Monte's Trombone students present a delightful afternoon of solo and ensemble trombone repertoire for your enjoyment in preparation for their AMEB Exams
Welcome back to my final episode on developing and improving personal practice habits and learning skills!
My final instalment is entitled "Informing the practice format - Essential elements in actually living with our practice - Keeping 'practice time' attractive and rewarding"
D. Specialisation – Generalisation practice strategies: How can we keep practice attractive
It is essential that the balance between spending practice time on detailed, technical development, or specific technical/musical challenges in our performance repertoire be offset with time spent on making the necessary expressive performance connections for the overall picture.
It is easy to either spend too much time just playing through our repertoire, or to become too bogged down by inordinate time spent on specific technical details. “We can’t see the forest for the trees”, or “we can’t see the individual trees because our focus is on the forest”.
Either scenario keeps us from experiencing healthy, rewarding progress to rewarding musical outcomes. It is important therefore that we search for opportunities allowing for us to consolidate our progress through either informal or formal performance opportunities. (friends, family, informal occasions, etc.)
Some practical considerations towards transforming the act of practice from 'duty' to relative 'pleasure':
In conclusion: Don’t be overly discouraged when you experience difficult practice days, days of progress drought, or even a disappointing practice week! After all, it is a normal occurrence and frustrations can often lead to thinking in new ways and using the challenges to grow our skills. Consistent investment in a well-planned practice regimen will, over time, reward you with steady progression.
It is also important to understand that the effective learning habits being formed, developed and reinforced through the process of systematic practice should be considered ‘transferable’ to many learning applications and will remain with you for the rest of your life.
It is my hope that these past three instalments investigating the nature and process of successful and rewarding individual practice will lead to fresh inspiration for both music teachers and students alike. Thank you for taking time to read my musings and suggestions on the The Art of Practice “Perfect Practice makes Perfect…maybe”
Warm regards, and best wishes for your musical journey
Welcome back to my discussion on developing and improving personal practice habits and skills!
Following on from my last post in which I discussed my philosophy behind developing a more effective and rewarding practice routine, I now want to share the actual nuts and bolts of how one can actually maximise their practice sessions through examining specific, proven practice strategies.
C. Improving our actual practice approach: Making each session count!
One of the most effective ways to approach a work is to first identify the challenging passages. Next, isolate those sections, working through them slowly and then putting them back into the context of the work when sufficient accuracy is achieved. Do not reinforce mistakes by repeating them, but stop and identify what the specific problem or challenge is. Now, determine how you will fix it. Your teacher’s shared strategies will be of great assistance in this exercise.
2. Learn to identify trouble points through the comparative listening approach.
At times, it may be useful to record yourself (audio or video) to identify specific trouble spots. If you are having difficulty with a particular passage, it often helps to play through the section very slowly, experimenting with a variety of articulations, rhythmic sub-divisions and intervalic variations. Try alternative finger combinations/slide positions. If it is a rhythmic problem then try counting (sub-dividing) and fingering (slide shift) or buzzing through the passage. Do not play the passage any faster than you can play through it correctly! Slow practice is best when addressing individual trouble spots. This strategy will aid in automating your approach to the passage.
The Comparative Listening Process -
I have an aural model of what is to be recreated, either from my teacher, musical director or another source, such as a professional recording, or live performance. I try to re-create the model. Following my 1st attempt, I now compare my performance against the model: I make the necessary adjustments, (teacher suggestions) and try again. I repeat this process until I achieve a close approximation of the model.
3. Be patient!
Begin by playing through the problem passage very slowly, if need be, one note at a time, until you are playing the rhythms, fingerings, articulations and pitches correctly. Once accuracy has been achieved, then repeat that section at least 3 times. Now, gradually increase the tempo until the passage is up to speed. Remember; it is essential to begin the passage at a slow tempo and gradually increase your speed while playing the passage correctly rather than attempting to play an entire piece at performance speed, making numerous errors. Remember: We don’t generally play difficult passages slow enough for long enough periods.
4. Trial expressive interpretation possibilities.
Once the passage has been mastered you can then begin to focus on expressing yourself through the passage/work instead of being limited to playing the correct note at the right time. Musicality can be defined through demonstrating the ability to interpret a piece with emotional connection through identifiable phrases and cadence points, with shape, contour and nuance. These decisions are generally informed through harmonic “Departure/Arrival”. This is what distinguishes an outstanding performance from that of a predictable one.
