What’s your practice regime like?

What’s your practice regime like?

I’d be interested in hearing about other folks’ practice regimes. As for mine …

Basic facts: been playing the Uilleann pipes for ~6 years (after 20+ yrs on the GHB). I’m older, 64 yrs, and retired. My salad days are behind me.

My practice regime:
1. Daily
2. Using the Practice Machine on irishtune.info created by Alan Ng, I practice 10 tunes each practice session.
3. Most of the tunes are memorized, but for some I still need the sheet music.
4. I play a tune through twice, striving for my satisfaction. If there are rough patches I might go back and play them over several times to get them right.
5. I don’t play for time, focusing instead on the 10 tunes, but practice generally takes 30-40 minutes.
6. Biggest challenge: consistently hitting notes in the second octave.

Some foibles: a few tunes are above my present ability. I practice them, but don’t focus on them. Sometimes I get sufficiently frustrated with a harder tune that I try it once and then move on. I’m an amateur who does this for recreation and don’t intend to torture myself. Perhaps someday I’ll master those harder tunes, but if not — okay.

Ok, so that’s me. What do other folk do for practice? Do tell … .

Re: What’s your practice regime like?

I don’t have any "regime" as such. In fact almost the opposite.
That said, I try and play *something* each and every day. Even if just a whistle, for half a dozen tunes or thereabouts.
Yet then again, on another day, if the muse takes me, I could go over several sets of tunes on whistle, flute, D/G and maybe C#/D boxes and some other yokes. That could go on for a few to several hours. Then I’ll get the messages in. Tea, milk, sausages, etc.

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I play every day, unless one of my health issues forces me to take a break. On days off, I still play tunes, but only in my head. I’m very specific about that, though—I lilt the tunes in my head and map the fingering and bowing as I go, explore variations, and sometimes try different keys. This is especially helpful for learning new tunes. It feels much like actually playing the tunes, the way gymnasts visualize their routines before performing them. Neuroscience seems to suggest that firing those synapses even without an instrument in hand is a good use of time.

On days that I actually pick up the fiddle, I’ll play long, random sets of tunes, playing each tune at least three times through, often six or eight times through, varying things each time. I’ll also play through whatever handful of tunes I’m learning, from memory (no notation). If I need a reminder of how a new tune goes, I might pull up a clip on YouTube to get me started.

I think of this as "playing" music, not "practicing," but I’m paying attention to all the nuances, not just going through the motions.

That’s not to say that my fingers and bow hand are always as nimble and accurate as what I expect to hear. Some days my arthritis or some other ailment flares up and the music suffers. Then I focus on relaxing into whatever simple playing I can manage—it might be a good day for waltzes at an easy lope or slow airs.

In my early years, I did focus more on mechanics and learning cuts, rolls, triplets, etc. But this far in, all that stuff just works (except when it doesn’t; see the above paragraph). Now it’s more about enjoying the tunes, keeping them all in the "active" mental folder, learning new ones, and finding flow. At this point in my life, the main goal is to slow the inevitable downhill spiral.

I’m a session player, so the pandemic upended my routine. Back in early 2020, I took a few months off from playing to let several repetitive strain injuries heal. When I started back in, I did some range-of-motion work and re-evaluated my ergonomics in hopes of *not* flaring up the old injuries. That really helped, so then I decided to be a bit more deliberate about knocking the rust off tunes I hadn’t visited in ages as well as learning a big batch of new tunes. Now I’m back to my usual approach and playing daily. Waiting for sessions to start back up here among the outer planets.

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I typically take many short breaks during my work day to practice for 10 minutes with longer practice sessions in the evening. Generally, I’m working on some specific tune or project, these days most often fully arranged tunes with bass/chord backup on the B/C box. Not spending much time on learning new tunes these days in favor of bringing my B/C box playing up to the level of the other instruments I play with my existing repertoire.

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Good question.
My practise rule is simple.
Each week I play or sing a least 3 tunes or songs with at least one other person.
This means tunes in the Kitchen front rooms, parties, buses, trains, cafe, in the hospital with family friends, patients, random people I meet.
For example. Today, while we peddled around town, my mate and I sang a verse and chorus of old Italian songs his mother learned as a girl.
Not a practise regime, not always ITM but playing and singing like this has kept my tunes and words in order.

