When creating a practice routine that tackles any problem you come across, focus on the fundamental technical aspects within it. When creating a practice routine that focuses on musicality, focus on sound production, and exploring phrasing and character. A balanced practice routine tackles both at the same time.
Practicing Through Exploration
How does what you're practicing sound now?
How do you want it to sound?
How is it supposed to sound?
What's different between the ideal and current sound?
Are there alternative sounds you can try?
What aspects of your technique are related to the sound?
What did you do, technically, to get your current sound?
What can you do in your technique to change the sound?
Are there aspects of the technique you haven't considered?
Is there unnecessary tension in the technique?
Timbre- what general sound are we going for? Even if the required sound is darker or brighter, the core of the sound should be stable and match the beauty of your normal sound. What in the body facilitates that (a bright, dark and general sound)?
Dynamics- can we maintain the quality of sound while playing different dynamics? The common tendency is for the sound to get brighter as the dynamic increases and darker as it decreases. How do we make the character of sound consistent, and what does the body have to do in order to accomplish that?
Tempo- can we maintain the quality of sound while playing at different tempos? What does it feel like to play fast, slow and everything in between, within the confines of a bright, dark, general, etc. sound?
What Do We Use?- whatever instrument we play, there are specific body parts that we use in specific ways. Knowing exactly what those parts are, how they interact with other parts, how they move, and how their movements affect the sound is key to being comfortable with playing anything we work on.
When Do We Use It?- what are the circumstances that call for a specific movement? Maybe it’s a subito piano, or a faster tempo. Explore scenarios and figure out what is limbs are being used at those times. The more scenarios you explore, the more knowledge you’ll have about what your personal physicality.
Why Do We Use It?- why in those situations do we use what we use? Are there other options or is this the only way it will work?
How Do We Use It?- is there ease or difficulty in the execution? If difficulty, is this caused by lack of experience, lack of physical facility, tension, etc.
Practicing Through Dissection
Tempo and Time- find the appropriate tempo that’s given on the music itself, or by listening to multiple recordings and taking an average. Work up to this tempo, either by starting at half speed and slowly increasing the tempo by 2-5 clicks, or starting at half speed and raising it to 2/3’s of the top speed, and then to top speed. The goal is to play comfortably in time, no rushing or dragging and no feeling uneasy about playing at top speed.
Intonation- notes should be in tune with themselves throughout the piece. The goal is to maintain the established tonal center without going sharp or flat the entire time. For drummers, the sound quality is our tonal center. Maintain the quality of sound throughout the entire piece. Dynamics, articulations, speed, etc. should not effect the color or timbre at all. For example, if you begin with a bright sound, when you play loud it shouldn’t become darker (unless specified by the music).
Articulation- any articulation in the piece should be audibly and consistently executed. Staccatos, legatos, etc., should sound the same at all dynamics whenever they appear/
Dynamics- the dynamic range and changes should be audibly and consistently executed, as well as have a consistent color throughout.
Music Specifications- any other indications from the music must be adhered to and audibly executed.
Character- what is the overall mood of the piece? This should be audible at all times, reflected in your presentation and performance of the music (unless otherwise specified).
Color- what is the appropriate color of sound and timbre for the piece? This should be audible and consistent throughout the entire piece, regardless of tempo, dynamic or articulation changes (unless otherwise specified).
Phrasing- either by listening to different recordings of the piece, or by trying out different options of direction for the music, establish a phrase idea that makes sense. Practice each phrase of the music separately, and then practice the transitions between each phrase.
Practicing Fundamentals and Musicality
Something that I found extremely effective was to practice my technical exercises, whether it be a warm up or otherwise, to different types of music. Create a playlist with music of a specific tempo, easy to warm up to or work on technique, and play your technical exercises to that playlist. While working on the fundamentals, try to play them in the character and timbre of the music that comes up. In general, find music that emulates or exaggerates the techniques you would like to work on. For example, for exercises that work on articulations, find music with similar or more extreme versions of that articulation. This method I find makes it easier to approach any piece of music.
wynton marsalis' 12 Rules of practice
1. Seek out the best private instruction you can afford
2. Write/work out a regular practice schedule
3. Set realistic goals
4. Concentrate when practicing
5. Relax and practice slowly
6. Practice what you can’t play
7. Always play with maximum expression
8. Don’t be too hard on yourself
9. Don’t show off
10. Think for yourself
11. Be optimistic
12. Look for connections between your music and other things
How to Prepare for Auditions
1. Technical Prep- working on all the techniques that are used in the rep or may be asked for in the process of the audition. Making all of said techniques readily available upon request.
