How to practice??

How to practice??

Hi all, I am a rather new member here--though a lurker for a few months. I’ve submitted some tunes and a couple recordings but this is my first discussion; I guess I’m a *real* Sessioneer now 🙂

That said, I have been pondering this question for awhile: what constitutes a “good” practice? It seems there should be more to practicing than ripping through reels for an hour (like I’ve been doing). What is the average mix of tunes one should play when practicing? Should I play more slow airs to concentrate on expressiveness? Or should I focus on reels/jigs/hornpipes?What about warmup exercises? How long? An hour? Two hours? Five minutes?

Also, how often should one learn new tunes? I read that Jack Coen advocates learning no more than 2 or 3 per week, otherwise you’ll forget them. I’ve followed that rule of thumb for awhile and seems to be working well. Anyone have advice, tips, instruction, or personal experience to give?

Thanks,

-Jonathan

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Re: How to practice??

Well, submitting tunes is probably more important if you wish to be a *real* sessioneer. I’ve been waffling on here for months now and just got around to submitting my first tunes this week but I’ll keep putting them up from now on.

You’ll probably get lots of different answers to this and some will say that you shouldn’t practise at all. Others will reckon that it takes 4 hours a day. I reckon about half an hour a day at the most for warm ups, learning/honing techniques is more than enough. Wish I could discipline myself to do that! There’s no reason why you shouldn’t spend hours playing(through your repertoire, trying out tunes etc), if you are enjoying it but as far as serious practice is concerned, “shorter” is probably best.

John

Re: How to practice??

Once I got past about a hundred tunes I gradually developed a practice routine that seems to work and seems to maximize improvement. It’s strictish but it’s worked very well for me so far. I don’t expect you to do this but it addresses a number of your questions and might offer some ideas.

I work on a 2 sets a week. Usually two reels and 2-3 jigs. Every week it’s a new set except occasionally a tune which I really feel didn’t improve.

I focusing *intensively* on those 2 sets. This means playing each tune VERY SLOWLY and CLEARLY PLAYING EVERY NOTE. This requires the most discipline. After that I go through again at a steady medium tempo and then faster tempos.

A week seems about the right amount of time to devote to a pair of sets. You will feel *notable* increase in ease with the tunes after 6-7 days. Less than that doesn’t really push the tunes through enough IMO. More than that impedes on the study of other tunes because in Irish music you need to know a lot of tunes.

This takes usually less than hour a day after which, if I have time, I look at other tunes, noodle, do little exercises etc (the stuff which I used to think constituted “practicing”).

I also have a short list of “core tunes” which I practice ongoing (after the main stuff). Mainly tunes I really like and want to have them always available (e.g. Cooley’s, High Reel, Star Of Munster, Tobin’s and a few others)

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Re: How to practice??

Welcome aboard Jonathan.
Thank you for your first question.
Here’s your first facetious answer:
You should only learn new tunes once.

Tadaaaaa!

;o) Dave

Re: How to practice??

Hi Jonathan,
Welcome!
Well, the answer to your question depends on what you’re trying to achieve! I’ll give you an example of what I’ve done in the last four days.
Saturday had two practices, both on my fiddle. The first one was for half an hour and was technical exercises. The second was for about an hour and consisted of playing, slowly and repeatedly, several tunes I am trying to learn, and then playing much faster several tunes I have already learned and am trying to bring up to speed.
Sunday had one practice each on the fiddle and the harp. The fiddle practice as about 45 minutes and consisted of going over ornamentations I need to improve on, in tunes I need to improve on. The harp practice was about 30 minutes and consisted of trying to learn a new tune, sand chords, focusing on fingering for the melody.
Monday had one practice each on fiddle and harp. The fiddle practice was about an hour of just noodling around playing tunes I like. The harp practice was about 30 minutes and consisted of working on learning a new tune including chords.
Tuesday I had to bring work home so I just spent 30 minutes on the fiddle, mostly learning to play “My Lily” in 3rd and 5th position on the E string (I want to be Aly Bain when I grow up).
I’ve used this kind of mix of exercises, learning new tunes, working on old ones, and just having fun for as long as I’ve been playing, and it works for me --- ie it achieves what I want to achieve. I suggest you look at what you’re doing and where you want to go, then evaluate whether youre getting there. And talk about it with your teacher too!
Best of luck,
Sara

