Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Days 21 through 24

Day 21

Practiced late. Very tired. Finished the Weissenborn!!

Day 22

Practiced late, again. My inclination is to say "Oh man! I need to stop this!" But in reality, I thoroughly enjoy practicing when I'm sleepy. I get into an incredibly focused, trance-like state. It feels soooooo goooood!

I wonder how much I really get done in these times. I practiced anything that I didn't need to read with my eyes closed. I felt much more connected with the sound and my instrument. When I did read, it was much more accurate and less distracted. I felt no inhibitions or pressures.

Maybe the more I get in that mind-state the better. Isn't that the mind-state you need to be in during performances?

The only problem I have with late practicing is when I don't also practice earlier in the day. During my late practices, I'm not very goal oriented. I tend to do what feels good. I think I make huge progress, but am not "working hard" towards specific goals.

...but maybe that's not even true. I did my scales and some new Van Hoesen exercises and I went back over some Weissenborn etudes that were in nastier keys and had high e's and eb's. That's some serious work! Maybe goal setting needs to be done consciously and real productive practice gets done on a subconscious level.

Day 23

Mandatory minimum day. I taught. I love teaching!

I also tried a newly refurbished Puchner bassoon and absolutely loved it! It was old - needed high d and high e keys - but it had a wonderfully sparkly tone, was light and flexible, and had even tone and intonation. It was also very light - maybe a good thing for my CTS. It's really got me thinking.

At the very least I need to get some work done on my Fox. I shouldn't have to struggle to keep the pitch down in the lower portion of the instrument as much as I do.

Day 24 - Today

Continuing work on Van Hoesen patterns. Going to begin reading the Gambarro book. There are 18 etudes, but they are longer and harder. I'm going to give myself two days to work on each. That means I should be done with the book by August 6th. Wish me luck!


The Van Hoesen patterns were rough. Right now I'm working on broken arpeggios, connection between intervals of 3rd, 4th, and 5th. This is great because it gets me thoroughly grounded in each key - something I'm weak at. It's very very easy to hear intonation problems with this pattern and it works larger intervals than regular scales.

Gambaro #1 was great. It's charming! Hard enough to keep me working, but not so hard as to be discouraging. It had an adagio intro - the kind with lots of different subdivisions of a slow beat. Serious counting work, a lot like Milde. Then it moved onto a technical part that challenges the breathing as much as the fingers. I think my original estimate of two days each is a good one. They won't be perfect, but perfection isn't my goal.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Some Less Obvious Benefits of Daily Practice

Regular practice is improving my life. Here's how:

Every day I reaffirm my purpose. When I sit down to practice, I'm not only working towards my somewhat arbitrary goal of playing bassoon every day for six months, I am striving towards something very important to me. My purpose is to make the world a more beautiful place. Music is my medium. Every day that I play the bassoon I achieve this purpose, even if the "world" consists of my practice room.

I build confidence. Through creation and maintenance of my skills, I build the confidence to increase the scope of influence of my music. The daily act of practicing reinforces my understanding that each of my choices is intentional. I may have no control over the weather or the World Cup, but I have ultimate control over how I spend my time.

I build and maintain healthy habits. Through choosing to spend my time practicing I'm choosing to not spend my time doing things that aren't as good for me. Since the beginning of this experiment I have eaten more healthfully, I've spent less money, I've spent more time with my closest friends and family, I've drunk less, and I've maintained healthier sleeping habits. This is all due to a burgeoning acceptance of the value of my time. If I drink or don't get enough sleep, I've thrown away hours of my life when I could have practiced. If I neglect the needs of my family or myself I lose time to worry. If I spend money unwisely I've lost not only the resource of that money, but I've thrown away all of the time it took to earn it and will need to do make that money all over again.

Do you recognize any positive side effects to your practice? Let us know in the comments!

Days 16 through, um, 20

Those of you who do math may be asking, Shouldn't that be 16 through 21?

No, I say.

It finally happened. I finally missed a day of practice. Ouch.

Monday, June 21st, just so happened to be my 30th birthday. Closing a decade full of self-seeking and beginning a new decade filled with the confidence of knowing one's self is cause for celebration! Though I intended to practice, I am giving myself permission to shrug this off. It was a significant day filled with appropriate celebration and I have no regrets.

Day 16

This was father's day. I had hoped to play bassoon with my little sister - a beginning bass clarinetist - for my father, but instead got waylaid by a surprise birthday party! It was a blast (with food and wine) but everyone cleared out by 11:00. I made my way down to the basement to practice, so as not to bother the natives. Dad's always said that the distant sound of bassoons in the basement never bothered his sleep much, anyway.

