Are you getting in enough practice?

13 Apr

 The little and often approach to clarinet practice
During last weekend’s warm weather spell, my daughter and I were sunning ourselves in the garden when a sound grabbed our attention.

It was the sound of scales being played on a woodwind instrument; an oboe.

We both listened intently.

The fluency of the playing reminded me of my own struggles with learning my clarinet scales.  And my daughter was reminded of the flute scales she gave up when she changed to a different music examination board.

After the oboeist finished his/her scales, s/he moved on to playing some pieces. I noted with satisfaction that the pieces were much less fluent, and it was clear that our oboeist needed more practice…

Is often good enough?

Since hearing the oboeist I’ve been thinking a lot about practice sessions and how much time should ideally be spent practising.

When I first started learning the clarinet, I practiced for half an hour six days out of seven, but looking back, it was much easier then. I was learning a single new note at a time and playing pieces that comprised a limited number of notes only.

Just over a year on, and I’m managing around two (sometimes three) half-hour practice sessions per week, over and above my weekly one-to-one session with my clarinet teacher.

Some weeks I feel that I need to do more half hour practice sessions, while other weeks, the frequency feels just right, given all the other things that I am juggling.

Covering scales, arpeggios and pieces during practice sessions

During most of my practice sessions I spend 15 minutes on scales and arpeggios, and the remaining 15 minutes – my preferred section – on my musical pieces.

But sometimes, I whizz through my scales and arpeggios at break-neck speed, so that I have more time to devote to my pieces.

I haven’t yet spent the full half hour on either scales or arpeggios alone or pieces alone, but this could be because while I do have a preference, I want to make sure that I cover all areas so that I am up to speed when I take my next clarinet exam.

One size doesn’t fit all

I suppose the amount of time we spend on practice depends on a few variables such as:

  • the amount of spare time we have
  • how busy or tired we are
  • whether we combine practicing alone with music tuition
  • our motivation levels
  • whether we have the right conditions – such as a space room or quiet area to play in
  • having some/enough back-up tools/accessories – such as a supply of extra reeds
  • whether we see learning the clarinet as a hobby or as a future career path
  • whether we are working towards a goal or deadline – such as a forthcoming exam (there’s nothing like a little pressure to help focus the mind!)

From what I have experienced so far, when it comes to clarinet practice, little and often can work wonders.

I know that I personally cannot practice for longer than 30 minutes in one sitting, but if I am determined to master something new or tricky, I have been known to practice twice in one day – but never for more than 30 minutes each time.

And not wishing to (continue to) be outdone by our mystery oboeist, I now feel under pressure to do some extra work on my scales…

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