If You Practice

By Tom Ervin • October 01, 1996 • 3 min read

Let us discuss the benefits that come from focused practice, and the need for such practice by any trombonist who is ambitious, or is considering a musical career. This article was originally submitted to the trombone list in September 1996. The list also holds many fine posts on structuring and optimizing practice time.

If you practice the trombone for 2-3 hours weekly (six half-hours) you will slowly learn the notes and some rhythms. You can develop a fairly nice midrange sound if you simulate a good example, like a teacher. You can have fun. Many beginners, junior high trombonists, and some high school players practice this way.

(And I'm not counting ensemble rehearsal time in this. It does not really count. Well, yes it might build your endurance, you can memorize the field show, and you learn a lot about playing with other musicians, how to act, how to follow a conductor maybe, how to take directions. But this is not the same as the skills gained in the practice room.)

If you will practice 5-6 hours a week, you can actually make some slow progress if you manage that time very carefully. You will probably find time to do a more comprehensive warm-up routine. You may actually get material ready to play in a lesson, learn the studies well enough to play them with no reading mistakes, no hesitations and few errors. You may find time to work on your band parts. There may also be a little time available to truly practice some of the plain technical work and maintenance that we should all try to do: extensive flexibility routines, scales and arpeggios galore, the weird keys, dynamic workouts, etc.

If you can get the practice hours up to ten, week after week (40 a month), you will notice some important and valuable developments in your playing. You will become more "fit." You will handle 5 or 6 books at a time, or more. There will be more time to regularly address things that others often neglect: air exercises, tunes by ear, high and low range, some jazz, recording yourself, clefs, the outside keys, real sight-reading, duets with peers, tough etudes, audition materials, orchestral excerpts, jury solos, vibrato and quality time with pianists. Your reading will really improve! You won't be sore the day after a big blow. You will use the metronome, mirror and tuner properly and do dozens of flexibility routines, scales and arpreggios. If you find something really hard, you will have time to work it out, and work it up. There will be time to solve bad playing habits. You will be thinking about trombone while you sleep! You'll be quite proud of your playing and your progress. You will deserve to get some work.

If you will develop the stamina to really practice 15-20 hours a week, then you get (this is like a Chinese restaurant!) all of the above plus you'll tear through the literature much quicker, build a repertoire after a while, learn tunes and their changes, progress quickly with unusual techniques, review old material, be a serious competitor at professional auditions and much more.

If you cannot do this then the benefits will be elusive. You should know that there are students all around the country practicing 20+ hours a week and that you will meet them at many auditions. There will be one winner.

(Some other instrumentalists will find these numbers a bit low; and maybe they are low. Ambitious pianists and string players devote much more time to practice, because they can.)