Very tired (5 hours in the car, and a two event party), perhaps just slightly tipsy, and yet again without a music stand (this time because I was too lazy to bring one from upstairs), all I got done were scales. I fulfilled my mandatory minimum, though! The thing I learned from this adventure was this: Basements are creepy, yo. For real! I kept seeing things out of the corner of my eye, feeling like I was watched, and feeling generally weirded out. It was really hard to maintain any kind of focus.

Would-be day 17 involved a fifth-grade "graduation" ceremony, errands, lunch with family, 4 hours in the car, a thirtieth birthday, and then a pleasant evening of patio-sitting with close friends. No, I did not practice. That is OK.

So, Day 17 (I messed up the consecutive thing, but I'll still go for 180 days) actually ended up being Tuesday, June 22nd. This day was perhaps the biggest triumph so far.

Tuesday I woke up feeling like crud. (Not a surprise. I don't think I need to tell you why.) Lingered around the house, cleaning and napping, until I had to go to work. Got done with work at around 9pm at which point a) I could have not practiced, lost my momentum, felt terrible about myself, quit the blog, dropped out of school, quit bassoon, and stumbled my way through the next decade of life, lost, and feeling like I'd squandered an incredible opportunity or b) I could suck it up and practice.

As you already know, I chose B! Yes, B! B! B!!!1!

That's right, gentle readers, after briefly straying, I have returned to my path. The one that rocks! I practiced, yet again, without a music stand at a friend's house. There was no privacy, it sucked because I missed a day, and I was terribly embarrassed, but I DID IT!

Day 18 - Back to work

Got the ol' momentum back, ladies and gents. Practiced in the afternoon - not late at night - and with a music stand. Did some reed work, worked on double tonguing, did some interval work to get my ear in shape, and worked on Shosty 9, which just-so-happens-to-be all about the intonation. w00t!

Day 19

Yesterday involved a spontaneous get-together, which threatened my mandatory minimum. Eek!

Fear not, gentle reader. Your faithful narrator fulfilled her daily bassooney duties by putting on an impromptu concert for two of her buds! It involved a little bit of Rite (one bud recognized, the other did not), a little bit of Beethoven 9 (really just Ode to Joy by ear, prob in the wrong key, by request of the bud that did not know Rite), an improvised Pink Panther (same bud, this was a little hard to figure out), and some CPE Bach (requested Big Daddy Bach, but couldn't find the music to the flute partita that I know).

They were a great audience! Considerate, thankful, and easily pleased. I hope they enjoyed the experience as much as I did.

And that brings up to today, Day 20.

All of my days are so full. Soon I need a day with no plans. Today I worked at the restaurant, and had a million errands to run before I could practice. My inbox is still overflowing, but I got my practicing in.

Today I skipped my majors and minors and went straight to majors in thirds. I'm wondering if running my majors and minors is still the best use of my time - if I only have time for one session. I have lots things I need to work on before school starts:

1. I'm still cleaning up the top of my scales in thirds.
2. There's a Van Hoesen scale pattern I've never worked on before. Just broken arpeggios, but the top intervals are very challenging for me, at the moment.
3. I need to have the Van Hoesen chord progressions completely fluent.
4. I'm almost finished with the Weissenborn book - made it up to #48 today. When I'm done I need to visit more of the Milde etudes. I've done maybe a third of the concert studies and I need to revisit the scale studies in the nastier keys.
5. Need to focus on audition music.
6. Double tonguing and flutter-tonguing.

...and then there's the pile of school related work that's unrelated to bassoon, like theory review, history review, piano practice, sight-singing practice... I'm not stressed or anything!

But really folks, I guess I'll need to be doing some re-prioritization. This was a pretty slack week, after all.

Tomorrow is going to be another tough one. I wake up early and drive over six hours to attend my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary party. I don't even know where I'll end up spending the night, but I'll need to find some time alone to practice. This may get interesting - look for reports of bassoonery at highway rest stops!

After this weekend I should be able to get on a bit more of a routine, at least for a while. I look forward to a calmer couple of weeks and perhaps some time spent in practice rooms and libraries.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Days 14 and 15

Day 14 was a bust. I did play my bassoon a little, but I'm not sure I'd call what I did practicing. Does merely playing fulfill my mandatory minimum? Today, for my sanity, I'll say yes.

Yesterday I worked at the restaurant, taught a couple of lessons, and clocked seven hours in the car. That my bassoon even made it out of its case is a victory!

Today, though, I had a good practice session. I played all of my scales (even in 3rds and whole tone scales) and several memorized excerpts. It was an interesting exercise in concentration, because I'm in a place that is quiet, but not private. Family was all around and felt free to comment - Mom laughed every time I made a mistake!

Some simple lessons from today: 1. keep a music stand in the car. I would have loved to have read a couple of Weissenborn Etudes today 2. cargo shorts suck to play bassoon in. I already know this.

Tomorrow I'll practice for my father.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 13

An unlucky day? I don't know.

