We practice to get better.
• Why do we have to practice?
We don’t but if we didn’t we would not be pleased with our performances.
• Why are we concerned about our performances?
We are motivated by pride, or fear of embarrassment.
Some people do not practice because of their lack of pride or share an attitude that playing poorly is not all that important to them. To the rest of us, we are driven to prove our value in music and because of this pride; we are determined to spend many hours alone in a practice room. There will always be C grade students, content to “just pass” each course. Their interests may be in sports, auto shop repair or any other life goals but to a musician, our focus is in the direction of music and music is not the easiest art form to achieve.
So why are we compelled to beat ourselves up behind the music stand. To perform well on any instrument requires training of many parts of our body and mind. To depress the trumpet valves in a coordinated fashion at the correct instant requires muscle coordination, speed, strength and timing. In order to hit the correct pitch requires the exact tension in the embouchure as well as the correct position of the tongue and jaw as well as the proper amount of air with the correct amount of force. All of these adjustments must also happen in a combined way in order to play just one note.
In many occupations, the coordination of so many elements is not required. For a carpenter to drive a nail into a board, only the muscles in one arm and hand plus the visual measurement from the hammer head to the nail is required. To replace a spark plug, the mechanic is required to cover the plug with the proper socket and turn counter clock wise with the handle. I do not mean to minimize the talents of either a carpenter or a auto mechanic but when speaking of muscle, eye, coordination, a musician is faced with a much more complex situation
Coordination, speed and strength of our body requires repetition in order to be certain that we will have the ability to achieve each task in performing our parts. These elements can only be improved through regular repetition and we achieve these abilities through regular practice. We learn to control our air and embouchure through slurring exercises. We learn to move our fingers in a coordinated fashion through finger exercises. The ability to read new music is developed through sight and past images of notes and endurance can only be improved through progressive studies which increase our muscle tone.
To my knowledge, there is no pill you can take to become a better performer. There is no mantra you can chant which will make you a better player. There is no fountain of youth or any other magic potion which can be substituted for regular practice. If there were, I would be the first in line to get started. I hate practicing but the alternative is not worth the pain and embarrassment. I am a musician and I will continue to pound away my hour a day until someone comes up with an alternative.
Now that we have addressed the issue of why we practice, we will address the more practical issue of practicing which is when to practice and what to practice.