By Noah M.
Amidst our society of “Get Rich Quick” schemes and “Easy Ways to Become Better At ____,” it can seem as though actually having to do work to reap benefits is a thing of the past. This pretty much seems too good to be true - and it absolutely is. Practicing one’s instrument is no different. It takes work and dedication to become good at anything and that doesn’t exclude musical performance. It can often seem too hard and totally not worth the effort, which may lead one to even quit playing their instrument. The point is this: becoming good at your instrument is hard and takes time, patience, and above all, practice. It’s that last part, however, that separates those who try to be good at their instrument and those who are. Be you a professional player or a beginner, you will benefit from learning how to practice more effectively. That is exactly what I aim to teach you to do.
When you are having trouble with a particular section of music, it is important to keep in mind that you are likely not the first person to have ever played it. If you are a younger player, perhaps in middle school, there are many high school students who would love to help you practice. Regardless of your age, it may help you to find a recording online of someone playing your part. When all else fails, seeking help from your band director is not at all shameful and they would be glad to help you. Otherwise, you may be able to find other experienced players to help you. There is pretty much no situation where you can’t find anybody to help you play a part you’re having trouble with. There will always be someone better than you and thus always someone that can help you.
Practicing on your own is the most readily available method of practice and the above should be used if you feel you need help. To start you off practicing, it is important to warm up correctly. While it may be tempting to jump right into the BUMP (Big, Ugly Music Problem), pacing yourself and warming up will make the practice you do later much more effective and safe. Just as you wouldn’t run a race without first stretching, so too should you not play without warming up your embouchure, hands, and breathing. If you already know the areas that you would like to focus your practice on, then you may start after warming up. If you think you are just generally having trouble with an entire song, run through the piece and circle any problem areas that you encounter. These will be the areas that you target, plus it may help you to spot any repeating rhythmic or melodic patterns. You will need to know what you want the piece to sound like in the end. As they say, “keep the end in mind.” The best way to ensure that you know what your excerpt is supposed to sound like is to check with another student. If you are for some reason not able to do so, you can always use websites/programs like Flat (flat.io) or Musescore (musescore.org) and input the section of music you are having trouble with to hear it. This should only be used as a last resort and you should never publish/claim ownership of what you write.
Music students today have it much easier than music students of the past. While playing hasn’t really changed, the tools you can use have. I find it to be very advantageous to record oneself. You may not always notice all of your mistakes - or may notice ones that aren’t there - until you can hear yourself without having to worry about playing. Plus, when recording yourself, you can replay your playing as many times as you want to hear it. There may be many aspects of your take that you don’t notice until you’ve heard it a few times. Along with recording yourself, you can use technology to tune yourself and train with tempo. There are a variety of apps that one can download that will help you to become a better musician. One that I use to help me practice is Soundcorset’s Tuner and Metronome app. It has many of the functions that I reference in this article and others.
Once you have warmed up, identified the areas you want to hit, and know what it’s supposed to sound like, it’s time to get down with the practicing. When practicing, there’s really two things you can do to make the music easier for you to learn without changing it for the worse. You can either slow it down or chunk the music into smaller sections. Practicing with a metronome will help you to keep tempo. Keep lowering the tempo until you find one where you are comfortable playing the piece without making significant mistakes. Once you feel comfortable playing your excerpt at a tempo slower than it is meant to, you can increase it by 2 to 4 bpm at a time until you reach the tempo asked of you. Each time you increase, don’t increase it further until you can play it at the current tempo without significant mistakes.
You may find a different method of making the music easier for you to be more desirable. To chunk, or shorten the music into more manageable portions, is a good way to really focus your practice on a very specific part that you find to be difficult. Shorten the music into a small enough part that you can play without making significant mistakes. There is no limit to how small you can make your practice, even if you are having trouble switching between two notes and just need to focus on their interval. Gradually broaden your scope until you can play the excerpt without any significant mistakes. The good thing about both of these methods is that they can and generally are used in tandem with one another. Finding a workable tempo and scope will use the best of both worlds and prepare you for pieces that you play later in your musical career.
