 50 hours a week performing my trade for the last 20 years.

Had this time been spent with my cornet/trumpet I think I’d be equally as good
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Maybe. I do believe I’m only a good electrician because I spend 50 hours a week performing my trade for the last 20 years.

Had this time been spent with my cornet/trumpet I think I’d be equally as good
H’mm an interesting analogy. The question is at what rate did you improve as an Electrician, where did you plateau (if at all) and what effort do you have to put into maintaining your skills? Perhaps the question is too hard to answer simply. If you had twelve months off doing something else how much of your speed and skills would you loose, what’s the rate of decay and is that rate linear over time?

Years ago I visited a camp site with a river flowing by it, if I remember correctly the water speed varied a bit across the river’s width and along its length too. Some of the locals would come for open air swimming there, you could swim up the river but if you weren’t an able enough swimmer or stopped then the current would carry you back to your start point - so energy expended but no overall progress made. A bit like trying to run up a downward flowing escalator. Whilst ‘obviously’ subtly different and simplistic I sometimes think that practicing and playing Brass is a little too like swimming in that River (energy is expended but any progress made is easily lost).
 
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Jack E

Well-Known Member
This is maybe going slightly off your question, but I think it's a point worth making.

A friend of mine was studying with the Open University, and showed me a booklet they sent out to all students on effective study. Obviously, as with my friend, most of their students are in full time work, and the OU said it was very tempting for people in that situation to settle down in the evening, or at the weekend, and study for several hours straight. But, the OU said, plenty of experiments had been done which proved beyond all doubt that, after about three-quarters of an hour, a typical adult's concentration started to fall off rapidly - and after a couple of hours it was almost gone. A typical warning sign to watch out for, the OU said, was finding yourself finishing reading a paragraph - and not having a clue what it said!

What they suggested was to limit a session to a max. of 45 minutes - and then do something totally different. Have a shower, take the dog for a walk, make yourself some tea and toast, phone a friend and have a natter - for at least 15 minutes - before you went back to studying.

The RAF have invested a lot of work into how to teach people most effectively; when you think about the cost of training a military pilot - and the possible loss of life if you don't get it right! - you can see why. And how long were the lessons we had when I was at No.1 Radio Training School, RAF Locking? 40 minutes - after which we were turfed out of the classroom for a smoke and natter break!

I've found the same with my practising; when I feel my concentration starting to fade, I look at the clock and, sure enough, I've been at it for about three-quarters of an hour - and I notice the same when the main band is playing a concert; each half of the concert is about three-quarters of an hour, with them having (and needing!) a complete break in the middle.

HTH
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
Thanks Jack, a good point and well made. Perhaps you do deviate slightly from the original post, but the point that you make certainly overlaps or has aspects of commonality with it. I’ll digress a little too now.

A while back I took an evening class for a couple of terms, two hours with a mid-session break. The teacher was good (knows his stuff and how to transfer knowledge) but as a class we were mentally exhausted by break time and very glad of a cup of tea and a natter. At home here I have played for a couple of hours without a break and thought nothing of the load, but I control of what’s happening so pace and variety are not an issue. However, when I was reading coursework for knowledge the situation was different. I had a note book handy and set a timer to define how long I was going to focus for, the slots weren’t very long but timing study and rest/recovery periods helped me progress through the work - aspects of sustainability.
 

2nd tenor

Well-Known Member
I think the key is realistic expectations.
I rarely practice more than an hour a day these days...
And I'm still improving at a noticeable pace (which I'm rather pleased with considering where I've already got to).
Sorry for the delay on this Tom, I had meant to ask you to expand on this earlier.

I’m wondering how you have decided that you’re improving, what method and measures do you use? Additionally how do you target desired changes and decide what’s a realistic timescale in which to acquire different skills - maintaining them is something else.

I know that I’m a better player than I used to be but how and why is all rather vague and based on memories of what I once couldn’t manage but can manage now, or can now manage better than I could before. A poor evaluation, but elevation of music isn’t straightforward and self evaluation of what we’ve just done is both hard to do and the metrics we use are almost certainly incomplete.

Whilst questioning I wonder whether - and if so how - you have decided what skill level you could achieve, what you would be satisfied with and what practice commitment would be required of you to maintain that skill level? (Sorry, really that’s at least three questions.) Life’s a balance and balancing work, home and banding has its challenges.
 
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Tom-King

Well-Known Member
Sorry for the delay on this Tom, I had meant to ask you to expand on this earlier.

I’m wondering how you have decided that you’re improving, what method and measures do you use? Additionally how do you target desired changes and decide what’s a realistic timescale in which to acquire different skills - maintaining them is something else.
I keep recordings (for practice purposes only) so that's one way to compare back.

Play things that you found challenging (testpieces especially), if "that's not as hard as I remember", that's often a signal that you've improved - yes memory can deceive, but the music doesn't (and odds are coming back to it should be harder than playing it while you're still "in practice" on it).

As far as targeting rates of change - I simply don't - there's no one "end point" - everything in brass playing abilities is a spectrum, trying to target specific points makes no sense to me (and without specific target points, how do you know you've achieved your goal?).
Basically, as long as it's going in the right direction, keep it up!