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1991-2002 I listened to an album and played along. Sometimes played one tune on one instrument, then switched to another for the second turn, and a third instrument for the third turn.
2001-2002 Every tune I was taught on fiddle, I learned it on the button accordion (C#/D) as well.
some months in 2002 I played Music for a Found Harmonium in the twelve keys on the button accordion. Two keys per day.
The current routine: I grab the guitar and play while watching TV.

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I would be interested to have people’s advice. I have played fiddle for 30+ years, but health problems over the last six months meant that I have hardly practised during that time. After an operation I am now on the mend and am trying to play again, but am frustrated that my fingers do not do what I want them to do. I should state that my ill health did not affect the fingers, but I never imagined that being out of practice would affect me so much. I have to play at a gig in two weeks’ time - any advice?

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I aim to practice every day at least a little bit. It ends up more like 5 days a week, for 15 to 30 minutes, sometimes more.

I don’t have any strict structure but I am intentional about spending part of most practice sessions with different aspects of playing—ornaments, speed, bowing, repertoire.

Mostly I play tunes while focusing on one of those things at a time. I.e., with this tune I’ll stop and drill a phrase that has some rolls I’m not getting cleanly (I used to drill rolls in isolation up and down the scale, and still do that sometimes to warm up, but I found it wasn’t really translating well to playing them in context). With that one I might try out different phrasing or bowing patterns. Then maybe I’ll play with a metronome and gradually increase the speed (right now my goal is to be comfortable at 90 bpm for any reel, and at 100 bpm *cleanly* for the ones I know the best).

Then I might play through a few tunes just thinking about "session skills," i.e., refreshing ones I haven’t played recently, putting tunes in sets, getting tunes to a place where I can start them without a reference, etc.

And I try to learn or relearn about a tune a week, often along with a recording of a great player trying to pick up something of their technique or style.

For context, I’ve been playing about 5-6 years, with a long hiatus in the middle of that.

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For my part I am rather rigid about what "practice" is. It is NOT (for me) knocking out tunes. Don’t get me wrong I don’t do everything every day and I don’t make a job of it. I do believe that disciplined, structured practice is what turns players into musicians. Even 20 minutes of what I think of as practice makes me much better when I do it and not so much when I don’t.

First I use a metronome. I’ve been a double bass player for decades and the thing that makes me spot on with timing, and free to fool around with it is, even after all these years, the metronome. Then I do long tones, from C to the 3rd register G on my flute, scale/arpeggio exercises often over drones. There are several apps and youtube videos for that. Also a decibel meter, another app, helps me improve my volume. Included in the practice is technique as in rolls, cuts and taps, glottal stops, breathing, tonguing, barks and slides … stuff like that. I mostly do these on flute and that’s why I play flute much better than banjo. Practice for the sake of improving tone and technique is what makes a tune worth hearing. If I only have a few minutes this is where practice stops.

For tunes, I don’t like to apply the words"practice" and "memorizing". I prefer to think of it as "learning" and "playing". As I’ve mentioned before I learn tunes best from back to front. I think each tune, each part, each figure even has its own resolution and how the resolution plays out is what makes a tune. This where I find expression. And … learning sticks around, memorizing is such a transient thing! I’ll practice a lot of tunes but I’ll only learn tunes that speak to me.

Now I’m not a fanatical Nazi about it. The whole exercise is about having some fun. I just think it’s a lot more fun when I can play a tune and express how I feel about it as opposed to stringing notes together. You asked what my practice regime is like … this is mine at least on my best day. Everybody has to find their own way and as my father used to say "the man digging the hole gets to decide how deep it needs to be"!

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Great responses! So many different ways to wrestle this pig called practice. I really should use a metronome… .

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Borderer, my own experience may not be entirely relevant to your situation, but I do know what it feels like to try to return to fiddle after a long, health-induced hiatus. Despite decades of daily playing, the fiddle and bow suddenly feel like hunting tools from another galaxy’s alien culture.