It can seem like music is just a series of never-ending challenges with no payoff of becoming better at handling those challenges. This is why the this last step of effective practice is the most important: enjoy what you are playing. There is something that the music you are playing is trying to convey and to receive and be able to echo that message through your playing is something that makes playing music great. Understanding what makes a piece of music great makes you appreciate it more. Look for what makes the music you are playing good and capitalize on that. Do your part to understand and play what the composer meant and I assure you that you will find the enthusiasm to practice your next BUMP and countless more.
Noah is an 11th grade trombone player in the Northridge band program. He plays in the concert band, marching band, jazz band, and pep band. Noah also participates in Ohio Model United Nations, is an active member of the choir program and plays trombone with the New Albany Winds.
By Desiree E.
The Northridge Marching Band is not as perfect as we seem. With fifty band members this year, it was quite terrifying to try and uphold our standard of quality. Prior to the 2016 season we graduated thirteen amazing players that left a lasting impact on the band. Individually, they were all good players but as a whole they sounded overwhelmingly amazing. Once you join band, it kind of just becomes your second family without knowing it. You start to rely on people and or become enemies with them like sibling rivalry. Everyone will have a problem with someone at some point whether they like it or not. In the end we get along since we all have the same goal, which is to get better and be successful and to be the best band we could possibly be together. The thirteen of them plus the rest of the band equaled the glorious part. The process of being glorious literally took a lot of aching, a lot of sweat, and definitely tears. Which was a pretty messy process of getting better and being productive.
Marching without stretching first is a dangerous choice. If you pull a muscle, you are done for. You can also miss so much information in such a short amount of time just healing by the sidelines. Marching Band isn't just like any other sport where in practices, you just run laps or do squats. That is only a small part of actual practice.
The actual practice starts with getting to the right spot on the field. With timing and the right amount of steps to make our travel to our spots look clean and precise. A big part about marching is rolling our feet. We stick our heel out and toes reach far back toward our shins. If you then roll it forward we look like we're moon walking forward. Smooth transitions are what judges like to see. The only thing that should be moving as we march are our legs and feet. Our torso and upper body should be as still as a statue, facing the crowd and looking at the field commander. Our facial expressions are also important. We pretty much always have poised, engaged faces. We are allowed to smile during the competition show once in awhile but only if we are told. It feels pretty weird to smile on the field since we don't normally. The only people that are allowed, rather required to smile are the members of color guard.
The Color Guard is a completely different group. They are the visual representation of the emotions and ideas within our sound. They are what the band can't show and those are expressions and feelings. They move with rhythm in their bodies and have their flags for support. Their dance and movement to the band's music combines to create an amazing show. They continue to smile even if they don't want to. This is true performance. They represent the music visually. They display vibrant colors on their silks as they flow through the air with grace. Without the guard, the band wouldn't be nearly as successful.
In the end,the mess that we have to go through with each other becomes worth it because we are given opportunities and chances to get better and to become the incredibly close-knit, high-achieving band that we are now.
Desiree E. is an 11th grade french horn player in the concert band. Desiree also plays mellophone in the marching band and pep band, and she plays trumpet in the jazz band. Desiree is an active member of the choir program and is also a student athlete.
If you are reading this, it means that you have somehow stumbled upon the knowledge that the Northridge band program has a blog. It is my hope that this blog will contain a combination of personal accounts, insights, ramblings, and "feels" from both students and staff who are involved with the program. The plan is to include section takeovers, interviews, and material from personal experience on a broad range of topics.
Hopefully by reading our posts over time, you will be able to get a better overall sense of what matters most to us as individuals, our core program values, and our band program's raison d'être (reason to be).
Our first actual blog post will be coming later this week from Desiree, a junior who plays French horn in the concert band and mellophone in the marching band.
Until then...play on!
Director, Northridge Bands