Most of the music we play, especially the music from the classical period, is made of scales and arpeggios. Take time to identify these scales and arpeggios in your parts. It'll help you play them!
There are many types of scale. Major, minor, chromatic etc. You can also find different modes. Also scales don't always start from the first degree and and can be broken in thirds, fourths etc. So they can be a bit "hidden" sometimes.
As for arpeggios, they may be in root position, first, second or third inversion so here again it might be a bit of a challenge to find them if you haven't done a couple of years of theory class.
Once you've identified the scales and arpeggios. You will hear your music better and instead of playing each note separately, you can play the scales and arpeggios without having to focus on the notes alone. This will increase your ability to anticipate the music thus making your playing more relax and fluid.
Relax! This isn't about Snow White!...
Go in front of a mirror and take a look at yourself. You'll see a smart, talented, dedicated and hard working person. That person deserve your trust and respect. Learn to trust him/her and you'll be more confident than ever.
When you do this exercise, try to look at your reflexion in the mirror as if it was someone else. You can then tell him or her : "I trust you, "you'll do fine" or "you've done all this work, you can do this no problem" . You can say anything you want as long as you mean it.
Do this before you play and when it's time to perform, let go. Let that person you saw in the mirror take charge. He/she will make it happen for you. Trust him/her.
To make your phrasing more interesting, choose one note that you think is the most important in the phrase. That note should be on a first beat or sometimes on a third beat depending on the time signature (in 4/4, the 3rd beat can also be a strong beat but the 1st beat is usually stronger) . Make a crescendo towards that note and a diminuendo afterwards. You can also emphasize that note with a small accent or play it slightly longer. Sing the phrase in your head many times to have a clear idea of what you want to do and then reproduce it on your instrument . This will give a good sense of direction to your phrases and make your music more interesting for you to play and for your audience to listen.
Playing music isn't only about playing your instrument. It's also about working with other people towards a common goal and that, as you can imagine, also requires some skills. Here are a few dos and don'ts about team playing in a band or an orchestra.
1) Be tolerant. We are all human beings and we all make mistakes at some point. Assuming that everyone is trying their best and genuinely wants to do well, there's no need to get mad if things aren't going as well as you would like. At the end of the day, if you're too good for this band or orchestra, you should have no problem getting a position in a better one...
2) Respect your colleague's opinions even if you disagree. Music isn't an exact science. There will always be more than one way to interpret a piece and it's a matter of taste how we play. We all come from different backgrounds and it's normal to have different opinions at some point. It's important to respect your colleague's opinion even if you disagree with them. I'll never understand why some people get angry when others express an idea that isn't theirs...
It doesn't make any sense.
Just because you have played for longer or come from a country that has a longer tradition in music doesn't mean that you'll be right in everything all the time and just because it's not YOUR idea doesn't mean it's a bad idea! It's not about who's right or who's wrong. It's about how do we come together to achieve a common goal. In an orchestra, the conductor or the person who plays first usually gets the last word. If that person isn't you, don't worry; you'll get your turn!
3)Appreciate your colleagues for their human qualities as much as their musical skills. If I have to sit next to someone for the next 20 years, I'd rather play with an okay player I can get along with than a genius I can't stand. That might sound a bit unprofessional but let me tell you that a freak with an overinflated ego can make your life a living hell if you have to sit next to that person for years! Remember that there is always someone who can play just as good and still be nice to you. Even if someone doesn't meet your standards as a musician, that person still deserve your respect as a human being. If your goal is to enjoy yourself playing, you don't want to be surrounded by jerks! So do appreciate nice guys even if they aren't as good as you.
4) Listen. There is a time for sticking out and a time for blending in. Use your judgement to determine how loud you need to play. If you're not playing first, avoid playing louder than your section leader.
5)Be ready to compromise. In a band or an orchestra, there will always be moments where you won't feel comfortable with your colleague's rhythm or intonation. Be ready to adapt if you need to. Don't stubbornly hold on to your pitch just because the machine says you're right. You're not playing with a tuner, you're playing with humans!
6) Don't be a backseat driver. If you're not playing first, you're not supposed to tell people how to play. There's nothing more annoying then someone who criticize everyone from their second chair! People will learn their part eventually, they don't need you to "help" them. You can always give your opinion when the section debates over something but in general, you need to let the person who plays first do his/her job.