For me, the main thing that helps re-awaken the synapses is to start out playing simple tunes slowly. Not so slow as to be unmusical, but taking, say, the Mountain Road and playing it as a slow air. Really feeling the phrasing and using extra dynamics to emphasize the pulse. It may take six or more times through the tune just to find the notes and to sort out which string the bow hair needs to be on at any given moment, but those things do come back.

The first day of this can be miserable, but at least you’re playing again. Another day or two, and things should be starting to click again. Then I usually hit a patch where it sounds complete rubbish. You have to push through that—your previous musicality is waiting just on the other side.

As for the gig, obviously you’ll want to rehash the tunes in your set list. Again, I’d recommend playing them slowly at first, and then gradually step them up to gig tempo.

If this doesn’t work, it could be the aftereffects of surgery, specifically anesthesia. Post-op, I’ve sometimes suffered memory issues and brain fog for 6 to 8 months out. Daily exercise and staying well hydrated seem to help, but it takes time, too.

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In response to Ross’s post, I want to make it clear that my approach is not just "knocking out tunes." But it is possible to reach your full potential as a musician by playing tunes rather than exercises and drills. It’s all in how attentive, mindful, and responsive you are as you play the tunes. You can learn all the concepts, skills, and nuances as they apply in the tunes, and you’re learning the tunes as well. This approach demands focus—you have to know what you want the music to sound like, in detail, and you have to listen to yourself in relation to that sonic target. The key is in not giving yourself permission to be satisfied with less than your musical goal. If something doesn’t sound right, fix it.

As Nienna observes above, learning rolls, say, by drilling on them in a scale misses the context of how they sound and feel inside a tune. You may get the mechanics but lack the substance or musical meaning of rolls. The same is true for every other articulation or dynamic swoop or quality of tone, etc.

It would take a lot of Googling to find all the clips you’d need to learn cuts, rolls, triplets, smears, intonation, figure-eight bowing, open string drones, double stops, tone production, and pulse, etc. Or you could just pull up a clip of Tara Breen playing Man of Aran or Monaghan Twig and have everything you need. With the added benefit of it all being in context.

I get that it seems easier to learn and practice skills in isolation. That it can feel overwhelming in a tune, where you have to pay attention to so much happening all at once. It’s kind of like learning tune by ear—it seems impossible. Until you do it, and do it a lot, until it becomes easy.

That said, some people seem to enjoy playing scales and drills, that’s what works for them. I’m not denigrating that, just pointing out that there are other ways of achieving deep musicality.

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I don’t do much of what I would consider "practice" anymore. I play every day, but it’s usually just working on new tunes. I do play sessions regularly twice a week (and occasionally three in a week). But I’ve never been much of a drill-practice kind of guy. I don’t practice scales or arpeggios, other than by playing tunes. I will occasionally work on a specific phrase of a tune I might be struggling with, but in general most of my time with an instrument outside of the session environment is just working on new tunes.

Borderer, is your gig a solo gig, or with other players? I would think that one way to start feeling the flow of the music again might be by playing with some other players. Much like when you’re a beginner, if you can offload some of the lifting required to keep a tune in flight to some other players, it will allow you a little space to start feeling the flow again. But if you’re playing by yourself, you have to try to keep it all together by yourself while you’re feeling uncomfortable because you’re out of practice. But I can’t really speak from experience. I took about 10 days off from playing after a heart procedure 12 years ago, but I think that’s the longest I have ever gone without playing in the 22 years I have been playing… Best of luck!

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Interesting responses all. I think there is a significant difference between "playing" and "practicing."
I started on clarinet about three years ago, partly for the interest of learning something with a teacher rather than the folky "teach yourself" methods I’ve used on other instruments for many years.
A big difference I notice is that with structured learning on the clarinet I spend nearly all my time at the boundaries of what I can do, trying to push my limits outwards. This is potentially frustrating as I’m spending a lot of time on things I can’t do! I enjoy it but it feels like "practicing."
Folky learning time is much more spent in the comfort-zone trusting that things will gradually improve as new tunes and music are added. I enjoy this too, and it feels like "playing."