Yet again, I'm about to practice later in the day than I'd hoped. I'm exhausted after trying to cram a week's worth of tasks into one day. Instead of feeling refreshed and excited about a day off of work, I feel beaten down by every other obligation life has for me.

Maybe practice will help.

The Session


Practiced majors and minors and did a little double tonguing. Honestly, I just feel tired and need a break. Feel like I'm never going to play better if I don't have longer focused practiced sessions, but I've already had a long day with lots of stress and disappointment. Fitting ending.

Day 12

Today I practiced at the school from 10-11pm. I worked on nothing but major and minor scales. It was good and I still had plenty of mental stamina after an hour, but my wrists started hurting. Both of them. This is not good.

I was diagnosed with carpel tunnel syndrome when I was in high school. After some physical therapy, high doses of ibuprofen, and some minor changes in playing position the problem was alleviated. I occasionally have flare ups, but I hadn't had one in such a long time that I got careless.

Tonight before I practiced I drank a sugary, caffeinated beverage. Both sugar and caffeine lead to inflammation, which is the ultimate cause of CTS. This is just one in a million reasons to stay away from soda. I have no plans on giving up coffee, but I don't usually put any sugar in it, I usually have it with a meal (breakfast), and most often there's at least an hour between the time I finish my coffee and the time that I practice.

Another strategy to deal with CTS involves practicing more often at shorter intervals. In order to achieve this goal I'll have to start practicing much earlier in the day. With a day job and preparation for my move going on, I'm not sure that this is an attainable goal. I will keep it in mind while I schedule my days.

The room in which I practiced tonight had a large mirror. This is part of the reason that I focused on raw technique. I could see tension in the muscles in my forearms when I came to an area of my scales where I felt uncomfortable. Strangely, I would have never said that I felt uncomfortable about any of my scales until I viewed myself in the mirror. This was a great cue as to which parts of the scales needed attention. I felt instantly repaid by giving those spots a little bit of attention.

I also practiced with my tuner on, but not in my direct line of sight. I practiced playing a note (began with low F), listening closely to the timbre, and placing it where I thought its equal-tempered tuning should be. Then I'd check the tuner to see how I did. My concept of most notes is right on! The exceptions were no surprise: my concept of C# above the staff, low D, and the extremely high register is sharp. I need to address this on a regular basis.

I would have liked to have practiced longer, today. I feel like my basic technique is getting better, but I feel like I haven't worked on music in a while. I know that this is irrational because I spent some great time on the Bach on Monday, however, I won't ignore the feeling. I think it's a sign that I'm abusing my mandatory minimums. I didn't know that my CTS was going to flare up today, but I should not have made practicing my last task of the day.

Even if my performance today was lackluster, I still pursued my passion. That's something to be proud of! What did you do today to pursue your passion? Tell us in the comments!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Days 9, 10, and 11

Thank god for mandatory minimums!

I think I may have finally figured out how to maintain my balance in life. That's a big statement to make, but really guys... really.

I have exercised my self-given right to practice just-a-little for three out of eleven days. That's not great, but it's better than I would have done last year. Last year I would have skipped several days, backpedaled considerably, and felt terrible about myself. Instead I've practiced, if only a little, every day for eleven days and I feel great about myself. It's allowed me to maintain my somewhat spontaneous... capricious... okay, compulsive lifestyle while still becoming a better bassoonist.

Day 9

Took a spontaneous trip to southern WV to visit friends. Ended up practicing out in the woods among the trees. It was a wonderfully pleasant experience to play outside and I think my bassoon enjoyed being around his extended family. I didn't have a music stand, so I practiced only things I could play from memory. I played Rite, Tchaik 4, Marriage of Figaro, Ravel G major, and plenty of other excerpts that I can't remember at the moment. Played majors and minors. Stayed away from thirds because there were people around to hear, but I did tackle some intonation issues in the upper register. The woods are a great place to hear your naked tone.

Day 10

Exhausted from the drive and a busy shift at work, but I made it to the school to practice at night. It was an interesting experience. I was so tired and it was dark and very, very quiet. I closed my eyes and practiced hard for about an hour and a half. I got close with my tone and intonation. I could feel technique developing under my fingers.

I worked on the d# minor Weissenborn etude that I'd had so much trouble with and had a much better experience. Tackled the next etude which was in eb minor. Did just fine.

Door kept making a creepy sound and freaking my out or I would have stayed a lot longer.

Day 11

This was most definitely my lamest practice day, but I needed to chill out hard. I played some scales in thirds and taught a lesson. I always play a lot in lessons. Not great, but I feel like I'll wake up tomorrow ready to go. I love to play the bassoon, but if I don't relax sometimes I'll begin to resent it. It's happened before and I don't want it to happen again.

How's that for justification?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day 8

Today is Saturday. I woke up feeling like crud.