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jonathan howdy.
practise is such a personal thing . wduty had some good ideas i think. slow thru to fast playing. i find it particularly useful to practise a piece until you can play it maybe a 1/8 to 1/4 speed faster than needed w/ groove! then when you come back to the original you’re more confident w/ it and it should sit well. it’s not just about notes and tone. feel it brother!
i’m a big advocate of feel in tunes. but i should be as a drummer. it’s too easy to intectualise music particularly one that’s so specific and notation based as ITM.
the body has a way of remembering tunes or what ever the piece. come back to something a day or just a few hrs later. we’ve all no doubt experienced this. it just seems to recall things better than the mind does- w/ me certainly.
but importantly, be nice to the body, don’t trash it at practise (and create bad association to rehearsal) and end up w/ RSI! push it but gently i reckon.

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I agree with fiddlemouse. It does really depend on what you want to accomplish with your rehearsal process.

I usually spend some time warming up with scales or intervals, rolls, triplets etc. and some physical stretching.

I next review a tune I’m learning and go over my problem measures and do lots of repetitions to cement the mussle memory. Then I go over the tune slowly until I can play it a few times without making a mistake then I up the speed. I will either get my finance/guitar player to play it with me to keep my tempo even or play it with a recording.

I play until I am tired physically or mentally. I don’t like clocks (I don’t wear a watch, but they are everywhere) I find watching clocks with my practice time to a complete waste of time and a sign that I don’t really want to be practicing. I usually end my practice session with something newish that I want to do maintainance on or a favorite old tune I haven’t played in a while. Something positive that reminds me why I work so hard on the new tune or just why I play in general.

~Autumn

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Contextualizing a bit, whatever you do to practice should be in dialogue with actual performance. Practicing gets a “reality check” when you go to a session, no matter how well you think you know your tunes. e.g. “Hmmm I don’t really know that B part so well…”.

Another test is to play in public. Having basically no control over the situation is scary at first, people walking by staring, someone yelling “you suck!” 🙂 etc. But it boosts your nerve. I find NYC good for that. Lots of parks and subway platforms.

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Re: How to practice??

Stuff you don’t know well and stuee that give you fingers/arms a good workout.

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Re: How to practice??

On the fiddle I usually practice 1 1/2 hours on the weekends. I start out with something slow and easy to warm up, then go to whatever tune I’m trying to learn. I may listen to the recording I’ve made of my lesson, working through one bit at a time, then play the whole thing through slowly, repeatedly, trying to play it perfectly before speeding up. As Autumn implied, you’ll never play those difficult bits properly, playing fast, if you can’t play them slowly. Sometimes I work on a single tune for a half hour or so, only playing two or three tunes in a practice session.

Sometimes I’ll play the same tune over and over with different variations each time, trying to think ahead and make conscious decisions as to which variation I want to play on each repeat, instead of just obliviously playing along, forgetting what I was planning to do by the time I get to that point in the tune.

Other times, if it’s going well, I may run through a whole succession of tunes, going through them only once or twice, just to keep in practice.

But you asked what constitutes a “good” practice? It’s when I can remember the tune and all the variation I want to employ, play the right notes in the right places, and feel the groove the whole time.

Unlike Autumn, I try to keep an eye on the clock and make myself take generous breaks every half hour, which stretches a 1 1/2-hour practice to 2 hours or so. I used to get so carried away with my practice that I would play straight through and be exhausted by the end of the session. If I play a half hour, I don’t really feel it, physically, but after a break I’m still pretty warmed up.

I’d be interested to hear what others, especially fiddlers, do to keep from getting so worn out while practicing.