Re: What’s your practice regime like?

TomB-R, that’s an interesting distinction. And I agree that spending all your time within your comfort zone doesn’t lend itself to making real progress.

But I don’t think of a "teach yourself" approach as necessarily less structured or less focused. It comes down to each person’s level of self-discipline and drive, and that varies a lot from one person to the next, and also at different stages of one person’s life.

I’ve been playing fiddle for nearly 50 years, but I still learn something new on it almost every day. Every new tune has something to teach, and a big part of what I love about this music is that even tunes I’ve played for decades can become new and fresh—and challenging again—if you approach them with curiosity and a sense of exploration. The same applies to fiddle itself, there’s no end to learning.

When I was first starting out on fiddle, I learned in leaps and bounds (and long plateaus), but it was mostly technique and tunes-as-melodies. I was learning the same stuff every other fiddler has to learn. Nowadays I learn in smaller increments, but it’s more about my personal approach to the music. I enjoyed those early years of learning the basics, but the insights and inspirations I stumble on today are even more enriching and rewarding.

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Re: What’s your practice regime like?

I certainly hope that no one takes my comments as attacks. They are not. I know and play with many people who only "knock out tunes" and call it practice. It is not and it shows. I can’t think of any human endeavor where real success is achieved through a seat of the pants approach. I doubt Jordan, Beckham, Yo-Yo Ma, Ali, every single American Idol (as frivolous as that is) … the list is endless, got to the top with careful attention to the foundation of their respective skill set. To be sure there are ways to develop those skills along with tunes as has been mentioned but you don’t find a reliable, consistent 3 point, "nothin’ but net" shot from the corner by playing pickup games at the playground. Here’s an example: let’s say you find a tricky passage that turns out to be an ascending scale by thirds over an A chord. It’s a whole lot easier when (a) you recognize it’s an A chord and (b) you can pull an ascending scale out of your toolkit without even thinking. Both can be developed separately. Over the years I’ve played with many who had to re-invent the wheel every time they found a twisty bit. This is not to say that the twisty passages shouldn’t or can’t be developed as you find them, but to point out that that independently developed skills save a lot of effort. Heck I played with a very good guitar player who when faced with playing a song he learned in A in B flat had to ask what the chords were. I also have a brother-in-law who retired as a globally respected pediatric neurosurgeon, maybe even the first in that specialty. You can bet he didn’t get there by knocking’ out a few shunts from time to time!

I want to clearly state that others have different perspectives on what works and what doesn’t and I fully respect that. I appreciate that there are other paths leading to other destinations. We’ll have a grand time playing together sometime I hope. That said, I do have strong beliefs about the value of independent skill set development, discipline, and focus. It’s about more than music. In my career I was asked to manually ventilate patients in both crisis and controlled situations and do it safely. My skill didn’t come from just "doing it" over and over but from meticulous practice with appropriate measurement until it became automatic and that’s my approach to most things I care about. Anyhow, that’s my story and I’m sticking’ to it!

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I’ve been playing the whistle for more years than I care to admit. I don’t have a regimen but I do try to play everyday. Usually I play along with music on Spotify or CDs or along with the backup tracks from the Online Academy of Irish Music https://www.oaim.ie. I’ve participated in some virtual sessions, mostly the ones that Matt and Shannon host weekly (monthly during the summer). Sometimes I go back and listen to recordings I’ve made in workshops and play the tunes/practice ornamentation (I’ve been very lucky and privileged to have studied with the likes of Joanie Madden, Catherine McEvoy, Mickey Dunne, June McCormack, Shannon Heaton, and others over the years). All that said, it’s sort of a lonely pursuit, and I’d like to start playing with others in the Houston area when we get over this current viral wave.

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Interestingly enough, there *are* top musicians who grew that way without drills in isolated technique. Daniel Barenboim has written about his father’s (his mentor) approach, which was to play music, not exercises and drills. "There are enough scales and arpeggios in Mozart!" he famously said. So Daniel played music, not drills. Closer to home, Martin Hayes says that he learned by playing the tunes, along to records and with his father. The focus was never on technical skills but on how the music felt. And he says he was not a natural fiddler by any stretch.