After some food, some time with my book and some coffee I managed to get in enough practice that I fulfilled my mandatory minimum. Did some great technical work on my major and minor scales. Then I read one Weissenborn etude that was written in d sharp minor. Ugh. It sucked.

Since it's such an unfamiliar key, I'm going to read it again tomorrow :)

Tonight I have what will most likely be a busy shift at the restaurant. I'm closing, which will keep me out late. I will not get a second session in today.

Day 7, Session 2

It was hard to sit down and practice, yesterday for session 2. I had worked a long, steady shift at the restaurant and all I wanted to do was relax.

I managed to complete my daily warmups and read another etude. I decided that this more than fulfilled my mandatory minimum and spent the rest of the evening relaxing.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 7

I've made it a whole week!

Unfortunately, my practice sessions keep getting shorter. On the other hand, I can feel them getting more productive. More on this later.

The Session:

Started with D in thirds. It was fine.
Majors - sixteenths @ quarter = 80
Minors - sixteenths @ quarter = 80
Majors in 3rds - Ran out of time, but I'll have another session this afternoon.
Lost concentration on D again. Must have worked on it for 10 to 15 minutes. Next practice will begin with D in thirds.

Longtones: Didn't get there.

Weissenborn: Ran out of time.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day 6

It turns out that I'm not the only one setting small goals for herself. It's called setting a Mandatory Minimum and there's a nice article about it here:

My Mandatory Minimum is intentionally super-small. I'm to practice every day, BUT I have not set a time minimum or a results-based goal. On some days I'll naturally practice more and on some days I'll naturally practice a little less. It's occurred to me this morning, after reading this: that having this freedom is important in order to avoid "burnout."

Guilt and pressing on with super-hero stamina is three steps back. Down time is natural as John Denver in the early days. ~Danielle @ White Hot Truth

I have successfully practiced five days in a row. I don't think that I've done that since before my auditions in the Spring (and if I have I wasn't conscious of it and proud of my achievement). When I woke up this morning, I felt the need for a lazy day. I don't have to work at the requisite day jobbie until the evening, the pillows seemed so soft, and I'm half way through a gripping book. This desire is natural. It's the way I've been trained to think; work hard for five days, get two days off. It's organic and safe.

I'm approaching my practice with a different attitude today. My goals are the same, but my focus is on the enjoyment of playing bassoon.

The session:
Majors - sixteenths @ quarter = 80
Minors - sixteenths @ quarter = 80
Majors in 3rds - eighths @ quarter = 80
Started with D in thirds, then went about my scales as usual, adding a sharp each time.

Longtones: D. A little better.

Weissenborn: Two studies, then ran out of time. Should have started earlier. I won't be able to have another session today, but bassoon is assembled so I can start right at 10am tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Day 5, Session 2

Some Exploration of my Six Month Goal

Despite Dr. Schuller's advice, my goal of six months of consecutive daily practice is a little arbitrary. Here are some problems that I perceive:

Schuller's advice referred to "brutally hard work" not just daily practice. Daily practice is simply what's expected of the professional musician. I am working to affect a habit that I should have acquired much much earlier in my musical career. Some days I will work harder than others. I'm not sure that "brutally hard work" is a healthy thing that I want to strive for, but daily concentrated practice, continually building upon the previous day's work, is.

Six months is Schuller's minimum. He actually says six to twelve months, but I have no idea what my daily life will be like in a year, so when my six months are almost over, I'll look at this again.

Even with my alterations, this goal may be unobtainable for me for several reasons. In less than two months I will be moving to a new town. In that time I need to be earning as much money as I can to prepare for my move. After the move I'll be rushing around finding a new job and developing a new social network. I'll be learning the rules of a new place. In a little over two months I 'll be starting a degree at a new school. There will be days filled with travel and new school orientation. My life is going to change in huge ways that I can't imagine.

With careful planning there shouldn't be a day when I won't be able to sit down with my instrument and at least play my scales, but that assumes that I can plan every moment of my life. You never know when there will be sickness, family emergencies, or even unexpected opportunities.

If I miss a day, the project is not scrapped. But if I miss a day I'd better have a damned fine reason. And it had better be followed by a lengthy journal entry about those reasons and perhaps a reevaluation of my goal.

Session 2

Started the session by running D in thirds with no problem. My problem in warmup sessions is entirely concentration. I don't know any way to work on that besides continuing to practice daily.

Longtones: D

I have a love and hate relationship with this note. Through years of careless practice I have trained my ear to hear D incorrectly in the highest and lowest octave. When I feel that the note is in tune and at its most resonant, it is almost always a quarter-tone sharp. Ouch.

