Practice Tips

Check out my Daily Practice Tips on my blog: for ideas, tips, and tools to help you get better at practicing.

Always warm up using longtones. Slowly. No, slower. (Remember, you wouldn’t try to run a mile without stretching, right?) This is a great time to focus on air support, tone, hand and body position, breathing, dynamics, and just getting your head into the game.

  • Don’t know what to warm up on? Check out my free stuff for a Longtones Sheet.
  • Working on a new tune? Try using the roots of the chord changes as your Longtone Warm-up.
  • Make something up! Warming up is a great time to be creative. So play whatever you want – just make sure it’s slow.

Play what you know. Practice what you don’t know. It’s always fun to play through stuff that you know how to play well. But that’s not practicing. When you practice you work on stuff that you don’t know. The challenges, the spots that trip you up, the blurps between notes, and you do it over and over and over and over and over…. (get the point?) But be patient. Learning to play an instrument well takes time.

Focused Goal-Oriented Practice is the most efficient use of your time. Always decide what you are going to work on before you start practicing. What is your goal? How will you know you reached that goal? Is it a long-term or short-term goal? Stay focused while you are practicing.

The best way to practice is to break up the music into smaller more manageable chunks. This could mean 4 measures or just 2 notes. Practice the hard parts, out of context from the rest of the piece, at a slower tempo, with varied articulation and/or rhythms. When it’s ready (can you play it 5 times in a row without making a mistake?) then put it back into the context of the music.

Practice a little each day. Or better yet, a lot each day, but make sure it’s each day. You’ll get far more accomplished playing for 30 minutes 6 days a week, then you will trying to cram 3 hours in on Sunday.


Avoid “Eh, it’s close enough” *shrug*. This is the detriment to all musicians and music students. It’s not “close enough”. It’s black or white: either you can do it or you can’t. No judgement, just fact. Be honest with yourself and if you can’t do something yet, figure out a way to work on it some more. You’ll get it eventually.

Keep a Practice Journal. The best way to see how far you’ve come is to look back on where you started. Keeping a journal or log of what you’re working on, how fast you can play something and what you’re goals are will help you stay on track. I have a couple of different sheets that you can try on my Free Stuff page. (I personally use a note taking app called Noteshelf on my iPad as a practice journal. Click on the icon below for more information.)

Noteflight Icon

The metronome is your BFF. Always practice with a metronome. Find creative ways to use it so it’s doesn’t become boring and mundane. (I personally love practicing with the Drum School app for iPhone and iPad. It’s designed as a drum set tutorial, but for me it’s a chance to play with a drummer that never rushes, drags, or gets tired. Click on the icon below for more information.)

Drum School Icon

Practice the way you perform, because you will perform the way you practice. This is true on so many levels – everything from using the correct posture (get off your bed and go sit in a chair) to practicing a performance so that you feel nervous. Have a big test coming up? Invited your family to listen to you take the test.

Check out my blog post: Got Nerves? Practice Being Nervous

Focus on your ear. Your ear and what you hear while you’re playing is just as important as your fingers. (Arguably more important.)

  • Listen to what you are playing and evaluate constantly. Does it sound the way you want? Is it what you intended? How can you make it better?
  • Make sure you can hear the next note in your head before you play it. This goes for everything you play: scales, music, improvisation, etc.
  • Practice ear training away from your instrument.
  • Practicing singing something and playing back what you sang.
  • Try transcribing!

Record yourself. There’s nothing more eye opening then listening to a recording of yourself playing. Put yourself into the audience and critique your own playing. (Remember to be constructive!)

Know when “You’ve Got It!”

  • You can perform it at multiple tempos
  • You don’t have to think
  • You can play it correctly “cold” the first time
  • You can start and stop anywhere (in the piece, scale, tune, etc.)

More coming soon! Please check back!

3 Responses to Practice Tips

  1. Pingback: No Excuses – Time to Learn to Practice | Jazz Journey

  2. Sue Webb says:

    Hi Monica,

    Recording myself practicing would be very helpful, but would appreciate your advice on how to do this. Which software should I use (not complicated I hope), and do you just plug an ordinary mike into the PC, or do I need a special saxophone-friendly one?
    Thanks very much,
    Sue 🙂

    • lessonsadmin says:

      Hi Sue,
      I record myself using my iPhone or iPad (tons of easy to use apps out there like Garage Band, TinyVox Pro, or even just Voice Memos that comes with it). The trick is places the device about 4-6 feet away so that you reduce the distortion – the saxophone is a loud instrument and if you place the device on the music stand, for example, the recording will sound terrible. I also use a hand held recorder – the Zoom H4 which works great too, but any handheld recorder will do for practice recordings. On my computer I use Garage Band and an ordinary mic (nothing special for saxophone) but I’m not familiar with PC software, although I’m sure it’s out there. Hope that helps! Let me know how the recording goes!

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