5. We all need inspiration.
First, follow the printed directions such as dynamics, style of playing, and the tempo, or speed at which the music should be played. But remember; these are only ‘instructions’ that are actually derived from the underlying harmonic chord progression and the unique interplay between harmony, rhythm and melody. It is best to ask ‘why the instructions are there in the first place.’ To what are the instructions pointing and leading us to actually do at the moment. Can the interpretation be different tomorrow?
You can gain additional interpretive insight and inspiration through listening to fine recordings of the same piece performed by various artists and attending to their individual interpretations. You can also gain excellent insight by researching the history of the composer and the era in which the music was composed.
6. Be prepared to experiment!
Be sure to try out different phrasing/breathing/fingerings/alternative slide positions. Also explore variations in tone production, articulations, style, and intensity. Memorising a piece may assist you in achieving more freedom of expression. Once you know a piece so well that you are "free" from the technical demands, you may find it easier to interpret music on your own.
7. Productive Review Process
At the end of each practice session, try playing straight through the piece, enjoying your successes and consolidating your gains. The progress made during addressing ‘problem spot’ practicing can be reinforced and locked in. And, you will also feel a sense of accomplishment, hearing the improvements you have made in the full context of the work. “Perfect practice makes perfect". All it takes is commitment, persistence, patience, consistency and concentration. We can then begin to enjoy the fruits of rewarding, productive practice – real musical investment.
8. Come Prepared
Be sure that you have all of your materials handy and organised, including music, tuner, pencil, metronome and any other items you plan to incorporate into your practice. Use your pencil to note fingerings, phrasing, breathing points and any other pertinent information. A serviceable music stand is essential and always employ the best posture and hand position, whether sitting or standing.
As to the materials ...
9. Be sure to divide your practice segments equitably.
Consider using a mix of scales, etudes, and repertoire selections (concertos, sonatas, orchestral music, etc. However, you may not have time to work on every element in every practice session, plan according to your time limitations.
Consider building your practice sessions around the following five categories
a. Warm-up routine - be sure to vary this every day
b. Technical ‘A’ - rhythmic exercises that include
c. Technical ‘B" - Melodic studies exploring:
d. Solo repertoire
e. Ensemble repertoire*
Be sure to catch my final instalment "Informing the Format: How to put it all together"
Once again, thank you for reading!
Warm regards and best wishes for your next practice session.
I believe that a great way to examine and improve our approach to personal practice is to consider the time spent practicing as one would consider the analogy of making financial investment as one might invest in ‘futures’. In a sense practice is a form of investment, so therefore we need to develop a systematic, sequential approach to practice that will equate into to effective, rewarding performance returns/outcomes over the long term.
However, many of us remain unfamiliar with the systematic and sequential learning principles that lead to successful, rewarding practice outcomes. I trust that the following overview of the fundamentals of practicing will provide some informative direction leading to more productive, enjoyable practice sessions inspiring us to return to the practice room time and again.
A. Here follows some common questions
1. When is your best time for practice (consider work/school/family/friends commitments)
If you feel more alert in the morning, this may be the best time for you. Conversely, if your concentration, energy and focus are better in the afternoon or evening, then these may prove more productive. Sometimes it is more effective to divide practice time into two or three time slots instead of one long session. Whatever time suits your schedule and state of mind, be consistent and make the effort to practice at the same times at least five to six days per week.
2. Where is the best place to practice?
Practicing requires a ‘quiet’ space where you won't be distracted or disturbed. Put away any distractions and let the people around you know that you would like not to be disturbed. Be sure to Turn your media/phone off.
3. How can I best prepare for successful practice outcomes?
Practice requires both mental focus and physical energy to effectively progress your practice plan. Practicing when tired, thirsty, hungry or un-focused, will only lead to frustration and disappointing results.
4. How long should I practice?
The actual time spent in practice does not matter as much as how you will use the time you have, identifying what you wish to accomplish and selecting and organising the activities and exercises that will best aid you in achieving today’s goals.
a. Depending on the tasks at hand, such as: exams, juries, recitals, major ensemble public performances; forty-five minutes to an hour is a good place to start… However, practice time is also about building mental and physical endurance. It is important to understand the physical and mental demands our performance repertoire will place on us so that we can prepare for both mental and physical endurance.
b. Make sure that you programme your practice sessions for success by identifying what specific things you wish to accomplish today. It is easy to reinforce mistakes and waste time when you practice without a plan; well-constructed plans can provide both purpose and focus to your practice. They promote ‘scope and sequence’, encouraging mindful concentration thereby enabling steady progress.