Carol

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I have to agree with wduty - playing in public is the best way to guide your own practice sessions. It’s amazing how a tune you’ve played a thousand times at home falls to pieces the first time it’s aired to the world in general.

And it’s not so much how long as how often - five minutes every day beats two hours on a weekend.

And I suppose it also depends on how many tunes you have up your sleeve - I’ve taken to writing a list so I can revisit tunes I haven’t played for a spell. That also encourages you to learn new stuff when the list hasn’t changed for a bit.

Re: How to practice??

Relax.

Really, I aim for economy of motion and effort, and often the main focus of my time playing at home (besides just enjoying the music) is to zero in on any undue tension and consciously relax those muscles. (I’ve had to practice this because I started out with the grip of death on both the neck and the bow.)

In a session or performance when I get jazzed up by the punters/audience and the other musicians, it’s easy to start leaning more on the bow, punching into more bowed triplets, etc. This does use more energy, and after 4 - 5 hours my bow arm needs a break. But staying relaxed when “practicing” develops the habit of always playing relaxed, even when you step up the intensity, and allows you to play longer without wearing out.

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Re: How to practice??

It’s a small point rather than a suggestion for a practice regime, but is sort-of along the lines of what wduty and bc_box say about playing in public - for pieces that are getting up to speed and are soon to have their public premiere, I try to “bullet-proof” them by practicing with some deliberate distraction going on (such as a metronome, as mentioned in the recent foot-tapping thread). I then feel a bit more confident of hanging in there at the piece’s first airing.

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Re: How to practice??

Thanks all, for the replies. I like the suggestion of working on sets of tunes in a week, wduty. Not only does it help play the tunes better, it gives experience in putting together sets.

Also I *really* want to play more in public. I very rarely play for anyone besides my alarm clock--and it is true that tunes can become nasty once you’re in front of people. I’ve thought about just setting up on the street corner and playing, but never gotten around too it.

-Jonathan

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Re: How to practice??

I just discovered that recording myself makes my weaknesses and the tunes / techniques I need to work on ridiculously clear. (You might notice this if you get a copy of the Mighty Craic!) I used to practice by just plopping down and playing whatever popped into my head in a somewhat continuous fashion - random tunes a random number of times. That helped me fit into a session environment because I don’t lose my place in the tune after I flub up and I find it easy to switch from one tune to another, but it left me with a serious deficiency in beginning and ending tunes, as every practice session had only *one* beginning and *one* end, so I had to take every tune I know that doesn’t start on an open string and practice making a strong start. Now, I listen to longish sets of tunes I’ve recorded with a friend and extract the sloppy, boring, weak and wimpy tunes (and by that I mean my playing of them, not the tunes themselves), slow them down and spend hours trying to make them work. The rest of my time I spend learning new tunes and chatting with you fine folk.

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Oh, right, to answer the actual question you posted, I should add that I have found I feel good about a practice when it addresses a specific weakness in my playing. Everyone has different weaknesses at different times. I just try to keep rhythm, tonality, ornamentation, fluidity, and repertoire on an even footing. I focus on different things at different times, but never try to focus on everything at once. I play a few tunes to warm up. I never, ever, ever use the word “drill”, but if I think a particular type of ornamentation needs some TLC I pick a tune that has lots of room for whichever ornament I’m obsessing about and play it over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. I can’t seem to shut up about this! Probably because I should be practicing. Procrastination is a huge part of my routine.

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This is actually a very interesting subject, and ties in with the What Are Your Goals thread which I think is still active. Questions I would raise might include:
‘Is this music (and I’m talking about session, rather than performance music) about virtuosity at all?’
‘How can you get an ornament ’right‘ i.e. is there a definitive way of playing, say, a long roll? (was John McKenna’s style of ornamentation more or less correct than Matt Molloy’s?)’
‘Are sessions not actually practices - for the the next session, which is a practice for the next and so on?’

