My Arban Adventure - Week 4

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Welcome! This week you'll read about:
  • Using Metronome in Practice
  • Rating My Progress
  • Rating Categories
  • Philosophy of Practice
  • A Few Additional Thoughts from Week 4
  • Some Recordings from Week 4

My thoughts, observations, and insights for week 4

I am very pleased with how things are coming along.  I am seeing a lot of progress with embouchure and regaining coordination between tonguing, fingering, and breath support.  I am gaining more endurance.  It’s a good feeling to wake up every day looking forward to playing.  In fact, there have been a few days that I wasn’t able to play much in Arban because I had too much going on and just didn’t have the time—I really missed getting to play. 

Refining my method seems to be an every week thing at this point.  So, I suppose change is my normal until I get things just the way I want them. I have been figuring out what works best through trial and error.  Hopefully, there will be more trial and less error. 

Using Metronome in Practice

I began using the metronome  last week and have been refining my method  for using the metronome in my daily practice. The metronome  will help improve accuracy with timing, tempo, and articulation.  Also, working with the metronome helps with sight reading in that I find myself being more focused, specifically, with improving my ability to look a few notes ahead while accurately playing the music on time and with good musicality.  This only happens with practice and I believe using the metronome is key; without the metronome it is too easy to slow down or “borrow” a little time when facing a difficult rhythm or a complicated series of notes. 

I am planning to play/record exercises from Arban at a tempo I can comfortably and accurately play the piece and then speed up gradually till I can play it at a reasonable “performance” tempo.  I am finding some of these exercises are easily playable at a good tempo so this is not so important at the moment but as the exercises get harder I anticipate using this method more.

I have to confess, I was not looking forward to using the metronome.  It was not something I liked very well, so I did’nt do it very much.  So far, I have been pretty pleased with my ability to stay on the beat with the exercises--especially the scale related exercises that are mostly 16th notes played at a slower tempo.  But, since you are playing long phrases of 16th note scale patterns they don’t seem slow at all. I remember how much I hated using the metronome when I was in college (back in the 80s).  I remember it being much harder to stay in time with the metronome.  I suppose, 20 years of leading choirs and worship teams have given me plenty of practice time with keeping a steady beat. 

Rating my progress

This week I began working on a rating scale I can use to help me be more objective.  My idea is to rate myself playing each exercise by listening to the recording. My rating will help me decide when I am ready to move on to another exercise. Throughout this week i have been working on establishing specific aspects of playing to use in rating my playing.  Another part of this process is using the metronome at a slower tempo (as fast as I can play it accurately with good tone and musical expression) and then increasing the tempo until I can play it well at a “performance” tempo.

Rating Categories

  • Notes - Playing correct notes
  • Articulation - Correct tonguing, slurring, legato, staccato, etc. for each note.
  • Tone - good, full, consistent tone
  • Style - whatever style the piece calls for (slurs, legato, staccato, etc. as with articulation but for the piece as a whole).
  • Timing/Rhythm - being accurate with timing, tempo, and rhythms.
  • Breath Support - being able to play all of piece with adequate breath support (not running out of wind, enough support to play all ranges with consistently full tone, breathing at appropriate places without mistakes).

Philosophy of Practice

In the 4 weeks I have been working in Arban thus far, I have done a lot of thinking about how I should be practicing.  Specifically, I have been thinking about which will produce the best results:

Playing each study or exercise 2-4 times per practice session over a longer period of time, 6-8 weeks, for example.
Playing each study or exercise 6-10 times per practice session for a much shorter period of time, 2-3 weeks, for exemple.

Both of these options have good and bad sides.  Playing each study fewer times per session over a longer period of time has the benefits of learning by rote-where playing this becomes more automatic with much less concentration needed.  Also, embouchure, breath support, and fingering technique become more automatic.  Playing a study 5, 6, or 7 days per week for 6-8 weeks allows your long-term memory to kick in and you will retain a better ability to play this study after a long time away from it.  Also, this method allows you to practice more exercises per practice session.
On the other hand, playing each study 6-10 per practice session for only 2 or 3 weeks may allow you to be able to play the study well in the next week but you are not likely to retain the ability to play it as well after that.  Also, this will take more time per practice session and will be more likely to wear you down much quicker.  I have to say, this was my primary method of practice in college.  It was like cramming before a test.  I often wondered why I had so much trouble performing the studies in my trumpet lessons (I also did poorly on tests after cramming). 
Another consideration is your desired result.  If you are working to improve specific techniques that you want to retain for a longer period of time then I believe your best bet is to spread your practice of the music over a longer period of time. My desire is to improve my overall playing by acquiring the skills each study will provide and also the strength in embouchure and breath support and improve music reading and finger technique. 
In the end, I decided to practice each study 2-3 times pers session over a longer period of time since I believe that will give me the best results.
I will continue to evaluate this as time goes on and will make changes as needed.  There may be some factors or results that I cannot or have not anticipated, so, continuing to evaluate my progress, method, and philosophy will be important. 

A Few Additional Thoughts from Week 4

Decided to make it my practice to try to play each study or exercise from beginning to end with the correct timing no matter how badly I mess up.  The purpose for this is to practice recovering from mistakes as smoothly as possible. I used to have a bad habit of stopping and getting frustrated at every mistake. 

I need to remember, my purpose is not to play the exercise perfectly but, to focus on learning, growing, and making progress toward reaching my potential while I work toward playing it to the best of my ability.

Some recordings from Week 4

This is First Study #12 at 120 bpm. Studies 12 at 120 bpm.mp3|First Studies 12 at 120 bpm

This is First Study #13 at 160 bpm. Studies 13 at 160 bpm.mp3|First Studies 13 at 160 bpm

This is First Study #14 Studies 14.mp3|First Studies 14

This is First Study #28.|FS-28

This is part of the Preparation for Gruppetto study from page 91. for Gruppetto Page 91.mp3|Prep for Gruppetto Page 91