2. Mental Prep- preparing your mind for the multiple effects of the audition: anxiety, distractions, extended time of focus, recalling information (tempos, characters of pieces, etc.), negative self-talk, over analyzing during performance, etc. Visualize, meditate (breathing, body scan, mentality programming/mantra, yoga), audiate.
3. List Prep- listen to recordings, get tempos (base, reasonable slowest, reasonable fastest), character of pieces (word or phrase to describe it), phrasing choices (traditional, personal). Learn the notes, memorize if possible, establish sound concepts, play with metronome (slow practice, shifting strong beats, accent every X number of bars, etc.). Play with recordings, play by yourself, experiment/improvise on elements in the piece, mock auditions alone/for x number of people. Play as if you are always performing, even as you practice. Who are you playing with, how do you fit in, how would you play it in the orchestra/how does it differ from the audition way/does it differ at all?
4. Self Prep- get to know yourself. How do you respond to different stimuli, what is your self-talk like, are you happy with your progress, are you frustrated, are you scared, are you disappointed, are you happy, etc. Connect with, face and understand all of the inner issues, and you will grow and increase your esteem and resolve. Develop a positive self-image that is strong enough to withstand all negativity.
When Am I Ready?
1. Excerpts should be note perfect- If you can play the excerpt note perfect at least ten times in a row, it is ready for the audition. This increases your chances of you correctly executing it at the audition.
2. Everything must be in time- While performing the excerpt, no unintentional pushing or pulling of the tempo should occur, at all.
3. Everything must be in tune and have consistent timbre- Intonation should be as flawless as humanly possible, and you should develop your ear to hear even the slightest change in intonation during performance, as well as your reaction time to correcting that change. This also includes the color or timbre of the notes. The color and quality of the notes should not change unintentionally, but remain consistent throughout each piece.
4. Every sound must be appealing and appropriate- The sound must match the character and style of the excerpt, and be consistent throughout the excerpt.
5. Do at least 1 mock audition- You don't want to go into the audition completely blind, so do at least one test run before you take it. This allows you to observe how nerves affect your playing, and assess how you can adjust when they arise.
6. You must be comfortable- If you are not comfortable with being uncomfortable or playing each piece, you are not ready.
7. Everything must be musical- convincingly express a musical idea.
Mentality/Philosophy for Auditioning
1. Don’t audition- just present your interpretation of the music. Let everything else, any other conceptions of what the event is or should be, go.
2. Stay in the moment- do not try to predict the future, or remain in the past.
3. Subjective labels cloud judgement- looking at things objectively will prevent negativity or false senses of security from entering into the process and the actual event of auditioning.
4. Play the way you want- do not try to figure out what the panel wants. Simply play the way you prepared and want to express the music as.
5. Do not compare and despair- do not compare your current state to anyone else’s. You are your own unique musician and no one will do anything the same way you do it. Do not try to make up for whatever you think you lack based on their performance, experience, technical ability, etc. There is a big difference between aspiring to be, and comparing the current state.
6. Let go of controlling the minutia- you only have control of your conscious self. Whatever that entails, your preparation physically, mentally, musically, etc., are the only things within your control. Let go of everything else that is out of your control: the weather, audition time changes, unexpected events of any kind, who is in your round, who is on the panel, etc.
7. Do not ponder on who is in your round- it does not matter who is in your round. Do not let it affect you in any way.
8. The silence before you play- what do you do within the moments after, “This is candidate 7,” and your first note? Establish this and it will help stabilize you in between each excerpt.
9. Be quick to make drastic adjustments- if asked to make changes, make them and make them big. If what we do is not working or audible because of the hall, assess what you have to do to fix it, and do it on the next excerpt or run through.
10. Commit- make strong choices. Whatever you decide to do, go for it and do it at its, appropriate, maximum capacity.
11. Accept and let go of failure- be ok with things not going your way. What is important is the process leading up to the event, not the event itself. If it works out, you will still be progressing, if it doesn’t work out, you will still be progressing. Don’t make that one audition, your “only chance,” your, “make it or break it,” moment. “Ever tried ever failed. No matter, try again, fail again. Fail better,” Samuel Beckett
12. Don’t hide behind technique in fear of rejection- allow yourself, your interpretation, your musicianship, your being to be heard through the music. Do not play technically perfect without taking risks, or making musical decisions in the moment, in fear of making a mistake, doing something that they don’t like, etc.
13. Fear of success- invite the possibility of succeeding. Let go of the paradigms created for yourself through negative events, and occurrences of failure. This goes hand in hand with a healthy self-image.
14. Assess and manage your perception- objectively look at everything. Do not place speculative attributes to whatever happens, during the process of auditioning and the day itself.