5. How can I get the best results from my practice time?
Structured, planned and consistently timetabled practice sessions provide the basis to achieving productive progress. The following suggestions will help you steadily progress when you practice.
B. Planning and Preparing for a workable practice routine
The first step toward developing a productive and rewarding practice routine is to begin with a clear definition of the word “practice”. Practicing is the act of learning and refining one’s technical and musical fundamentals through a sequential and systematic approach. Without a properly developed technique it is very difficult to master either ensemble or solo performance repertoire. Actually, there are two parts to this: ‘learning’ and ‘refining’.
Performance’ can take place in front of your friends, teacher, an audition panel, an exam, a master class, or a public audience. The art of practicing in its broadest terms is a skill that is developed over time, enabling you to detect problems and mistakes through careful concentration and comparative listening; to effectively solve those issues through the application of proven strategies. Practicing is hard work. For this reason, it is necessary to approach the task with thoughtful planning and constant experimentation to learn what format is ultimately most suitable and effective for you.
1. First of all, you will need to decide on how many hours of practice you are going to attempt each day/week. Much depends on your destination, ultimate goals, the performance task, and what you ultimately wish to accomplish in the time allotted.
2. Sit down with your weekly schedule and organise specific practice times. If you are unable to set regular times, you will fill up the time with other activities, unable to meet your goals. Be sure to trial your schedule. Some practice times may work better than others, but it will at least provide a place to start. You can always make adjustments to meet your particular needs.
3. If possible, break up your practice times throughout the day. However, if you have to practice, for example, two hours consecutively, take a break of ten or fifteen minutes between sessions.e. Be flexible in finding practice time when your daily life adds more activities. You may need to get up earlier or stay up later. You may also need to invest in a practice mute: There are currently many on the market.
4. Daily practice does not consist of simply playing through exercises, solos and ensemble repertoire with a dis-engaged’ rote-repetition approach’. Rather, it is essential that one first identify the fundamental skills and knowledge “I need to overcome the specific technical performance challenges of my repertoire”. These basic performance skills are developed and mastered through the daily use of sequential training materials. It is the mastery of these skills that enable us to meet the technical and musical challenges of our performance repertoire
5. Play with specific goals in mind; ones that you can measure. Set three focused gals for each time you begin practice. At the beginning of practice sessions, ask yourself, "What do I want to accomplish today? Shall I focus on tone/intonation development, basic finger/slide technique, build reading skills through sight-reading? Or, should I begin to focus on a new work, play with heightened musicality, or fix some problem passages in a current work?" Now, set three focused goals for each specific exercise, task or passage you place under the ‘microscope”. Don’t aim too high though. Make your goals realistic, even setting them lower than you think. Better to hit a lower target than to miss altogether.
6. Before we can practice a work, we must learn it through becoming familiar with the specific key centres, notes, articulations, rhythm challenges and expressive considerations. The main task of ‘practicing’ is that of getting the work up to speed. As your focus may change, continue to analyse our progress with questions such as: "Am I playing in tune? Is my tone even across the range, are the specific rhythms properly aligned and what parts of the work need specific attention?" However, whatever direction you take, remember to form detailed, descriptive opinions of your specific practice out-comes throughout your practice time, and be sure to recognise what is going well first and then identify what you would like to improve!
7. The most effective use of time is to meticulously plan for each practice segment with specific targets and measurable outcomes. As a part of the learning process try to form honest, articulate opinions on your progress*
a. Listen critically
b. Listen analytically
c. Listen patiently
*Start with ‘What did I believe went well’ and follow up with ‘What would I like to improve’?
Be sure to stay tuned into my next instalment "Improving our practice approach"
Thank you for reading! Warm regards, Monte
What a great opportunity for Tasmanian brass players to get together for fellowship and inspiration! I encourage all of my Tasmanian brass colleagues and friends to attend if possible. Il ook forward to seeing you there!
Dear friends and family, Lynda and I have finally released our CD Album, "Go, Lovely Rose!"
