Changing Up the Practice Routine

For the last several years my practice routine has been more or less set:

  • 50-60 minutes of warm-up/maintenance routine, occasionally changing up my regular materials or switching out various exercises.
  • 20-25 minute (or longer) break
  • 50-60 minutes of practice immediately following, or later in the day depending on my schedule
  • Long Break (2-3 hours)
  • Optional shorter session (20-30 minutes) as necessary

This worked pretty well for years, though from time to time I would have some issues with rebuilding endurance after heavy programs or breaks. For a variety of reasons (age among them) I decided this semester to change things up and see what differences, if any, resulted. In short, I suspected that my initial routine was too long and strenuous first thing in the day, and despite having a good break before continuing with further practice, the long first session was tiring me out instead of building things up. This is hardly a new idea, and lots of great teachers and performers have noted this before. But as any dedicated musician knows, it’s tough to change up your normal routine, even if it is less than ideal for you. For many (me included), the routine is a security blanket, a place to find refuge during tough playing times. In the midst of preparing some difficult repertoire for performances this spring, something needed to change. Here’s my newly-modified practice schedule:

  • 25-30 minute warm-up/maintenance routine
  • 10 minute break
  • 25 minute session
  • 5 minute break
  • 25 minute session
  • 5 minute break
  • 25 minute session
  • Longer Break
  • 15 minute session

It’s the same amount of time as my old practice schedule, but with more frequent breaks earlier on. In addition, I’ve made some changes to my regular warm-up/maintenance exercises. They still cover all of the essentials, but are more progressive and don’t start out so strenuously. I’ve been very pleased with the results, and feel that this the right path for me going forward. My endurance and efficiency are improved, and just as important, my recovery time after heavy performances has decreased.

I have a follow-up post coming on this, but to close I would recommend as a summer project for any horn students to switch up both your routine and practice schedule. Plan things out, take notes on how things feel at certain points in the day, and experiment with the order and pacing of your practice day. Have fun!

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