Whilst questioning I wonder whether - and if so how - you have decided what skill level you could achieve, what you would be satisfied with and what practice commitment would be required of you to maintain that skill level? (Sorry, really that’s at least three questions.)
Again, I don't really - not consistently over time.

I keep short term targets, then these morph into new targets as the previous ones approach - the only real defining features are that they have to be achievable.

So for example when I first started playing again, the target (a decent way off) was to reconquer my previous abilities, with that previous ability both a reassurance that I could, and a motivation.

When moving to better bands the first target is often to get comfortable with the new standards - working on your own playing is obviously part of achieving this.

On that note, whether you like the idea of contesting or not, the standards through different sections really do provide a framework for reference (collectively and individually), that framework leads to stronger bands existing and contest pieces themselves provide challenges...
As much as contesting has its flaws, it provides an excellent framework for progress - I can't imagine that I'd have reached my present ability without the motivation (or the bands/bandmates) it provides.
 

Mello

Active Member
Some interesting posts obviously. Maybe I can add a few pointers which I have come across over the years. I realise I am one of those old guys in the corner who rambles on for which I apologise. However , at the risk of ridicule,.. here we go ...
1)Harry Mortimer was a fine cornettist & principal of Fodens. He had to play the notorious Cornet solo in Pageantry at a major contest, & his father ( the MD ) insisted Harry played it over & over , & over ....he said ( and I quote HM ) ' I dont want you to practice it until you get it right....I want you to practice it until you cant play it wrong'
2) Practice little and often so the lip is always ready...
3) When at home, Dont leave your instrument in its case...Its out of sight & dead. Leave it out where you can see it set up ready to play-- asking to be played....dont keep passing it by, pick it up and tootle .....get used to it.
4) What to practice ....I could go on & on with tips , but remember , its more beneficial to practice the stuff you cant play , not keep playing the stuff you can. For example ( Arban -mixed intervals , p125/126.). p126 for example...look at it , most players play the first line, but most dont even bother with the 2nd line. Be honest with yourself.
5) You cant build a secure house without good foundations....& the same goes for playing.
6) I feel I was a decent player in my time, and to keep in touch with basics and to keep disciplined I used to drop my Arban Gently on the table . and whatever page it opened , I worked on as if it were a competition or exam.
Anyway , I dont wish to go on & on . I am NOT criticising what has previously been said. Just mentioning things which manage to keep me going at a decent standard for decades. Its up to you to decide whether to take any notice of my ramblings or not.
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
Okay, Mello - give us a clue; I've read through your post several times, but I still can't see so much as a smidgen of 'rambling' in it, anywhere!

Saved to my computer - and thank you!
 

Mello

Active Member
Sorry Jack, having heard physically the comment ..." ...typical, if you cant play. talk " Not very pleasant , but maybe true otherwise why say it ? I am conscious of how much I say. and know I do have a tendency to go on a bit....even possibly come across as a know it all, though I admit to knowing little.
That's the reason I refrain from posting more often. I only post when I feel that actual nitty gritty info, based on experience needs saying , & hope wont offend the purists . I also recall a couple of occasions receiving quite strong criticism after inviting folk to phone or mail me in order to help with a particular problem . ( unfairly I feel - as the recipients have told me their problems were solved as a result )
I do read things which tempt me to respond, of course I do , but its better safe than sorry for me. "Hear all & say nowt keeps one out of trouble. " and a lesson I am still learning.. Nevertheless, I thank you for your kind words, they are much appreciated
 

Jack E

Well-Known Member
"Offending the purists", Mello? It's my favourite sport! :cool:

Besides, if anyone finds one of your posts rambling or offensive, is anyone forcing them to read it? If they can't handle somebody expressing an opinion which doesn't match their own, what are they doing browsing internet forums? Call me old-fashioned, but I can't be doing with these people who think free speech means "you're free to say whatever you like - as long as you agree with me!"

If you'd been deliberately insulting (as some have with me), that's a different story. But I've read plenty of your posts, some going back many years, and never seen one which had even a hint of that.

May you have many more years of happy 'tootling', Mello - ;) - and best regards,

Jack
 

Mello

Active Member
Thanks again for the kind words.....Re the tooting....I am afraid I did my bit with a mouthpiece on my chops.. For the past 6yrs I have been teaching as visiting Professor to the musicians in the Band of the Kings Division. As you probably realise they are fine players ...having been thru Kneller Hall.. So its been my honour & pleasure to help teach them ...." You can play the notes , now lets play Music " type of thing. They have been great to work with.

However that will end shortly due to a reshuffle in the army and the band will be relocated later this year. However , tho sad , I have good memories and feel I have done my bit.
Last month marked my 70th year of continuous non stop banding,... at home & abroad. I even wrote a book about it
My first contest being exactly 70 yrs ago on Pride of the Forest !at the Spring Belle Vue.,
So I think its time to back out.
I will never lose interest , but more from an armchair these days.
 

Mello

Active Member
Thank you John for linking my book review.Very unexpected and a lovely surprise.
Im pleased to say it has been well received...but having said that There is no way I will ever write another even tho I have been asked.
Thanks again...Cheers G
 
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