The album can be purchased online at
This album represents a unique partnership between myself and my friend and colleague, pianist Lynda Jessup. The album celebrates a musical friendship spanning 35 years of shared music-making. Together we have performed the widest range of repertoire, from works that are specific to the trombone, to the lush and romantic compositions for voice.
In this recording, we share with you a selection of English, Russian, French, Australian, and American art songs and dances drawn mainly from the early 20th century. Although the trombone is often capable of projecting a voice of power and majesty, this collection of eclectic, little-known works provides opportunity to experience the instrument's unique ability to 'sing' with glorious piano accompaniments, of both intimacy and surprise.
Hard copies can purchased directly from me.
We do trust that you will enjoy this delightful collection!
Trombone Recital in Launceston - Featuring the music of Georg Telemann, Edvard Grieg, Astor Piazzolla, Elizabeth Raum and Arthur Frackenpohl
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there” … John Lennon
“Professionals rehearse because they perform. Amateurs/students perform because they rehearse. The rehearsal is the main event” … Craig Kirchhoff
“My rehearsal is my most important performance” ... Monte Mumford
As much as we might agree that planning for every rehearsal is important, both the writing, and using of comprehensive rehearsal plans can be daunting. And, what about all those pesky considerations, such as;
“Where do I start? I have such limited time… I must prepare for the next concert… I must teach the pieces… My students never practice their parts at home… How will we ever be ready in time?” etc…
At this point it is essential to remember that rehearsal plans generally reflect our ‘core’ music philosophy and overall purpose for inspiring students through rewarding participation in mastering skill, knowledge and artistic expression through our rehearsal routine. Is the ‘next concert’ our true destination, or is it our ensemble’s overall musical development and advancement?
To this end it is imperative that we frequently revisit, re-examine and continually adjust our educational philosophy to ensure that it consistently supports and informs our purpose and direction for each and every rehearsal. After all, we should remember that as conductors, we are educators first. What do we wish for our ensemble members to gain through our rehearsals? Without meticulous planning it will not be possible to effectively lead and instruct our ensembles in the short rehearsal time allotted. If the lack of rehearsal time is a real concern, it is imperative that we work with a detailed plan of specific targets, strategies and goals with realistic timings to ensure steady progress.
Like many challenges, once you have the ‘learning curve’ down for creating and delivering a balanced rehearsal plan, it becomes much easier. After the first plan is written and delivered, it then serves as a template for the rest of our plans for the term.
Here are some guidelines I find helpful in my initial rehearsal planning routine.
1. I carefully consider the priorities of what my ensemble will need to know to meet generic performance requirements, such as:
3. I find it incredibly useful and most effective when I can share my plan via email with my ensemble three or more days before the next rehearsal. This provides the ensemble sufficient time to respond and employ the suggestions I have shared towards our next rehearsal.
The use of meticulous, systematic rehearsal plans leads to measurable, rewarding outcomes, and also ensures positive engagement and continued growth. However, it is important to also understand that these intensive, broad-based rehearsals are to be planned so that their content and activities are tailored to fit into whatever time frame you are working. "There is always to to do what you want to do." ,,, Benton Minor
Be both persistent and consistent, for the rewards of a well-trained ensemble are truly worth the effort. As an added benefit, well prepared plans can also establish our credibility to both colleagues and students alike.
My rehearsal plans generally consist of the following three major sections
1. Warm-up: physical preparation and mental focus, employing;
“Circle of 4ths” studies and related exercises as needed;
developing independence and aural awareness
2. Training: technical and interpretative exercises/studies **
rhythmic and pitch vocabulary materials – rhythms, scales, arpeggios, the use of relatively short, unison etudes phrase and harmonic development through the use of chorale material
3. Performance repertoire: sight-reading and performance works
all of repertoire choices are consistently matched to the level of the warm-up, training and chorale materials and overall abilities required by the repertoire.
This three-point rehearsal format is based upon the use of a series of annually adjusted ‘Student/member Learning Objectives’ (SLOs). These are broken down into term goals and addressed through weekly rehearsal plans. These SLOs can be further broken down into the introduction and use of ‘long term, mid-term and short-term’ practice strategies (more on these later). The end point of our use of ‘rehearsal plans’ is to ultimately demonstrate to our ensemble members how to successfully invest in planning their home practice routine for successful progression and measurable, positive returns on their ‘investment’!