Ultimately, Ross, I think we agree—becoming a musician demands focus and clarity and and discipline and paying attention to specifics and nuances, repeated ad infinitum.

One way to do this is through exercises and drills and playing along to a metronome. Another way is to laser in on all the same skills, mechanics, and concepts, with the same focus and discipline, *while playing the tunes and making real music.* As a child, I was taught the first way (on a different instrument), and it nearly smothered any spark I had for wanting to play music. Then I started learning another instrument, on my own, by making music. For me, the second way was far more efficient and effective, and also thoroughly enjoyable.

FWIW, I’ve also heard plenty of musicians who don’t progress despite all the exercises and drills and metronome practice. I suspect their lack of success stems from the same root as those who fail at the "learning by playing music" approach—it’s not the material but their lack of focus and discipline. In other words, either way can work—if you’re passionate about it, focused, attentive, responsive, and disciplined. And if you don’t embody those qualities, then neither way will turn you into a musician.

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Hmmm. Apologies for overthinking this, but Ross provides a concrete example that’s an excellent opportunity to explain the overlap between "scales and drills" vs. "play the tunes."

Ross says: "Here’s an example: let’s say you find a tricky passage that turns out to be an ascending scale by thirds over an A chord. It’s a whole lot easier when (a) you recognize it’s an A chord and (b) you can pull an ascending scale out of your toolkit without even thinking."

I agree 100%.

I also know that it’s entirely possible to learn (a) what an A chord is and what notes it includes, and (b) how to play an ascending scale without even thinking by alertly, mindfully playing the tunes. I know wonderful musicians (national champions on their instruments) who can do this even though they don’t have the verbal labels (A chord, ascending scale). They just know—precisely and viscerally—what those sounds are and what they mean. And how to respond to them in their playing. And they got there by playing tunes, not by isolating and studying A major triads, scales, and arpeggios.

The point is, they paid deep attention to the same things, just within the tunes, not exercises. And they don’t have to think about it because they *hear* and *feel* it, no notation or labels or lead sheets required.

The mental effort is essentially the same, it’s the lesson material (exercises/theory or tunes/musical sounds) that differs.

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We started a new group a few months ago and now we’re on summer hiatus. We all contributed some tunes to a list so for me at least it’s time to memorize them. I practice one or two hours about five days a week. That’s with a whistle, and I add mandolin at some point. I actually spend a lot more time if I count an hour or so of intense listening and making lists of recorded versions I want to play along with. For instrument practice, I start with a tune that’s new to me and work it until I think I have it. The rest of the time I’ll play a bunch of tunes for the fun of it but I’ll play them at least three times, more if I catch myself getting sloppy. If I hit a snag, then that tune gets priority tomorrow. I don’t have an ounce of discipline in me. I simply want to improve because it’s more fun. By the way I’m retired but I find I don’t have the three or four hours I’d fantasized spending on music. The energy, mental or physical, just isn’t there.

Re: What’s your practice regime like?

Get Gig or session,
Do Gig or session,
Drink Ale,
Get Paid, or not if you prefer
…Simple…
Worked just fine for me for 40+ years .
It’s "Trad" music, been done for generations, simple 😉

Re: What’s your practice regime like?

I don’t have a practice regime and don’t really do any technical practice any more. Having played for fifty years I know my technical limits and am now at an age where it’s not going to get any better, technically.

Most of what I would call practice is learning stuff and working on musicality. That might mean playing anything from a tune to a long complex arrangement over and over until I’ve got it memorised or playing something I know and experimenting with phrasing and ornamentation. Then there is the confirmation practice that you might do before a gig just to convince yourself that you really do remember that song or tune you’re going to be playing at the weekend but haven’t played for yonks.

Re: What’s your practice regime like?

Did everybody read the OP? I’m going through the replies and alot of them are tune based but insist it’s not practice; just play. Yet *play* is a significant aspect of the OP’s practice.