I chose to start with D because I had already warmed up on a D scale, and because I know it is my most problematic note on the bassoon. Though I set out with a very clear plan of how to play long tones, I ended up revising that plan in the practice room. I ended up playing half notes instead of quarters at 80bpm and I did eight counts up and down instead of twelve. I think I may have remembered the original exercise incorrectly, or maybe I just needed to modify it for my needs. Either way, any long tone I play with an ear toward intonation, response, and growth in dynamic range will be helpful.

I was very unhappy with my reed's response tonight. I've scraped on it every time I've played it and it doesn't seem to be getting better. I think I may leave it to settle for a few days and work on another tomorrow. I would have happily worked on another tonight, but the end of my time to play in my comfortable home (without changing out of my sweatpants) was coming too quickly. I made it through four long Weissenborn etudes before time was up, but my chops were so tired that I might not have done more had time not run out.

Day 5

In order to maintain steady progress I have a lot that I need to keep track of. From now on I'll follow a template to record my warm up sessions to make sure no longtone or scale form gets missed! As I feel I've done adequate work on a scale form I'll continue to add onto the list until I'm fluent in the entire Van Hoesen warmup exercise.

Longtones will be done thusly: Metronome set to 80, crescendo for 12 counts, decrescendo for 12 counts. Expand range as much as I can within these limits. Repeat only tonguing quarters within crescendi and decrescendi.

Session 1

Majors - sixteenths @ quarter = 80
Minors - sixteenths @ quarter = 70
Majors in 3rds - eighths @ quarter = 70
Lost concentration on D again. Must have worked on it for 10 to 15 minutes. Next practice will begin with D in thirds.

Longtones: Didn't get there.

Weissenborn: Ran out of time.

This is the first session I've had since the beginning of the project where I've run out of time before accomplishing all that I'd hoped. Fortunately I have it all recorded here so I can make up the time this evening. I will have plenty of time for another session or two this evening.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day 4, Session 2

If you wish to achieve a position prominent enough to assure you the kind of livelihood you think you deserve, there must be some time in your student years during which you put in the six to twelve months of brutal hard work without which an enduring successful career is not possible. This “basic training” period is necessary not only in order to refine your playing to the highest professional level, but to build up the easily underestimated amount of resistance, both physical and mental, that the nervous tension of everyday professional playing demands. Any shortcuts in this respect will sooner or later lead to trouble.
—Gunther Schuller, Horn Technique (London, 1962): 73.

I think I deserve a freaking sweet livelihood, so I think I've solidified my goal. I will practice every day for six months. I will not merely practice, but I will continue to advance and to challenge myself every day. It won't be easy, but through reading this blog you will help me to do it!

Session 2
This evening I did some serious technical work on the third movement of the CPE Bach and played through the first two movements with some metronome work here and there. The remaining work on this piece will involve recording myself and making some conscious musical decisions. Also, I have longtone work to do that will begin tomorrow afternoon. Through long tones and reed work I need to extend my dynamic range and straighten out some intonation issues, particularly in the low register. I also need to hone my ear a little - the first movement includes some wide leaps that I think I'm perceiving as in tune but are not. Recording myself will clear that up a little. The metronome work needs to continue until I can play the technical passages faster than my desired tempi and with my eyes closed. I want to hedge my odds against making public mistakes.

I ended up taking my own advice from earlier today. After teaching a music lesson, I would not have made it home in time to practice, so instead I went directly to the music school to practice. If I had gone home first I would have found myself too comfortable to leave.

Day 4

Three Excuses

I have some fabulous excuses that I use to get out of practicing.

Dirty house. The sink is full, there's dog fur everywhere, I haven't done laundry in a month, and where's that weird smell coming from? How can I possibly focus?

Pshaw. I've been ignoring the housework for weeks. To convince myself that it's going to bother me for the next hour while I knock out my scales is a load of malarky. I can go to the laundromat AFTER I practice. It won't make an iota of difference.

Consideration for the neighbors. This is my current favorite excuse. I live in a duplex where sound travels very well. Since I've lived here, two families with young children have occupied the apartment above mine. Though I don't have a close relationship with my current upstairs neighbor, I do know that she is a single mom of a preschool aged boy. I think she works two jobs; if she doesn't she at least works an irregular schedule. I know her life is not easy, and I know that some people can't sleep if a musical instrument is playing under their bedroom. Politeness is a necessity when living closely with people.

I think that some of the things I practice sound beautiful and I hope she thinks so, too. Unfortunately, some of the things I need to practice sound terrible - currently I'm working on popping out reliable, in tune high E's. Earlier this summer I tried to learn to fluttertongue (still working on that, folks) and one of my goals by then end of the summer is to be able to double tongue with some fluency. I have to make reeds - and crow on them sometimes. Those things sound flat out ugly. Even if I'm practicing something with beautiful tone and intonation, I often repeat the same passage over and over. That's no fun to listen to.

