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MY FAVORITE PRACTICE TOOLS AND TRICKS (in no particular order)

Saturday, April 11, 2020 by Marcie Monaco | Practice Tips

1.     Modacity App.-I was recently introduced to this free app for iOS devices, and now I don’t practice without it.  It’s used to create a practice list (or several) to help a musician organize practice sessions. I have a practice list for odd days, a practice list for even days, and a practice list for “quickie” days, when I just need to accomplish the bare minimum.  I input everything I need to complete during a session and set a timer for how long I want to work on each particular item. In my practice lists, I include scales, etudes, repertoire, technical studies, ensembles pieces, and other skills like flutter tonguing (I’m horrible at flutter tonguing, so I like to set aside 5 minutes a day to work on it). You can pay to upgrade the app, but I’ve never seen the need for the full version.

2.     Pennies-Put 10 pennies on one side of the music stand.  Every time you play a difficult passage correctly, move one to the other side.  If you make a mistake, move them all back over to the beginning and start over.  If you practice mistakes in music, you risk performing the mistakes, so it’s important to learn the music without errors.

3.     Pencil-I mark my music up like crazy. I circle things and make little notes to myself so when I go back in 10 years I’ll remember everything I’ve learned about a piece and everything I want to convey: whether I want to move the tempo forward at a certain section, or whether I need to sound darker and more forlorn, or even if there’s a spot where I feel myself tensing up.

4.     Post-it tabs-I use these little guys all the time.  They mark my spot if there’s a particular section in my music that I want to remember to come back and work on later, or if there’s a spot in my music that I just keep missing, and I’ve already circled it, like a crescendo or a rallentando, I’ll mark it with a Post-it tab to bring my attention to it.

5.     Smart Music Subscription-A subscription to SM is $40/year and has accompaniments to several well-known pieces in the flute repertoire from beginner to advanced.  It’s a great investment and is helpful for knowing how a piece sounds with piano before rehearsing with an actual piano.

6.     The Tuning CD-This album can be purchased on iTunes.  It plays a drone while you practice.  I use it all the time.  I set it to play either in the key I’m playing in or the 5th. There’s a little bit of a learning curve, so beginners might want to start with 5-10 minutes in the beginner and go from there.  As you practice against the drone, “beats” sound in your ear if you aren’t perfectly in tune, so eventually, you will learn the intonation tendencies of your instrument and adjust.  This is a great way to learn how to play in tune with other people as well!

7.     A tuner/metronome-I have a plastic Korg metronome, and I also have an iTunes app called Tonal Energy Tuner that is inexpensive and has numerous functions.  You really can’t develop a strong internal sense of rhythm without a metronome.  Everyone should practice their assignments throughout the week with a metronome. For a list of great tips on using a metronome, visit Mindoverfinger.com for a WONDERFUL   free metronome guide.

8.     A recording device-The sound we hear when we play is incredibly misleading because the instrument is so close to the ear.  To be honest with yourself, you have to practice with a recording device.  You can buy a top-of-the-line Zoom device, use your regular smartphone, or buy a cheap mp3 player (smart devices can sometimes be a distraction while practicing).  Occasional video recording is also important to check for any bad posture habits that might be creeping in, or other idiosyncrasies that have developed that you aren’t aware of (e.g., awkward movements or crooked hand positions).  Incidentally, the TE Tuner app has an option to record using both video and audio, which also shows your pitch as you go back and listen.

9.     A time and a place-This might be obvious, but great practice happens with well-established routines.  You can put a little basket or canvas bag containing pencils, post-it tabs, pennies, a metronome, and music books for easy access alongside a music stand in the corner of the living room (I supervise my kiddo’s practice sessions, otherwise they wouldn’t be as productive), or in the bedroom (if that works in your home)…right after school, exactly at 4:55, or between snack time and karate (whatever works for your family). I only advise not waiting too late because things come up and then practicing gets pushed to the side.