1. Circle of 4ths – Alternative Rehearsal Techniques* - The purpose of the various exercises introduced through the Ed Lisk Circle of 4th routine is to “redirect” thought and attention away from written notation (visual skills) to the art of listening (auditory skills). It is also useful in building individual and group concentration skills and individual engagement with independence. The mental processes and visualisation techniques promote ensemble member participation and focusing attention. It also provides for activating and improving individual listening skills through internal pulse development and aural awareness in scale, arpeggio and interval work.
2. Technical development (I generally split this section into two parts)
b. Chorale studies provide opportunities for developing perceptions of balance, blend and
vertical intonation, as well as for exposure to the all-important harmonic movement (departure and arrival), and harmonic context as the driving force in phrase sensitive expression/interpretation.
There are several method/etude/chorale ensemble texts# (see list below) that can be systematically employed for every level of ensemble expertise; the choices are many. However, ultimately, it is not the material you choose, but how you choose to use it that really matters. (A topic for another post, but they are designed to be used sequentially!)
The important point here is that we employ the training material systematically every rehearsal with special attention to applying the learning strategies to home practice routine. In fact, every amateur and professional sporting club both appreciates and practices the importance of daily training discipline in every turn-out. Every rehearsal provides a valuable lesson in how to practice at home: make an opportunity to introduce a learning strategy and then demonstrate its effectiveness, in every rehearsal! We, in fact become trusted investment counsellors.
3. Repertoire and the Rehearsal Proper:
It is at this point that we need to see that a major function of our repertoire choice should provide for opportunities to reinforce the technical and musical development of our ensemble. Our plan therefore will need to effectively connect the training material introduced in the first two sections of the rehearsal towards addressing the technical and musical challenges found in our repertoire choices. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are trying to build generic skills and musical knowledge to meet the musical and technical demands of our repertoire. That is why it is vitally important that the mastery of technique and musical interpretation are separately introduced and learned prior to exposure to the current repertoire in the folder. Be careful to choose repertoire that does not exceed the capacity of your ensemble to meet its technical and musical demands.
Therefore, when moving on to planning and preparing the performance repertoire section of your rehearsal, it is important to list the specific issues for consideration, such as how will your repertoire best serve achieving your music education philosophy. You will need consider what sections will need attention and how they should be approached and prepared with references and examples drawn specifically from the training materials.
The ability to balance your training and performance activities requires both vision and dogged commitment to meticulous planning, timing and above all, patience. We must remain committed to the ‘long game’.
Point to ponder… Good rehearsals always include connective analogies, metaphors and narrative (stories) to assist our ensemble in understanding musical concepts difficult to understand and promote the intrinsic value of excellence in music performance over short-term extrinsic rewards.
Additional notes and resource lists:
*Circle of 4ths Rational and use: Why I both promote and employ the Circle of 4ths strategies as a foundation of warm-up procedure across every rehearsal.
Through the use of the “Circle of 4ths” exercises and stratagems, I focus on developing rhythmic internal and external pulse awareness through the use of subdivision, and vertical pitch alignment through beat-less tuning, harmonic alignment and balance:
accurate rhythm and duration,
pitch, tone quality and intonation
harmonic and melodic ensemble balance and blend
key centre cognation
Employing the Circle of 4ths programme and related applications enables ensembles to increase their automised skills base through its application throughout the rehearsal. It is important to understand that all of the ‘Circle of 4th’ exercises are to be ’un-conducted’ and are solely dependent on each individual’s internal pulse. They are expected to listen to the ensemble for developing and matching tone quality, intonation, balance, blend and corporate time and internal pulse.
**On-line resources for ‘Rhythm Reading”
I believe that it is important to share online resources with our ensembles, which will assist in priming curiosity and individual engagement with technical and musical growth, as this promotes individual responsibility and ownership.