All of these considerations are compounded by a very slight twinge of embarrassment I have when I realize that someone can hear all of my mistakes. Though I'm sure she could care less, the performer in me is always on stage and always aware of the people who can hear. I even blush a little when someone walks down the road outside of my window.

So how dow I manage this? Playing bassoon well is my job. When I teach, I get paid for my expertise. It's easy to put the needs of others ahead of your own - especially if it justifies laziness. Putting the needs of my students and audience in the forefront justifies the opposite conclusion, anyway.

I approach bassoon playing like any other job - my business hours are from 10am to 8pm. That gives the neighbors ample time to go to bed early or enjoy some quiet evening time and plenty of time to sleep in late. If it's a Sunday or a holiday and I don't hear footsteps upstairs I may even wait until noon... but that's pushing the fuzzy line of procrastination.

If I don't have time to practice in these hours, there's also the option of practicing outside of my home. The local school of music has practice rooms open in the evenings and friends have offered up their homes for my practice. When it comes down to it, this is really no excuse to miss a day.

Not enough time. This was one of my favorites while I was pursuing my undergrad degree. "I only have a half hour before class. By the time I go to my locker, brush my teeth, find a room, unpack, and warm up I'll be out of time."

What a load of bull... ahem. While it's true that sometimes I couldn't find a practice room, to give up before I tried was inexcusable. Swishing water in my mouth is usually enough to freshen up, and who really cares unless I'm specifically working on reeds anyway. Having assembled and disassembled my bassoon millions of times, I know that it really doesn't take that long. Aaaand, if I'm headed to a rehearsal, and already warmed up, showing up five minutes early, warmed up, with my horn assembled is much more effective than showing up 15 minutes early and cold. Add to that a few time-saving devices, like keeping a folding stand and water close at hand, and this excuse really doesn't hold up. The remaining 20 minutes was enough time to run through almost any solo piece I was working on or to hit the hot spots in my ensemble music.

While in school for my master's the time problem was a little more valid. Academic work became a real challenge. I was the teaching assistant for several very demanding professors - at times this job was the most difficult part of my degree, but I learned an incredible amount and am thankful for the opportunity. In addition I was struggling to manage some serious issues at home that proved to be a total time-suck. For almost two years I was constantly tired and felt pulled in too many directions. Prioritization became an obsession for me. I wrote lengthy journal entries in an attempt to not only come out of the time a better bassoon player, but just to cope with my situation.

During this period, there were times when, out of self-preservation, I thought it was the best choice to skip a day. I have no regrets about that. In the end, my priorities clarified and I had to make some tough decisions. Those decisions ended up greatly reducing the amount of stress in my life. Now I'm healthier and I'm happier with the direction my life is taking. There are enough hours in the day to eat, sleep, work, and practice. I even have a social life filled with people that I respect and admire. There is enough time.

Today I have the day off from work, but I'm not giving myself the day off from the bassoon. I have worked so hard to have the freedom to play this instrument. To give up that opportunity would damage more than my bassoon playing.

Today's goals:
I would like to have at least two practice sessions today. The first will be scales and Weissenborn Studies. The second will focus on CPE Bach. I'll do a little adjusting to the two reeds I've been working on.

Session 1:
Major scales @ quarter = 70, in sixteenth notes. Two reps to challenge breath and focus a little. Made a few mistakes. Tomorrow make it through all of your scales with no mistakes. Should be easy as pie! Minor scales still without metronome - yes I could do them as fast as my majors if I play them by ear, but my goal with these now is to get more fluent with correct (not enharmonic) note names, key signatures, and accidentals. Scales in thirds - nice and slow. For technique and intonation. Perfection was NOT achieved. The scale I had to work hardest on was D and the main problem was focus. It was the next to last scale I played and had been working fairly intensely up to then. I started noticing noises from outside and becoming aware of my body - how my arms and legs felt. I had to play it at least 7 times before I got it right (@ eighths at 70. ugh), but then got it right three times in a row. I believe that I would have played it better had I been playing it faster, but performance doesn't always give you that option, so I stuck with it. It payed off and I had no problem with G.

I think that my biggest problem with technique has always been maintaining focus. I'm no longer going to allow myself to get away with mistakes in a practice setting. I'm on a mission!

Reed - humidity is low today and reed is closed. Caused problems in the lowest register. Opened and scraped. Scraped on other reed a little. Still too hard. Will let it settle for a while and work on it again later today.

I read through nine Weissenborn etudes! I'm wondering, though: does this "sight reading practice" contribute to my general problem with making too many mistakes? In order to have it be truly a sight reading exercise I have to allow myself to make mistakes to keep the etudes somewhere near tempo. I'm more than half way through finishing the book, so I think I'll finish what I started, but I will change my strategy soon. After the book is done, I'll take on an etude book that fits my current level of ability and learn an etude a week - just like school. I'll even record myself in order to give myself a slightly more objective lesson. This way I'll be reading AND perfecting lots of music, just like I should be.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Day 3, Session 2

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? - John Wooden

This afternoon's goal: do it right the first time. I had a tasty lunch and puttered around the house long enough to let it settle. It's time to do some work and do it right.

