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Practice Plans: 2, 3, and 4+ Hours Per Day

Here are sample practice plans I've suggested to students and are similar to what I've personally done at various times over the years. Please talk with your teacher about your practice routine, or drop me a line with questions.


Before and during practice:


-In your musicianship the most important thing is listening. Listen to great saxophone players in all styles to discover the possibilities, be energized and inspired, and decide how you should sound. Otherwise, your practicing will probably lack direction and meaning.


-Set goals!... for each practice session, whether it's 15 minutes, or several hours. Set weekly, monthly, and yearly goals as well.


-Plan how to break up your practicing... Most people will "hit the wall" and experience diminishing returns after practicing for a long period. Take breaks to help stay focused. Of course, you could practice 2 or 3 times per day to get to the number of hours you need (see below).


These numbers are for saxophonists per one-hour weekly lesson.


4-5+ hours per day - The minimum for performance majors. This is what practically all serious students do at large and small universities and conservatories for a variety of reasons, including... They're self-driven to attain a high level of artistry, have intense curiosity about music, they love the process of discovery and learning through practice, and because they have a competitive spirit and are working to seriously participate in a very tight job market. If this sounds like you, being a performance major might be good for you, but there are other factors, of course.


3 hours per day - what all music ed. majors should do, in my opinion. As a teacher, it's likely you'll need to look at a musical score and know how it should sound both technically and in terms of interpretation. When you practice, you'll develop an interpretation, making decisions regarding what the music should sound like including those about phrasing, dynamics, use of time/tempo, articulation, timbre, etc. As a performer, you'll make the music yourself. As a teacher, you'll convey the concepts you learn in performance to your students.


2 hours per day - This is the absolute minimum that all music ed. majors should do. If your practice is effective, you can probably learn the repertoire and scales that you need to know, but development of your overall skills may be limited. Tackling the details of producing a beautiful sound, sensitive articulations, and excellent pitch are difficult to do in this timeframe while keeping up with basic preparation for performances (convos, juries, etc.).



Sample practice plans


4 hours+


15 minutes - long tones throughout the range of the instrument and in altissimo register with various dynamics and articulations, always with a tuner. Practice vibrato with different rhythmic patterns using a metronome. Record your vibrato, assess, and adjust speed and/or width. Use various dynamics and alternate fingerings.


15 minutes - practicing harmonics and/or altissimo using a method such as Top Tones (Sigurd Rascher) or Beginning Studies in the Altissimo Register (Rosemary Lang).


1 hour - Scales with metronome. See rhythms and articulations in Les Gammes Conjointes Et en Intervalles by Jean-Marie Londeix, pub. Lemoine.


15-30 minutes - extended techniques including multiphonics, slap tongue, circular breathing, and/or others.


2-3 hours - Repertoire. Ideally, I would allocate about one hour per piece, or per movement of a multi movement piece, depending on the difficulty. I find it practical to learn 2-5 new lines of each piece each day with every detail in the score (but maybe not up to tempo), and with a well-planned interpretation for each phrase. After I've learned the new stuff for that day, I go back and review previously-learned material from that piece, and increase its tempo if needed. Running through a movement, or practicing the entire movement in one day is very unproductive, and should only be done after each phrase is individually learned. If I'm working on a really difficult piece, I might not know it well enough to even think about running through it for 2-4 months.


Of course, this works for etudes also.


This is slow, but it means that I really know the repertoire I've practiced. I've re-learned pieces for a performance 5-6 years after initially studying them, and can do it in a fraction of the time it took the first time.


3 hours


10 minutes - long tones throughout the range of the instrument and in altissimo register with various dynamics and articulations, always with a tuner. Practice vibrato with different rhythmic patterns using a metronome. Record your vibrato, assess, and adjust speed and/or width. Use various dynamics and alternate fingerings.


50 minutes- Scales with metronome. See rhythms and articulations in Les Gammes Conjointes Et en Intervalles by Jean-Marie Londeix, pub. Lemoine.


20 minutes - altissimo/voicing exercises (harmonics, mouthpiece exercise, etc.) and extended techniques including multiphonics, slap tongue, circular breathing, and/or others.



100 minutes - repertoire


2 hours


10 minutes - long tones throughout the range of the instrument and in altissimo register with various dynamics and articulations, always with a tuner. Practice vibrato with different rhythmic patterns using a metronome. Record your vibrato, assess, and adjust speed and/or width. Use various dynamics and alternate fingerings.


10 minutes - altissimo/voicing exercises (harmonics, mouthpiece exercise, etc.) and extended techniques including multiphonics, slap tongue, circular breathing, and/or others.


30-40 minutes - Scales with metronome. See rhythms and articulations in Les Gammes Conjointes Et en Intervalles by Jean-Marie Londeix, pub. Lemoine.


60-70 minutes- repertoire


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