My practice regime:
1. Daily
2. … I practice 10 tunes each practice session.
4. I play a tune through twice, striving for my satisfaction. If there are rough patches I might go back and play them over several times to get them right.
5. I don’t play for time, focusing instead on the 10 tunes, but practice generally takes 30-40 minutes.

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Re: What’s your practice regime like?

AB, did you read the OP?

"I’d be interested in hearing about other folks’ practice regimes…. Okay so that’s me. What do other folks do for practice. Do tell."

Tell we did.

I’ve learned techniques and concepts and skills and music through playing tunes. So it’s not "just" playing tunes. I also cycle through well north of 1,200 tunes, and I typically play many dozens of tunes every day I play. Necessarily my routine is quite different from the OP’s. Ross comes at it from a different approach. So does Titch. So does Trish and DonaldK, and….

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Yes, gimpy!

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Only daily hard work gives the result!

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Mine now is somewhat patchy; I certainly don’t do a fixed number of minutes every day, like I used to have to back in my long-distant teenage years when learning piano. In those days it was scales, arpeggios, exam pieces slow then up to speed, hymns and marches for school assembly, then if any time left, play some favourites for fun.
When first learning my B/C accordion I did practise more than I do now. These days, I am playing several days a week in sessions, so I could rather glibly say that I practise when I go out to play! Not quite true. But if I have a gig coming up, then I will do more personal practice at home, and hopefully arrange a rehearsal for the gig with my fellow-players. Things I like to concentrate on are dynamics, phrasing and ornamentation, harmony parts, not just playing a string of notes in the right order: musicality in one word.
A separate “special case” is our ceilidh band which meets every week for a 2-hour practice, usually concentrating on any sets for the next gig, but also giving some rarely played tunes an airing.

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trish wrote: "These days, I am playing several days a week in sessions, so I could rather glibly say that I practise when I go out to play! Not quite true."

No doubt many of us here could say the same. Or at least we could before the pandemic culled our playing opportunities. Playing out regularly, even if it’s not "practice," keeps us sharp, helps tunes stay in the active rotation, and may even let us hone our chops in the sonic camouflage provided by our session mates. Of course that doesn’t mean sessions are where you learn basic intonation or rhythm or timing. But once you’re up to an acceptable standard, they do help foster improvement—if you’re paying attention.

Which sort of raises the point that how you practice/learn/play ought to be based on what your specific goals are and where you are in your learning curve on your instrument. This thread well shows that people with years of experience may find that a more relaxed approach works just fine, though it might not have been the best way forward when they were newbies. People who want to stand on the winner’s podium or win acclaim as the next Matt Molloy may benefit from a different regimen than someone who really just wants to contribute to their local session. And the latter doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t become an excellent musician.

Different paths for different destinations.

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Re: What’s your practice regime like?

Practice regime:

1. The left turn lane at Lougheed highway and Willingdon AVE. It’s about 2 minutes of waiting and just enough to get 2 parts of a tune in on the whistle that I have playing in my car. Also, I only listen to trad when I’m driving, so constantly absorbing the music. I learn about 60% of my repertoire this way.

2. Playing at sessions. Preferably ones where I’m leading the sets. I try to get out to a session every week or more to keep those tunes and flute muscles going. If I’m not forcing myself to “perform” I won’t gain the confidence to play better.

3. At home, playing along to an album/YouTube video. It’s gotten a bit trickier as my significant other works from home, but I try not to blasht the flute over the phone if I can (and if I do, free on hold music!)

Cheers,

Melany

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Re: What’s your practice regime like?

I don’t have a practice regime. For me, practice is as simple as this:

If I’m learning a new tune, I’m practicing.

If I’m learning an old tune, I’m practicing.

If I’m playing a tune, that I know “at standard”, then I’m not practicing.

If I’m playing a tune that I know, but in a way that challenges me and allows me to learn new information or develop new skills, then I’m practicing.

At this point in my life, there is just so much music. Between all of the different requirements and due-diligences any piece of music may call for, is just too much to keep track of. So I keep a list of “priority” tunes and rotate them out as I learn them, while also practicing other tunes I’ve decided to add to the repertoire.