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How I Practice for Symphony NB

I just got off the road with Symphony NB and thought you might be curious about how I practice leading up to our concerts.

Symphony NB is a part-time orchestra, so we all have other work that we do in between concerts.  Usually, we get our music a few weeks before our first rehearsal.  Our symphony only has 5 rehearsals, sometimes fewer, before a concert, so it is really important for all of us to already know our parts when we meet as a group.

In my first practice session with the music, I play through all of the pieces from end to end.  I do not generally work on anything in particular.  I might write in a few fingerings here or there, or mark a part that is hard, but otherwise, my goal is simply to play all of the notes.

Next, I head to YouTube.  I don’t always know all of the pieces that we are performing, so I find it useful to listen and hear what they sound like.  I keep my metronome handy too to write down the speeds for each piece so I know approximately what I am aiming for.  Our conductor might pick different speeds, but as long as I pick a recording of a professional orchestra, I am likely to be in the ballpark.

Next up I start from the beginning again.  This time I might skip some parts if the music is really easy.  This is when I start doing the real work.  I mark any area where I am having trouble.  I mark the actual part of the music with square brackets, put a dash at the end of the line of music, and put an “x” at the top of the page.  This is all so that the next time I practice I can skip to the hard parts and find them easily.  This is also when I work out fingerings for more complicated passages.

Depending on how much music we have, and how hard it is, I may focus on one piece in a given practice session, but generally, my goal is to work on the hard bits of all of the pieces.

From here on I practice only the hard parts.  There is a lot of time in symphonic music that you are accompanying other instruments and your part is simple.  I do not have enough time to go over the parts that are simple, I need to focus my time on the parts that are hard.

I use my metronome extensively during the practice sessions.  I don’t worry about getting parts up to full speed immediately, but I do focus on getting faster each session so that I can hit the goal by the time we get to rehearsals.

On some days when I really don’t want to practice, I listen to the music on YouTube with my sheet music in hand.  This is a great way to get familiar with the piece.  My initial listen is really just a quick listen mostly to get the speed.  At this point, especially since I have been working on my own part, it helps me to familiarize myself with the piece in a deeper way.  I actually plan on incorporating this into my practicing more.

As I am able to play the tricky parts, I remove my brackets so I can focus on the areas that are still giving me trouble.

I practice this way to make the best use of my time.  Sure it is fun to practice music that I play well, but that is not helping me move forward.  Marking my music and focusing on the hard parts is the quickest way for me to prepare so that when we have our first rehearsal I know how to play my part and am ready to work!

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