Kip’s Tips: Ten Tips to Teach Purposeful, Productive Practice
Dr. Kip Franklin
Assistant Professor of Clarinet
University of South Alabama
Tip #1-Plan your practice time and stick to a consistent schedule
Planning out your practice time is extremely important. Practice sessions cannot be afterthoughts or something that you get to once everything else has been accomplished. Otherwise you’ll never get to it! I tell my students to plan out their practice sessions as if they were classes to be attended daily. Even if you’re pressed for time, several smaller practice sessions will be much more beneficial than one marathon session. Consistent daily practice is key to retention and improvement.
Tip #2-Slow and steady
People waste their valuable time by practicing too fast. As a result, they end up making their mistakes a permanent part of their playing. Slow practice allows players to concentrate on executing technique, articulation, expression, nuance, etc. at the same time. I teach my students to find their “working tempo.” This is a speed (usually 50-60% of the goal tempo) from which they can get everything working together and then move forward.
Tip #3-Identify and isolate problematic passages
So many of the technical challenges we face can be attributed to one or two localized problems: an awkward leap, a difficult pinky slide, etc. By isolating these problems where they occur and working them out, the entire passage can improve immediately. The attached examples from Debussy’s Première Rhapsodie illustrate several ways in which players can deconstruct difficult passage work.
Tip #4-Use a metronome almost all of the time
The metronome is more than a device that provides you with tempos. It is a tool to help facilitate your growth and consistency in practice. I play metronome games with my students. There are many versions of these, but the one I find works best is Peter Hadcock’s Five-And-One Method. Once you find a comfortable working tempo, play the passage five times correctly. After that, bump up your metronome 3-4 clicks and play the passage one time at the faster tempo. Then turn the metronome down 2-3 clicks so that you’re working slower, but not as slow as you started. The following table illustrates how this might work if your goal tempo for a passage was 120 bpm.
|# of correct reps||tempo|
Aim to go a little beyond your goal tempo so that things settle and feel comfortable when you perform at your intended speed.
Tip #5- Have a mental conception of the music (Know what you’re playing!)
Be on the lookout for familiar patterns: scales, arpeggios, thirds, etc. Being able to apply your fundamentals of technique will help simplify a passage. If you’re having troubles with something other than technique try taking the instrument out of the equation altogether. Is there a tricky rhythm you’re fumbling through? Try conducting and counting the passage aloud. Feel like you don’t have a good melodic shape to your phrase? Sing the passage and then try to make your playing match it. Use a recording device to evaluate yourself: it’s an important part of practice that too many people forget.
Tip #6-Reinforce the good work you’ve done
Make sure that with each repetition you have a purpose. Do not just practice for the sake of getting it right once. Even once you have gotten the lick that has been plaguing you in your practice sessions you must work to be sure you can play it in the context of the whole phrase or piece. Apply the methods you’ve used at the local level to a longer passage. At this point I encourage my students to zoom out and start looking at the picture rather than the pixel.
Tip #7-Don’t distinguish between technique and musicality in practice
Many people (myself included) are guilty of saying, “I’ll work to get the notes and rhythms and I’ll add the phrasing and dynamics after that.” This could be dangerous because once you learn something it is difficult to re-learn it in a new way. I find it’s much better to consider musicality in the early stages while you’re still hashing out notes and rhythms.
Tip #8-Have a big-picture plan
As was hinted at in tips #6 and #7, at the end of the day it’s about more than playing the notes. As you practice, make sure you’re developing a sense of how the music works from beginning to end. Where are the high points and lulls? How are you going to pace yourself through it? Where will you take time? To paraphrase my teacher, it is about more than just being a technician—it’s about being an artist.
Tip #9-Perform as often as you can
Everyone gets nervous to perform. Being on stage in the moment is far different than being in a cozy practice room environment. The best way to keep your nerves to a minimum is to get comfortable in performance-type situations. That means putting yourself out there and performing as much as you possibly can—Even for your family and friends!
Tip #10-Have patience
Remember that no one is born playing an instrument. It takes time to acquire these skills and everyone learns at his/her own pace. If you’re becoming frustrated stop and re-evaluate your approach. See if you can work on the passage from a different angle. Perhaps you take a break and listen to a recording of the music that is troubling you to get some inspiration. Attitude is very important for everything in life and practice is not an exemption. Stay positive, practice intelligently, and you’ll find that you’re happier with your results.
For some note grouping examples click here: Productive Practice Examples
I sincerely hope these tips provide some guidance for your practicing. If you have questions or thoughts, you may reach me at [email protected].
Good luck and happy practicing!
Kip Franklin is the Assistant Professor of Clarinet at the University of South Alabama. A native of Michigan, Dr. Franklin has performed in concerts with the Saginaw, Midland, Jackson, Dearborn, and Toledo symphonies, as well as in festivals throughout the United States and in Europe. As a member of the Fresco Winds woodwind quintet, Dr. Franklin performed at the Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition in 2011 and 2012, and was a finalist in the 2011 J.C. Arriaga Chamber Music Competition. An advocate of new music, Dr. Franklin was a part of the consortium for David Maslanka’s Eternal Garden: Four Songs for Clarinet and Piano (2009) and his Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble (2014). He has presented and performed at the International Clarinet Association Conventions in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Columbus, Ohio; and Birmingham, Alabama; as well as the College Music Society Great Lakes Regional Conference. Prior to USA, Dr. Franklin was on the faculty of Saginaw Valley State University.
In addition to performing and teaching, Dr. Franklin served as a woodwind adjudicator for the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association. As a guest clinician he has presented master classes at numerous high schools and universities across the country. His international experience includes studies at the Centro Studi Carlo della Giacoma (Italy), the Vianden Music Festival (Luxembourg), and the Institut Français des Alps (France).
Dr. Franklin is a member of the International Clarinet Association, The College Music Society, and Pi Kappa Lambda. His clarinet teachers include Caroline Hartig, Kennen White, Theodore Oien, and Guy Yehuda. Dr. Franklin also studied music theory and composition with Gordon Sly, José-Luis Maurtua, and David Gillingham.