24. January 2015 · Comments Off on Careful Practice · Categories: Ramble


Above you see a page of the opera I have coming up. Our first rehearsal is this Thursday, and this has to be in my fingers by then. It doesn’t look difficult to most, I’m sure, but I found the one spot (by the yellow tab) a bit of a challenge. So what do I do when that happens? I practice. A lot. With a metronome.

I practice s l o w l y.

I call the metronome one of two things. It’s either my best enemy, or my worst friend. Why? Because I depend upon it, but it’s always telling me what I’m doing wrong when it comes to keeping a steady tempo. It makes me angry. I want to toss the darn thing out sometimes. But I need it. (Okay, so maybe it’s more of a worst friend … who needs an enemy?) Obviously I don’t use it for everything, but for the fast, technical work I sure do.

(Side note: I’m embarrassed to post this because I know so many players would say, “This part you are showing … this is NOTHING compared to what we have!” But hey, I’m an oboe player. I’m supposed to worry about reeds. Trust me!) ;-)

I put the metronome on something that allows me to play it perfectly. Not close to perfectly. But absolutely perfectly. That might be painfully slow to begin with, but that’s where I begin. Then I work up to a speedier tempo but forcing myself to play it at least five times perfectly at each tempo. Yep, it takes a long time. When I get speedier I start to keep track of where I am. At this point I’m at 96 to the quarter, and I was at 92 earlier. When I go back to the studio (after writing this, in fact) I’m guessing my “finger brains” won’t like 96 much, so I will begin at 92 again and see how much faster I can get it. I’m hoping for 100. Tomorrow I’ll start slower again, but I hope (as always) to pass whatever highest number I have on that tab. It’s like playing leap frog all on one’s own.

Two big words:


That’s all it takes.

No biggie … right?

But one day of this won’t do it. It takes days and, at least for me, those days must nearly all be in a row. My students know my “5X/4Days” rule: play it perfectly five times in a row, four days in a row. The thing is, I want those notes — those fingerings — to be so deeply embedded in my “finger brains” that I won’t lose it (I hope) when I have to make it all work and the nerves kick in. My 5X/4Days rule helps with that.

Oh … and about those post-it tabs. They are SO handy! I use them as I first listen to something, to mark the pages I know I’ll have to focus on. I use arrow post-it tabs in rehearsal to point out where I need work when there is simply no time to pull out a pencil and mark things. I keep some in for the entire run, so I can quickly go to pages I know I want to run prior to each rehearsal or performance. They are handy dandy things, and I highly recommend them!

Now it’s time to go have a visit with some music, an oboe and some reeds.

Oh … and the metronome!

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