I don’t know if I’d practice at all if I had a sesh to go to every night. As it is now I ‘practice’ quite a lot, but really it’s a mixture of learning tunes, and just amusing myself. Anyone who has heard me will realise that I could do with a bit more rigour in my approach to my instrument, but , as I intimated in the questions above, I’m not 100% sure what I’d be trying to achieve - I already get loads of fun out of playing ….

Just a few random thoughts
Mark

Re: How to practice??

No words of wisdom yet on this topic from Michael Gill, I note 🙂
Trevor

Re: How to practice??

Trev, since Michael’s not here I’ll have a go at speaking for him and see if I get it right. Okay here goes, *ahem*:

“Practice? Here you all go again pointlessly striving to be something you’re not. Why not just play the tunes and enjoy them? Diddly is fun and I’m determined to keep it that way.”

How did I do?

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Surely you forgot a reference to how we’re all too intelligent and grown-up to be unaware of this simple fact.

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Not enough “typos” either, Dow. Mind you, I shouldn’t tak--er, talk.
🙂

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Fiddler on vermouth - does recording yourself not also ‘let you off the hook’ in a sense? by allowing you to hear your playing at a distance, you should be able to hear what you’re getting right musically, without being distracted by the sort of mistakes you can only pick up with the fiddle right under your ear.

Re: How to practice??

As well as physical practise, you need to do as much silent practise as you can as well.
Listen to as much unfamiliar ITM as you can and hum along with the tune (if you can’t keep up with the speed) or try and work out the chords used.
Log on to BBC Radio Ulster and click the Culan button - it’s the best weekly program of ITM practise you can get!!

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Nah Dow - you did better in the ‘Favourite Key’ Thread🙂

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Re: How to practice??

C’mon kids, play nicely.

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I do record myself occasionally….then lapse into a fit of general frustration, despair, and self-pity 🙂 Actually, I do record something now and then that I’m marginally pleased with.

Just this past week I started to get my first cranns. This marvelous bubbly bottom D just popped out of my flute and I was mesmerized. Since then I’ve been playing “The Chorus Reel” a gazillion times to perfect them, I must say that practice does pay off!

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I’ve been meaning to look up “procrastination” in the dictionary, but I don’t seem to get round to it.
Trevor

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Should I call you “Nasty” for short? Or “Wee”? or NWG? Yeah, it allows me to hear both what I’m getting right and what I’m getting wrong. When the fiddle is right beside my head and I am concentrating on playing I don’t have time to lament over the sloppy bits OR to linger over the brilliant bits, so I end up with the impression I have just produced a tune of fairly consistent mediocrity - good enough to fool a bunch of drunks at a pub but not yet good enough to fool myself. When I recorded the track I sent to Zina I couldn’t help rewinding and replaying this one triplet at the end at least fifty times, thinking “where on earth did THAT come from? That’s PERFECT!” Sure, there are lots of mistakes all the way through, but I never realized before that I was capable of a perfect triplet… and where there is one, there must be more waiting to be released. Same thing with rolls. and there are a couple of “ornaments” I produced by screwing up that sound pretty good. If I did one of them while I was playing I would automatically think that because it was a “mistake” it must have sounded poopy. Anyway, the end result is a track of mediocrity that is not nearly as consistent as I thought.

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But still quite nice, Kerri. 🙂

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Aw, thanks, Zina. I think you flatter me. Or maybe my limitations are simply disguised by Gino’s brilliant guitar playing.

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He’s really very good, isn’t he? Quite impressive, all the way round.

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*blush* and cute too. can I send you another track? Just for your personal enjoyment - not for the Mighty Craic…

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Oooo… yes, and tell Gino I need a pic for the album cover, as an excuse…hehehe

Re: How to practice??

Most of the replies here suggest ways how to to learn as many tunes as possible. How to learn to play (with) a tune is something different. A friend of mine, a good piper, told me once he learned only one tune in that year: He played ‘The Gold Ring’ daily a few times for 12 months!

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Well, y’know, they say it takes 21 years to learn the pipes, so one year to learn a tune is about par for the course 🙂
Trevor