5 Ways To Maximise Every Saxophone Practice Session

Sunday, January 11, 2015 


Your practice time is precious. Although we all know how important it is to practice regularly, most us struggle to get into a rhythm with our practice schedule. And worse still, many of us are jeapordising our chances of getting the most out of our practice sessions by not having a strategy or plan to succeed.



What do I mean?


Well, I think to be effective at practice you really need to take a step back and start by looking at how we approach practice in general. And by this I mean how we set ourselves up for practice both mentally and physically.


For me, effective practice starts with proper preparation. And, this comes in many forms. Like most things in life, if you prepare properly, you will achieve your goal. For saxophone practice this could never be more true.


Regardless of what level you are at with your playing it is so important to maximise the amount of benefit you can get from each practice session. Here are my top 5 tips to help achieve this.


1.Make practice a priority
Our lives are all busy. Even if you have the luxury of spare time, I’ll bet you often wonder at how the day has managed to slip by without enough time to get everything done.


The answer is simple….prioritise!


The best way to make sure you get your practice done every week is to schedule it in your diary. It’s often said that “later” means “never” and I think if we are honest with ourselves, most of us are guilty of this from time to time.


Make a commitment to yourself to schedule a regular amount of time for your saxophone each day or week. Set that time in stone and make it as important as anything else in your routine. The only way to make sure you stick to that schedule is to make it important to you.


"Commit to a regular practice time....and stick to it!"


For me I find the best time to practice is earlier in the day. That fits with my schedule because I’m often out performing at night time. Plus, if I get my practice done and out of the way, I know I can concentrate on the rest of my daily routine without feeling guilty about not practicing. (You may know that feeling too…).


Everyone has a different routine so you may find that a better time works for your schedule. Whatever time you decide on, commit to it and stick to it.
2.Define your practice space
Find yourself somewhere you feel comfortable to practice in. Ideally your own space where you can just focus on your practice. It doesn’t need to be big (although more space is easier on the ears). Most importantly it needs to be your space with everything you need in it.


Alternative saxophone practice areas

You can make a practice space anywhere.


Even if you don’t have a separate room for practicing in you can make your own practice corner anywhere by setting up your music stand, bringing in your music and your saxophone. Be ritualistic about this. Make the space your own - or at least own it for the time you are there. Make yourself comfortable there so you can just focus on the job in hand…..getting down to some serious practice!


There have been many times over the years when I have been travelling or on tour and have had to be creative with a practice space. I have often found a quiet corner on the cargo deck of a cruise ship or made use of an unused conference room. I’ve even got up early and practiced on the beach (that was Santa Monica, Los Angeles!) or out in the bush in Queensland. Anywhere can work for you if you set yourself up and get your mind right about it.


3.No distractions
When you get ready for practice you don’t want anything else to take up your thinking space. Be strict with yourself about this. You owe it to yourself to focus all your energy just on your saxophone.


So, this means no phone, no facebook and no email. If you’re using your smartphone as a tuner or recorder then put it in airplane mode so you won’t be distracted by those marketing calls. Don’t be tempted to have your laptop open with a google search window waiting for you.
Turn off the TV and the radio too!


It’s so easy to be distracted with any of these things and some of us have all of them going at the same time in the house making it impossible to concentrate fully. Your practice space should be a haven away from all of these distractions so you can focus all your mental energy just on yourself and your saxophone. Sounds like paradise doesn’t it!


4.Get comfy!
Grab yourself some water. Kick off your shoes. Make sure you are warm enough (or cool enough!). Push that chair back to give yourself more space. Do whatever you can to make sure you are comfortable in your practice space.
You’ve removed all the electrical distractions, don’t let the dog or the temperature spoil your focus. Mind you this doesn’t mean you should be lounging in a sofa! Just get comfortable in the space you have available.

5.Have a plan for your session
Finally you are just about ready to start. But what are you going to work on today?


Get yourself a game plan of what you want to achieve in each practice session. It doesn’t need to be a huge challenge, but setting a goal is really important. One thing that helps with this is to keep a practice diary. Start each session by making a list of what you want to achieve, e.g. I want to play this phrase at this tempo, or I want to play my A major scale by memory. Be specific with easy to accomplish, measurable goals.


Writing down that you want to sound like Michael Brecker might not be as helpful to you as listing items like : Transcribe first two bars of this solo, play this exercise at 120bpm, or play altissimo G in tune for 8 beats.


"Set yourself a clear, achievable goal for every practice session."


During the session make notes on the progress you make. It’s a great way to track your development and keep you focussed on your goals.


Another really important point is to break up your practice session into segments with a specific goal in mind for each part. For example, starting with a warm up, moving onto some technical work, then a piece. There is so much to discuss about how to plan a practice session which I will cover in another issue but for now start your practice diary and make a list of your goals for each session.


All of these points are really about developing a ritual for your practice. Humans like rituals. They have always been a part of our culture from our work habits to our diets and our religions. Rituals define who we are and how we live. And more importantly, help us to live our lives the way we want to.


By developing a positive ritual for your practice that includes proper preparation you will be making the most important change to your musical development and setting yourself up to achieve whatever musical goals you have set for yourself.
Next steps:
For more great tips on how to improve your practice routine check out “The Ultimate Guide to Practicing Saxophone" by Nigel McGill.


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About the blog:

I created this blog to share my experience touring and performing over the last 30 years all over the world with big bands, jazz ensembles, symphony orchestras and touring shows. I've pretty much worked in every part of the music business from soloist to band leader, musical director, studio musician and even managing an orchestra in London's west end. I love talking about saxophone and helping others to reach their saxophone goals. Most importantly though, I want to hear about your progress, challenges and victories on the road to learning sax. Leave me a comment to start the conversation! Nigel McGill
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