Now that we’ve discussed prioritizing and increasing practice opportunities, it’s time for the rubber to meet the road in terms of what we do while actually practicing. Sometimes you have more time to practice than others, and since I want encourage you to practice even if you only have a few minutes, I won’t specify exact lengths of each segment, since each of us is in a different place in terms of musical achievement and have different scheduling challenges; however, there is a hierarchy of priorities, so your practice sessions should include:
Prayer –It’s a good idea to invite God to your session, give the time to Him, and ask for His help and blessing. Remember your practice time is a devotional offering to Him.
“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” - Prov. 16:3
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Mat 6:33
A Warm-up– so important. If you only have a few minutes, a solid tuning and warm-up is the first and most important thing you should do – even if that’s all you do.
- Tune. Check several notes in several registers with a tuner to get better acquainted with your instrument’s pitch tendencies.
- Play long tones at different dynamics for tone quality and pitch. Try crescendos and diminuendos. Do you go sharp or flat as you increase or decrease volume.
- Play through some scale and technical exercises in different keys, increasing tempo over time. Use a metronome. You will gain facility, rhythm, and confidence.
- Try playing songs you know, like “Amazing Grace”, in more than one key without printed music. Over time, move on to other songs in other keys. This will train your ears and give you a sense of phrasing.
If you stop right there your practice has been a success. If you do only that much most days of the week, your musicianship will be transformed in no time, and if everyone in the orchestra did the same, the overall performance level of the orchestra will improve greatly.
Practice difficult passages – If you have some more time, get out your church orchestra folder and practice the more difficult passages. Focus first on those segments of your music that present technical, rhythmic, pitch, or other challenges. Using a metronome, practice small bits at a time, starting at a slow enough tempo so that you can play the passage correctly with good pitch, rhythm, and phrasing. Then bump the tempo up on the metronome and try again. Repeat the process over and again until you can play that part perfectly. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen for you in one practice session. Some parts need time to come together. After you’ve worked on the most troublesome parts, then it’s ok to play through whole pieces.
Listen! – If you have recordings of the pieces you are to perform, spend some time listening to them and playing along with them. This will help with phrasing, musicality and familiarity. You can only produce the correct sound on your instrument if you have the correct sound already in your ear.
Of course, this is just an outline and not meant as a detailed practice regiment. Do some research on your own online or with a private lesson instructor regarding resources to use for studying your particular instrument. If each of us in the church orchestra committed to a course of practice like this, imagine how worship services would be more engaging and enhanced with opportunity for deeper emotional connection. The sacrificial offering of a practicing church musician will lead to greater spiritual blessing for all during worship services.
2 Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
3 Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy. - Psalm 33:2-4
As always, feel free to chime in with comments or suggestions of things that have worked for you to help you grow as a musician, particularly as a church musician in service of the Lord.