7)Don't bark at people. When you're playing first, you're entitled to lead your section and make comments when necessary. Take this responsibility seriously without taking yourself too seriously! Trust your colleagues to correct their mistakes on their own and if you have something to say, say it nicely without sounding irritated or aggressive. You'll get more respect as a leader this way.
8)Don't give advices unless someone asks you. If you're not a teacher or not clearly and obviously more advanced and experienced than the people you play with, don't start teaching them if they don't ask for advices from you.
It's a patronizing attitude to play the "teacher" in a rehearsal. It's a way to say "I know better than you" and to put yourself "on top" as in fact, you still have a lot to learn yourself. Don't take advantage of people's mistakes or lack of self confidence to start "helping" them. They won't want to play with you and you'll end up out of work sooner than later.
9)Have a WIN-WIN attitude. It's rude to tell someone "you're flat" or "your sharp" That's again like saying "I know better" and it's a WIN-LOSE attitude. Over time it'll turn against you. You should instead tell your colleagues: "can we check that note?" and work on it together even if you're absolutely sure of your pitch. That way, everybody wins and everyone is happy. Over a few years, that will make a huge difference in your section's moral.
10)Don't complain about your part assignment. You will play hundreds if not thousands of concerts in your life and you'll get plenty of opportunities to shine. Play the best you can all the time no matter what part you play and you'll be noticed. Don't worry if you don't get to play first right now. You're time will come. It's normal to be ambitious but there are probably others who have been there longer than you. So be patient and when your turn comes, you'll enjoy it even more!
11) Watch what you're saying. Okay, we all make a few comments about our colleagues sometimes. That's human nature! Just be careful about what you say and to whom. You never know...
12) Don't be a diva! Everyone is important in an orchestra. Not just you! So don't treat the orchestra staff and everyone around you like they're your servants. If you ask for something, remember to say "please" and "thank you" Sounds like a no-brainer but you would be amazed to see how people can forget basic social rules when their egos inflate...
13) Be punctual. It's a drag when people arrive late or at the very last minute all the time. Don't be one of them.
If everyone goes by these rules, music making will be a fun and enjoyable experience for all. Of course, no one is perfect and we all have our moments. That's okay. As long as you generally behave correctly and don't do anything crazy like punching someone or whatever, you will be appreciated for your human qualities as well as your playing. Music is also about friendship and in that sense, respecting your colleagues no matter how good they play does matter.
Before playing, many people will sart thinking about what and how they play after they took a breath. That's like an olympic diver thinking about his dive after jumping on the board! If you watch them on tv, you'll see that they first visualize their jumps and then, once in the air, they let their body do the movement that they rehearsed thousands of times. They would for sure end up making a huge splash if they sarted thinking about it up in the air.
It is important that you know what you'll be doing and how BEFORE you breath. You can then play more confidently and you'll make a better start.
So you need to 1) vizualize, 2) take a good breath, 3) let go and play
Don't start thinking after you breath!
At some point, if you want to be more musical, you will have to forget about the technical aspects of your instrument and let yourself go.
When you have practiced a piece for hundreds if not thousands of hours, you should know it by now. Your body has developed the reflexes to play this piece so you don't need to think about fingerings; your fingers will do them without you thinking about it. Let it work by itself and the magic will happen.
Forget which notes you're playing, think of the melody and the emotions it brings in you instead. You'll see how much difference it makes!
To practice more efficiently, make a schedule of what you need to work on during the week. Write down when you will practice which piece, etude or technical exercise and for how long and stick to your plan.
You will be more efficient if you play only one thing per practice session and do it really well than if you put everything in the same basket without any organization. It will allow you to focus on one particular piece and to work on it more thoroughly. In the following practice session, do something completely different to work on a different aspect of your playing and to avoid stiffness from repeating the same movement too much.
Adjust the length of your practice sessions according to what you will be practicing. Don't try to work on worn out chops. Nothing good will come out of that. Allow enough time for your lips to recover between practice sessions.
I personally do 30-40 minutes on one thing followed by a 40 minutes break. Then I do another 30-40 minutes etc.
I know it's not always easy to get a practice room in a conservatory so you'll have to do with the time you have. Consider that factor when you plan your week.
I am associate principal horn of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the author of the progressive methods. I'm happy to share my experience as a horn player and teacher with you.