A question of practice

Dear Mr. Friedland,

I am 67 yrs old, and beginning to play again after a 20+ year layoff. I played in jazz groups (saxophone) and concert bands (clarinet) locally for many years prior to that. I now have the time to do some practicing again, and am having a great time getting back into it again…partially through your encouragement to elderly players from your web page.

My question is quite simple. What do you recommend on doing on days when the practice session is not going particularly well. For example…I had a great session yesterday when I felt I had made significant progress on some difficult (for me) passages. I was therefore very anxious to get in another session today…only to discover that I couldn’t even begin to get back into the groove I had established yesterday. When this happens, do you recommend just keeping at it…or would it be better to just put the horn away and try again tomorrow?



P.S.–I am playing vintage horns. Selmer Centered Tone clarinet (1954), and a Conn 6m Alto Saxophone (1942)…and love them both.

Dear RD:

Thank you for your note and question concerning practicing.
There are many answers to the question of practice. Certainly one of them can be classified as “getting in a groove”, as much as “a session not going particularly well.” It all depends upon what you set out to do during a practice session, which is I think, perhaps a problem for anyone who practices. What does anyone set out to do when practicing? For myself, it has always varied. At present, it is in keeping “in shape”, so-to-speak with all elements of playing. At other times it was preparing for a performance. These are two different modes for me. In preparing music to perform, I always go over the complete piece, even counting rests to determine where the difficult passages are or will be. When I find one, I put it in brackets, go through the entire piece determining difficulties and bracketing them , for individual practice. This, through the whole piece or concert, counting all rests and breaks ,trying to determine what the state of my mind and my “chops”will be, comes the actual performance, which is always a bit different. Ordinarily, I will not leave anything to chance, mostly because actual chance cannot be determined in practice, but frequently comes out only in the stress of performance. In that area, I have been always as sure as practice will make me.

In another context, I will practice to select reeds, or to work on specific aspects of sound and dynamics. But it is always an excellent idea to determine what it is that the practice is all about. I seldom ever practice without specific reason, or passages, or the various playing problems.
If endurance is a problem, I practice for that: to determine exactly where the breath should be to make the most sense out of the phrase. Sometimes it is necessary to practice a specific attack on a note, or the amount of crescendo or diminuendo you will make, or most practicularly, the movement of fingers or the hands in a certain passage presenting difficulties.

I guess I might sum all of this up by saying that practice is, always making specifics better, improving. It also has a lot to do with how we judge ourselves, and in the final analyses, how we improve.
I hope this has been of some help to you, and wish you well in your continuing sessions.

best wishes,


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