Work on CPE Bach. Did technical work on the third movement. Avoided the temptation to procrastinate on practicing flicks on D.

Tomorrow: Begin metronome work on scales - morning diagnostic work, to set goals for afternoon. Technical work on remaining two movements of CPE Bach.

Day 3

Resolve and Realism

Well, I never made it back to the practice room yesterday. How much should I fret about this? It's hard to say. Examining why I never went back to the practice room may be a better use of our time.

I ended yesterday's journal entry with this:

...I didn't make it through ten of them because my embouchure was tired and I was losing concentration, but I hope to have another session later today... As long as I'm challenged every time I practice I'll feel alright about my progress.

There are a couple of problems with this statement. The first falls in the italicized statement above. Hoping to have a second practice session is not the same as resolving to have another practice session. I also hoped that someone would hand me a fat sack of fifty dollar bills and a fully stocked retirement portfolio. My grandmother understands this concept. In her wise words:

You can hope in one hand and shit in the other and see which one gets full first.

Well, my hands are full of something and it ain't hope, people. If I had resolved to practice again, my day would have been very different. I would have made different choices about how I spent my time. I would have set a time in the evening to be alone somewhere with my instrument and I would have adhered to that.

The next sentence has a problem, too. Read in a wimpy voice "As long as I feel challenged every time I practice, I'll feel alright about my progress." Dear Readers, that is permission to be LAME. I don't want to "feel alright about my progress." I want to win auditions. I want to give stellar performances that make people laugh and cry and give me money. Feeling "alright" about my progress isn't going to get me there, but feeling like the best bassoonist in the world because I've done everything in my power to be that, just may get me there.

Session 1

I have a busy day, but I'm resolved to practicing more than once. What I play this session will be similar to yesterday's session, only better. I've eaten a light, healthy breakfast and am moving forward with a great attitude and resolve.

I have some errands to do after this session is finished, but plan to be back in the chair by 2:30.

The Session

My chops didn't get tired until the end of my scales in thirds. I tweaked my reed a little and it feels pretty good. Has a brassy tone that I don't like, but that may mellow with time. I didn't notice any fatigue in my right arm, but did notice some tension when I began my reading session. I made it through seven studies, one of which was remarkably like a Milde study. I'm not too proud of my reading on that one - I'd like to come back to it and really learn it sometime. Its was #21.

Focus was much much better. Didn't lose attention until after about an hour when chops got tired. It was a good practice session. A couple more hours of that each day and I may just be alright.

Goals for next session:

I didn't pack up my bassoon - a sign of my resolve.

I need to do some technical work on my scales in thirds in certain keys. Not surprisingly, it's the highest range of the instrument that needs the most work. That kind of work is best done with a fresh mind and embouchure. I'm going to work on a piece of music this afternoon. In the next few hours I'll be thinking about my plans and what pieces it would make sense to spend time on.

Because of my day job (which technically happens at night, but is none-the-less a necessity at this point in my life) I'll probably only get one more hour of practice in today. I'd better make it a good one!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Day 2

Session 1

1. Maintain concentration for longer. Might be hard because I'm hungry, but I can't procrastinate any longer.
2. Build muscle strength - embouchure and shoulder.
3. Read 10 of the Weissenborn Advanced Studies.
4. Continue scraping on these very hard, mediocre reeds until they become AWESOME reeds.

The Session:

Concentration fail. Scales in thirds... well I did it. Getting better at minor key signatures. Fluency shall be mine, mwahahaha!

Practicing while hungry really hedges the odds against you. It's a silly waste of time, so why do it? I plan to write a post about that soon. Today, I did it because I procrastinated too long and I have afternoon plans that include lunch. I'm running late for those afternoon plans, but practicing has to take priority.

I can feel embouchure strength growing. Sight reading was fine. Found that my first page of "Stole My Twinkie" is gone. A shame as it's my favorite of the etudes. I didn't make it through ten of them because my embouchure was tired and I was losing concentration, but I hope to have another session later today. Another factor to take into account is that the etudes progressively get longer and more challenging. As long as I'm challenged every time I practice I'll feel alright about my progress.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Experiment: Day One


Summer is here and I'm having my typical motivational issues with practice. There are so many wonderful distractions this time of year. The weather is beautiful and I live in a place where I can drive a short distance in any direction to view scenic vistas and swim in sparkling mountain rivers. My garden beckons me every morning for attention, and, if I try hard enough, I can find a party or cookout to go to any day of the week.

This fall I'll be returning to school to begin work on a Doctor of Musical Arts Degree. I've landed a spot at an incredible school; I'll be in a true conservatory environment and I need to play at my best.

