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 violinist Maria Arrua and clarinetist Nicolas Chona.
Maria Arrua’s Practice Tips Highlights
- Make a practice plan not just for the day, but for the next several upcoming weeks. On your daily plan, prioritize your goals. If you don’t get to something one day, make it the highest priority the next day.
- Practice in a closed space where you won’t get distracted — but vary this by always taking opportunities to practice in big halls, where you can focus on sound projection.
- Start your practice with scales — but remember to challenge yourself and keep things fresh. Over the years, Arrua has alternated between the scale techniques of both Ivan Galamian and Carl Flesch.
- Always play musically, even when you’re warming up, remembering to shape your phrasing consciously.
- Break down difficult passages into specific problems you can tackle individually. In a passage from the “Andante” from J.S. Bach’s Violin Sonata No. 2, Arrua demonstrates how you can isolate and focus on issues like bow technique, intonation and phrasing for both the melody and harmony.
- On a more conceptual level, Arrua recommends thinking about how you can make your performances more audience-interactive, keeping in mind that it takes a lot of extra time outside rehearsals to plan for a successful interactive performance.
Nicolas Chona’s Practice Tips Highlights
- Quality is better than quantity — but build practice into your daily routine.
- Maintain a routine within your practice session so you always know what you’ll do every day. Chona recommends starting out with meditation and recommends two apps: Insight Timer and Forest.
- Record yourself — and do so in larger spaces than your practice room. It’s the best way to gauge how you sound to another person.
- Practice long tones and scales every day. Try varying scales by including broken chords and different intervals. If you only practice long tones and scales in a day, at least that’s something!
- Develop a plan for practicing difficult passages. A complicated excerpt from “Daphnis et Chloé,” for example, can be broken down into a slow, repeating pattern. You can also try playing difficult excerpts backwards and varying rhythms to develop extra security.
- Clear your head and listen to yourself in a new way by playing music for other instruments. Flute etudes provide a technical challenge for the clarinet, but Chona particularly enjoys playing J.S. Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas.