Practice Sequence and Method
We "R PAST" practicing without a plan!
Rhythm - Pitch - Articulation - Shape - Time
For Technical work and Repertoire Study
"One Thing to be understood at a time." The most efficient method to facilitate the learning process is to guide your thought in a direction that is free from distraction. Too many concepts presented at once leads to confusion and slows the learning process. A hierarchical structure is presented here in order to establish a layered process of learning content. This process can be used by the individual or applied to ensemble instruction as well. It can also serve as a macro structure for curricular implementation of concepts.
A correlation can be drawn between learning music and building a house/pyramid. One must start with a strong foundation and build upwards in a sequential manner.
The Sequence Explained:
The Foundation: Tone Quality and Steady Beat are the foundation for all musical study and should be the first priority in the learning process. To insure proper tone, appropriate posture/carriage/breathing technique and bowing for strings is necessary. Steady beat is our internal pulse that divides musical time evenly. A steady beat divided into different parts creates rhythmic patterns. Make sure these two broad concepts are functioning well before attempting to read music.
RHYTHM: Once a proper toneis achieved and maintained, the next focus should be on rhythm. Too often students will place their emphasis on pitch and lose their sense of rhythm.. Remember the old adage” The right note in the wrong place is a wrong note?" or "It is better to play the wrong note in the right place than the right note in the wrong place.” Most importantly, students must maintain a sense of steady beat at all times. Steady beat fosters a learning process that programs the brain more efficiently. See studies on Mylenation and the Learning Brain. (Link to be created)
PITCH: Pitch refers to the addition of note reading into the process. It also may imply the study of harmonic concepts, intonation, ensemble tuning, Chordal balance or any pitch related concept that may need to be instructed. When focusing on pitch/note reading, I will often isolate pitch outside of rhythm. "One Thing to be understood at a time." Once a basic understanding of melodic contour is established, a quick review of rhythm will occur then a fusion of the two concepts. If the rhythmic foundation is strong enough, students will have the capacity to add pitch without rhythmic alteration. It is important during this process that the students honor rhythm first pitch second. Eventually rhythmic reading will become intuitive and concentration can be directed towards note accuracy.
ARTICULATION: Once rhythm and notes are in place, the addition of articulation will occur. Focus will then be on style of music, articulation markings and execution of those markings. Additional focus will be placed on the attack, decay, sustain and release of individual notes.
SHAPE: Musical shape comes in many forms. The most common form is dynamics; playing loud or soft, crescendos, decrescendos etc. In addition to the volume markings notated by the composer, there are many subtle dynamic changes called micro-dynamics, which are the essence of creating a musical presentation. Micro-dynamics follow many of the laws of nature and compliment many compositional elements.
TIMING: This category was originally placed in this spot as a result of the premise that all practice should occur within a slow tempo at first. One would work their way up the pyramid and then when "TIME" was reached, tempo would increase. When the tempo was increased most individuals would find that they would have to start once again at the bottom of the pyramid and work their way up. I have found that TIME was a great time to explore the manipulation of pulse. I.e., stringendo, rubato, ritard, etc. It seemed to be a logical extension of the previous category Shape.
The Practice Method
How to Practice"
Within this sequence, it is important to remember these three rules:
1. Practice Small sections - Chunks
2. Practice Slowly
3. Use the three times rule- play the passage three times in a row accurately before proceeding to the next step in the sequence.
Try to structure your practice sessions as shown below... work bottom up.
Several years ago, I was faced with the challenge of teaching my trumpet students at Keene State College how to play "musically." I was told by numerous professors at that time that this is really something that cannot be taught. It was supposed to happen naturally. We can build tone quality, rhythmic competency, articulation and dynamic control, but without the tools to shape music intuitively, musicality cannot be achieved. My solution was to look at nature and find parallels to musical phrase, explore tension through a theoretical understanding of music, and analyze great performers to find commonalities. I charted out my findings and created a purely analytical approach to phrasing and musical nuance. I "programmed" a few students with this approach and found some interesting results. The most striking was the improvement in embouchure endurance over time. I attributed this to the fact that they were no longer fighting against the natural tendencies of the melodic line. After a few months, a majority of students began to phrase their music intuitively and shared with me the fact that they felt they had the tools to be more expressive. I would assume that this approach would be somewhat controversial to some, however, when teaching young musicians to express themselves, we must give them the tools to do so. So...for what it is worth, I share it here.
Musical Nuance= alterations in volume over time, alterations of pulse, coloring of articulation; ADSR.
Macro Dynamics= the traditional notation on a score; f mp, pp, etc.
Micro Dynamics= The subtle changes in volume that are not notated by the composer and are dictated by principles inherent in nature.
History of this word: "micro" is from "mikros" ("small") spoken by people of Greece starting about 1000 B.C.
Initial Premise: (Be Subtle)
1. Notes that go up should crescendo.Exceptions:
*If the melodic line leads to a descending figure, the decrescendo must be prepared at the end of the ascending line.
*If it is an intervalic leap which leads to a descending line, the first note will get the emphasis, and the top note will be held back slightly.
*Composer preference, notated in the part.
2. Notes that go down should decrescendo.
*If the line leads into an ascending figure, there will be a crescendo at the end of the descending line.
*If the line connects to a restatement of a main theme, it may crescendo.
*A descending intervalic leap which is followed by an ascending line should crescendo to the bottom note then decrescendo slightly.
*Composer preference, notated in the part.
3. Notes that are sustained will crescendo at the end of the note if the melodic line ascends following the sustained note.
4. Notes that are sustained will intensify slightly at the beginning of the note then decrescendo at the end if the melodic line descends.
5. The way in which one releases a note will determine the attack of the next entrance, unless notated with articulation markings or dynamic changes.
Any change in the direction of the melodic line needs to be prepared prior to its execution, through "micro-dynamics," and should be very subtle in order to enhance the shape of the melodic line. In other words, always anticipate the change in melodic direction by altering the dynamics prior to the change in direction.