close-ups of a french horn player and a cellist

Practice Tips with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago: Nick Adams and Kelsey Williams

What is the best way to practice? How can we use our time efficiently? How can we maximize our joy in music along with our progress? In “Practice Tips,” we tap the wisdom of performers with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, one of the country’s premier training orchestras for young professional musicians. 

Whether you’re a seasoned performer or just starting out, everyone can benefit from experimenting with their practice methods. In this edition, we hear from horn player Kelsey Williams and double bassist Nicholas Adams.

Nick Adams plays the double bass

Nick Adams plays the double bass

Nick Adams’ Practice Tips Highlights
  • Learn about the process of learning and performance skills. Adams recommends the book “Peak,” which lays out what deliberate practice looks like. Keep in mind that deliberate practice will be different for each person. 
  • Set up your physical space for success. Adams likes to keep it simple. He needs a metronome, a tuner, rosin, a pencil and a recording device. 
  • Take the first 10 minutes to get comfortable with your instrument, whether that means improvising or meditating next to it. Adams focuses on these elements: the way his body feels, the sound of the instrument, the sound of the room and any mental chatter. 
  • Focus the rest of your warm-up on musical fundamentals like tone production, time and feel, intonation and style. 
  • Introduce new perspectives to your practice by employing method acting. Adams imagines characters from books and movies and then makes a mental survey about everything they experience in a particular scene, from the temperature of their surroundings to how much light there is. With this in mind, he returns to his instrument with the intention of imbuing a new color or voice into the music. Or, you can try to play the passage in a different style or key. The idea is to develop familiarity with new musical ideas. 
Kelsey Williams plays the French horn

Kelsey Williams plays the French horn

Kelsey Williams’ Practice Tips Highlights
  • Start your practice with a warm-up routine that can be adjusted to fit your schedule as well as the playing demands for the day. It could be as short as 15 minutes or as long as an hour.
  • Include flexibility exercises in your warm-up. Williams recommends Teuber’s “Progressive Studies” book for ideas.
  • Be efficient with your time by setting goals. One way to help you identify goals is to rate the excerpts you’re preparing for an audition. Rate on a scale of one to three, with one meaning it’s a new excerpt, two meaning it’s in the workshop stage and three meaning you’re confident to play the excerpt right now. The excerpts rated one and two should get your attention first.
  • Be honest about what’s causing you trouble. Work to find the cause behind your mistakes rather than just saying, “I missed notes.” Experts in music practice are really just experts in identifying and solving problems.

Eum Porta, diuturna/accusare/censuram; Esse Avertat, funnii; Eaque Parata, quam wisi amet modi lius nescit modi dicta quia iure

Eum Porta, diuturna/accusare/censuram; Esse Avertat, funnii; Eaque Parata, quam wisi amet modi lius nescit modi dicta quia iure

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