Here are three rhythm sites that can be of great assistance. All three appear to be free and interactive. The 3rd site includes a print option, so I share them with in hopes that they will assist in improving rhythm vocabulary. Mastering rhythm notation is key to ultimate success in sight-reading, so, happy rhythm reading! http://www.daniellaberge.com/music/rhythm/rhythm1.htm
#Texts and training materials
The Creative Director Alternative Rehearsal Techniques (Edward Lisk)
Rhythm Spectrum for Effective Rhythmic Development (Ed Sueta)
“Sound Innovations” books 1-2 (Robert Sheldon)
“Sound Innovations Ensemble Method” books 1-3 (Robert Sheldon)
“Accent on Achievement” - books 1-3 (John O’Reilly)
“Traditions of Excellence” – books 1-3 (Bruce Pearson)
“Essential Elements” - books 1-3 (Tom Rhodes)
“Symphonic Band Warm -ups“ (Claude Smith)
Exploring the rationale behind the use of rehearsal warm-up and training activities in a music education environment.
During the opening weeks of my first semester at the University of Northwestern as Director of Bands (2005-2010), I spent a great deal of my time, both watching and listening to my new colleagues and students as I settled into the business of teaching music through performance ensembles. As I watched and listened, I began to notice a certain ‘disconnect’ with regards to my student’s understanding of my educative direction and purpose in our Symphonic Band Rehearsals. I became curious as to the nature of their personal and corporate engagement, both inside and outside of our rehearsals. I ultimately concluded that many of my students held very different views from mine as to the purpose of ensemble rehearsals in general. In fact, we were poles apart as I was soon to discover.
Following one particularly frustrating rehearsal, I asked my senior members as to why they believed that there was a symphonic band on our campus. The only answer that they could offer was “well, every school has a band”. Apparently in their minds, participation in the school ‘band’ had not been considered to be of any particular educational value outside of a ‘fun’ activity, meant in someway to provide a relief from the grind of the daily diet of academia and ‘homework’, or to encourage communal team spirit and the sundry benefits of ‘social participation’ in such ‘co-curricular activities’. To be sure, there was a certain degree of commitment to preparing for festivals, contests and the twice-yearly school concert. However, these events were seen as destinations that somehow became the ultimate justification for the existence of their school performance ensembles. And, it was also tacitly understood by most ensemble members that the actual preparation for these ‘important events’ was to be achieved solely within the actual rehearsal period, and certainly not through the process of personal home practice.
I wonder how often we engage in exploring, questioning and considering what it is our ensemble members understand, or believe as to the importance of their participation in school performance ensembles? I suspect that there are many and varied beliefs, and that we might be surprised by hearing their thoughts…
Upon reflection of my students' answers, I was struck with the urgent need and importance for school ensemble rehearsals to clearly reflect and promote academic rigour with systematic and sequential purpose in the pursuit of performance music participation. Indeed, if we are to secure the ongoing support and respect of our administrators, colleagues, students and parents alike as to the valuable educative assets and outcomes of music ensemble participation in the school community, our ensemble rehearsals will need to clearly demonstrate the acquisition, purpose and effective use of learning processes, which in turn lead to measurable, transferable skills, a useful knowledge base and identifiable outcomes.
Over the years I have often observed ensemble directors playing down the importance of the warm-up/training portion of their rehearsal, relegating it to something that one has to ‘get through’ so that they can get on to the ‘more important’ task of teaching our repertoire. Generally, these routine activities consist of a few minutes of playing through a couple of scales, (often the same ones each rehearsal) and a tuning exercise, maybe employing an electric tuner, a tuba, oboe or vibraphone: then, it’s quickly on to the ‘all-important’ repertoire. When the warm-up portion of rehearsal is seen in this light I believe, we are missing a great opportunity for sharing effective and imaginative learning strategies, and applications in acquiring the skills necessary for musically rewarding rehearsal and performance outcomes.
To be both worthy, and effective of the time allocated, the warm-up/training portion of the rehearsal has to have direct relevance and connection to what will follow on in the repertoire to be rehearsed. Ensemble warm-ups should be used for the process of introducing, preparing and shaping our ensemble’s knowledge and skill level necessary for meeting both the present musical demands, as well as for identifying and preparing for future learning goals.
In fact, our rehearsals should actually reflect our personal philosophy of music education, providing models and practical instruction on how ensemble members are to develop, organise and utilise their own personal practice routine. The main function of the warm-up/training portion is to provide basic strategies on mental focus and concentration, tone production, breath control/bowing/sticking, embouchure development, internal pulse, meter cognition, automatic responses relating to rhythmic and melodic notation, learning and practice strategies, phrasing, harmonic sensitivity and most importantly, independence. In fact, there should be specific reasons and attendant goals for everything contained in our warm-ups as they generally comprise the most precious time of our rehearsal structure: the first 15 – 20 minutes.
