It is very tempting when you practice a piece or an etude to simply play the piece over and over again only stopping to correct single notes that you've missed. Although this might be the first thing you want to do when you read some music for the first time, it won't get you very far. If you want to play beyond a certain level, you'll have to diversify your strategy to solve technical and musical problems. Here are a few ideas and strategies that you should try while you practice. Most of these topics have been covered on this blog before but a little reminder is always good!
PRACTICE WHOLE PASSAGES:
A note is like a syllable in a word which is part of a bigger phrase. It doesn't mean anything on it's own. Simply replaying a note that you missed and continuing will not help you. You need to practice the whole passage several times until you can play it with ease before moving on. Just getting it right once after 20 tries still leaves you with a rather low average so you need to practice the passage until you can get it right most of the time.
CUT IT IN SMALL PARTS:
Small bites are easier to swallow. Take a bar or two and repeat them several times. You'll have more success than if you try to play the whole piece over and over again.
SING YOUR PART WITH YOUR VOICE:
If you can hear it, you can play it. Knowing the music in your head will increase you ability to play it by 1000%!
PLAY ON YOUR MOUTHPIECE:
This will help you get the right lips/air movement and is also great way to see if you know the piece well.
PRACTICE THE AIR ALONE:
It will help you get rid of unnecessary body tension blocking your air and help you to play fluidly.
PRACTICE SLOW AND INCREASE THE SPEED GRADUALLY:
REPEAT DIFFICULT PASSAGES SEVERAL TIMES:
This way you'll develop your reflexes until your fingers move by themselves without you thinking about them.
TRY DIFFERENT FINGERINGS;
Some passages are easier to play if you use a different fingering for one note or another. You can try different combinations if what you normally use doesn't seem to work.
If something doesn't work immediately, it may be because you need more time... You don't always need to change something.
BE THE TEACHER:
Your lesson is only 60-90 minutes per week. The rest of the time, you're on your own so you need to take charge and do what is necessary to make it work without someone telling you what to do. Those ideas above can help you but you can and should always try to come up with your own solutions because you know yourself best and can feel if something is working or not.
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.