I've been out of school for about a year. This time last year I was playing the best I'd ever played in my life, but a lot can happen in a year. During the academic year I focused intensely on managing my first lecture format classes. I made a few performance opportunities for myself, but my biggest goal was to learn to navigate in the classroom and give my students the opportunity to learn that they deserved. Days of practicing got missed, but I was learning so much on the job that I allowed my playing to slip a little.

...okay. I let my playing slip a lot.

Wake-up Call

I watched a video of a recent public performance I was involved in. My playing was just plain bad. My intonation was spotty, I didn't have the dynamic control that I thought I had, and I missed a startling number of notes. Completely missed them. In obvious places. Ouch.

This simply will not do.

The Experiment

I recently read a blog post about the Public Humiliation Diet: (Warning: Strong Language). The concept revolved around the dieter publishing his weight daily on Twitter.

I need a little healthy external motivation for practicing, so I'm going to publish a daily practice journal in this blog. Just knowing that I have a great chance of making public what a HUGE slacker I am should give me a big push. It will also help me organize my thoughts and goals by forcing me to state them in clear language. When I have time and the inclination I'll also write about my experiences in practicing, practice techniques, frustrations, motivations, and anything else that I think will help myself and my readers.

I openly welcome comments, ideas, and suggestions. If you feel inspired to share your practice techniques, please do. They can only offer insight for myself and other readers.

Day 1

1. Get back into the game. Begin getting my head and body prepared to be in a daily routine again.
2. Regain strength in my embouchure.
3. Remember what my body feels like in a focused practice session.
4. Scrape in a new reed and work on one that's in progress.
5. Have fun! I love to play the bassoon. That's why I do it.

The Session:
The first time I play in a day, I like to start with my major and minor scales. I find that I can focus very clearly for the first 15 minutes and often find myself in an extremely pleasant zone, where I can feel every muscle move and hear the tiniest flaws in technique.

I like to play the notes slowly so that I can compare pitches, timbres, and volumes between notes. It's a wonderful exercise, and especially enjoyable if I'm playing on a good reed.

My reed wasn't great today. Any problems it had were compounded by my wimpy embouchure. My lips were tired by the end of my major scales. Oh dear. I spent a few minutes scraping in that new reed to let my lips rest before leaping into my minor scales.

Teaching lessons can often illuminate issues in your playing and understanding of music that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. For instance, it was not until teaching minor scales to a gifted student that I realized how inadequate my ability to identify minor keys was. I was having to think too long to tell her what the key signatures for minor keys were. Because I know this, because my chops were already tired (ugh!), and because I needed to try out that new reed anyway, I decided to focus my attention during my minor scales less on intonation and more on note names and key signatures. Today I realized that I have always played my minor scales completely by ear. Even though I was going around the circle of fifths I forced myself to identify the key signature and raised seventh of every scale that I played. I plan to continue to do that until it becomes automatic - a skill that I feel I should have developed long long ago.

That reed was pretty good for a first day scraping. By tomorrow it will have hardened up and I can refine it a little.

After finishing my scales I was at a lack for what to play next. I felt so rusty and I wasn't particularly focused for technical work anymore. What could I do that would be a good use of my time? I have some vague ideas about a recital before I leave for school, but no distinct plans yet. Certainly no rep picked out.

Sight reading! I've always been a little tense about sight reading. I'm not terrible at it, but it could always use improvement, so I picked up my wrinkly old Weissenborn book and started in on the 50 Advanced Studies. My students often work on select studies for auditions, and I'm always taken by their charm. I also felt that I needed something that wouldn't frustrate me today. I read down the first six.

By the time I was done with that, I'd been practicing for about 45 minutes. My concentration was zapped by my tired mouth and a strain I was feeling in my right shoulder. I've always felt that it's best to only practice when you can focus, so I packed up. I'm confident that my focus will improve throughout this experiment.

Future Practice:
With more playing and reed scraping I'll be able to play for longer. Hopefully my right shoulder will build up some strength - I need to keep an eye on that and experiment with changes in playing positions if it hasn't improved by the end of the week. I've had problems before.

I'm going to play through all of the Advanced Studies. My reading needs to be in top shape when I get into ensembles in the fall. They're also charming and fun.

I need to be playing my scales in thirds. They're not in bad shape, but they are a step in getting fluent with my Van Hoesen Scales - I goal I hope to achieve by the end of June.

Other summer goals: double-tonguing, consistency in the highest range of the bassoon, a pile of good reeds, and increased general competence on the instrument. I'd like to end my summer with a solo/chamber performance that I can be proud of. I want to walk into the next phase of my education confident and ready to learn, with as little rehashing as possible.

Thank you for reading about the first day of my experiment! Was this helpful? What comments do you have?