Therefore, everything that happens in those first few minutes should be systematically planned to address not only the repertoire which is to follow, but to also prepare our ensembles how to acquire and use technical and interpretive skills and knowledge. It logically follows then that both the materials and strategies used in warm-ups should be assisting in providing our ensemble with the tools/techniques/skills required to meet both the technical and musical demands of our present repertoire choices as well as for our student’s future learning strategies. Planning warm-up/training sessions then requires careful preparation and systematic planning, as to how one selects their material and arranges the various activities which will aid in achieving our educative goals by the end of the day’s rehearsal, the semester and the year before us.
The Edward Lisk “Alternative Rehearsal Technique” warm-up system is perfectly suited to forming the basis of developing creative and imaginative warm-ups as it provides endless exercise opportunities, based around the use of the Circle of Fourths. I personally have successfully used his concepts and exercises to great effect over the last 28 years with ensembles of all ages and experience levels. I also employ a wide variety of chorales, such as Frank Erickson’s “66 Festive and Famous Chorales”, Richard Thurston’s “Bach Chorales for Band”, and Leonard Smith’s “Treasury of Scales for Band and Orchestra”. Depending on the level of ensemble, I include the use of assorted standard method books such as the “Traditions of Excellence”, “Essential Elements” and “Sound Innovations”, etc. With more advanced ensembles I employ technical studies, such as Claude T. Smith’s “Symphonic Warm-ups for Band”, Raymond Fussell’s “Exercises for Ensemble Drill”, Ed Sueta’s “Rhythm Spectrum” exercise book containing 67 progressing rhythm charts and “Sound Innovations Ensemble Training Series”. (This is just a small offering as there are many more for consideration.) The most important issue, however, is to make use of a variety of exercises and texts so that the only routine is the actual time, and not the specific exercises.
An important factor in designing and delivering imaginative and effective warm-ups is found making sure that the material you use is related to addressing and developing both long term generic skills and also addressing specific skills directly contained in the specific performance repertoire you are presently engaged in preparing. It is also important to remember to avoid consistently using the same material and/or employing predictable training routines. This practice dulls the mind, often resulting in a ‘disconnect’, or mental withdrawal from the activity. The main thrust should always be to remind our ensembles that using the ‘learning process’ is their responsibility, not ours, and that they themselves own what they learn. It is our responsibility to model and introduce how to effectively use the time and material, while proving its value by demonstrating the success experienced when the strategies and material are used. The rest is up to them. We might be surprised if we asked an Olympian athlete to describe their outlook and philosophy on their warm-up/training routine.
The actual content found in method books, chorale books, rhythmic studies and technical etudes listed above is not as crucial as the learning process applied to the specific material, leading to successful outcomes. Instead, it is the actual learning process that is most significant and how it is applied to other musical (or non-musical) challenges. Why is the exercise there in the first place, how does it fit into the overall learning sequence, and how can we assist students in identifying the embedded targets: how will the students know when they have met and achieved the implied targets found in in each exercise? Who ultimately is responsible for setting the outcome criteria? How does the exercise sound when it is right?
If we do not share the effectiveness of ‘process learning’ during our rehearsal warm-up/training portion, we then miss a great opportunity to demonstrate the power of personal ownership found in independent learning. Why do we learn to master specific exercises if not to apply the process used in learning them to the technical and musical challenges? Do our students understand this principle? Mathematicians do not learn equations, save for their application and usefulness in the process of problem-solving.
The warm-up portion/training of our rehearsal should provide opportunities where invaluable performance skills are introduced, developed and perfected. If we agree that 70 % of our rehearsal time should be spent on music-making and 30 % to be spent on technique acquisition and mastery then it stands to reason that a majority of the technical skills needed to allow our ensemble to focus on music-making ought to be addressed separately from the repertoire. Composers of significant repertoire generally assume an ensemble’s command of a prior knowledge and skill base to be necessary for a rewarding, significant musical performance to take place.
If we also agree that educational ensembles give concerts because they rehearse, then at least part of the entertainment value should be derived from the communal joy of a successful progression from one level of performance to the next. School concerts, besides entertaining our audiences of friends and families, should also provide reality checks on the ensemble’s overall musical development and progress. Therefore concerts, festivals and contests should never constitute ultimate destinations, as we will be generally disappointed with ours and our ensemble’s overall results. Instead, we should endeavour to view these activities as vital stops on our ensemble member’s way to their final destination of assisting in producing independent, life-long learners and lovers of music.
Thank you for taking the to read my thoughts...
Percussion section: The basics
For this, my next instalment on basic ensemble training knowledge I would like to share some thoughts and resources regarding the development of our percussionists. And yes, posture and hand position play an important role in percussion performance, so once you have the templates clearly established, be prepared to remind your percussionists 70 X 7!
So often in our rehearsals our percussion sections get left out, either through ours, or our percussionist’s mis-understanding, lack of confidence, lack of specific knowledge/role models, or the fact that they are simply isolated by too great a distance from our podium. Sometimes we fail to understand how to employ the sequential and systematic learning approaches found in our method books, or lack proper materials, or instruments, to prepare our students to meet the challenges in our performance repertoire.
What other section in our ensemble is presented with so many performance challenges? Physical distance between unlike instruments, the need to develop individual/group organisation skills, the ability to master performance technique for so many different kinds of instruments, and the list goes on.
And do we actually know the different percussive sounds our individual scores demand? Can we describe them? Do we actually know what kind of sound the composer wishes to hear at a particular point in the score for each instrument? Can we articulate it? Can we demonstrate the sound for which we desire?
Sometimes we have to admit that we just don’t know enough…yet. Once again, 'we don’t know what we don’t know’! But, we need to know! Do we know where to find the answers, and is this important? However, it is a plain fact that the success of our bands and orchestras lie in the effectiveness of our percussionists to possess the techniques, reading skills and passion to cover and musically meet the challenges of modern ensemble repertoire. If we are fortunately endowed with a fine percussionist tutor/staff, we still need to reinforce their teaching and direction. And we still need to be able to articulate that special sound we wish our percussionists to produce.
Another important point for consideration is the need for we musical directors to be able to build and encourage our percussion sections to become vibrant communities of shared challenges, learning journeys and ultimate joy of being a part of an important group of musicians within our ensemble.
For the developing of an effective and engaged percussion section, it is essential that we hold in our repertoire of teaching strategies, the accurate physical and aural templates for percussion. To this end I have chosen several video demonstrations and written articles covering what I consider to be the most important fundamentals of percussion performance.
This next portion of my presentation for beginning and training knowledge acquisition, and development provides you with both written and video resources for percussion instruments technique. These resources specifically explain and demonstrate posture, hand position, stick/mallet angles, and proper sound production. Also provided within this section are several approaches and specific exercises for introducing developing basic technique.
Percussion Basics Websites:
Vic Firth Percussion 101 – This is an absolutely fabulous video site covering almost every aspect of percussive techniques and individual instrument description, including: selecting mallets, sticks and beaters and suitable instruments as well as practical maintenance tips, such as replacing heads, snares and simple repairs.
The site also presents descriptive techniques and demonstrations that cover the major points of snare drum, bass drum, timpani, tom tom, cymbals - both suspended and crash, and triangle performance. Also included is an excellent series of videos demonstrating most of the basic Latin and auxiliary percussion performance techniques. This is an incredibly comprehensive resource and I highly recommend it for broadening your knowledge of this absolutely essential and often little appreciated or understood section. https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=vic+firth+percussion+101
Here are further resources:
Snare drum technique:
Mallet performance sites:
In my next post I am hoping to share some thoughts on the importance of getting the breathing concepts we share with our wind students unified and maybe less contradictory. After all it is a topic fraught with difficulty, and there are many diverse philosophies swirling around this important issue...
By the way, just as a reminder, I have added several new articles for your consideration in my "Publications and Articles" section. However, you will need to obtain a password to access the section. Please contact me.
I hope that you may find all of my resources useful!
Thank you once again for reading!
Mr. Mumford holds an international reputation as a conductor, adjudicator and clinician, contributing regularly to the field of music education and performance studies through conference presentations, publications, professional development offerings, and master classes. He is highly regarded for his musical experience, expertise, passion and effective teaching style. He is in demand as a guest conductor, music education consultant, and adjudicator, providing performance strategies and professional development for music educators, administrators and students alike. From 2015 -2017 Mr. Mumford was engaged as Advisor and Lead Educator for the Melbourne Youth Orchestra Teacher Professional Development Programme.