My Way of Practicing the Double Bass, Part 1: Hours

Practicing is another one of those things, like auditions, that everybody has their own take on. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to, articles I’ve read, and podcasts I’ve listened to that talk about how to practice. Of course, doing all of those things is the BEST way to arrive at your own method of practicing. Taking all of the information and advice you’ve picked up, picking what you like and disregarding what you don’t, and then synthesizing it, is pretty much how I came to my own method of practicing. I don’t have any goals of trying to convince people reading this to agree with me or change their practice routine–this is just my take on things.

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1.) Number of hours-As of right now, I’m scheduled to audition at Roosevelt University and DePaul University. The audition lists for both of these schools ask for an etude and two contrasting solos. I’ve decided to play a Bille’ etude, the Courante from Bach’s 1st cello suite, and the first movement of Koussevitzky’s Concerto. My teacher also wants me working on excerpts, so I’m also working on Beethoven 5, 3rd mvt., and Mozart 40, 1st mvt. So, here’s the breakdown for how I’m dividing up time between all of these things, which I’ve put into sets (which sounds more like weightlifting than I wanted it to…):

First set: 30 minutes on the Courante, 45-60 minutes on the Koussevitzky

Second set: 60 minutes on the Mozart 40, 1st mvt

Third set: 60 minutes on the Beethoven 5, 3rd mvt

Fourth set: 30 minutes on the Bille’ etude

Total time: 3 hours 45 minutes-4 hours

I should also add that I take a 15-20 minute break in between each of these sets. I remember reading on Gary Karr’s website that he takes a break after every hour of practice, regardless of how good things are going. This takes more time out of your day, but I’ve always found that after about 2-3 hours of straight practice, I lose focus and start noodling around, playing things I’m already good at. After 15-20 minute break, I find myself itching to get back to the bass, and this makes practice all the more enjoyable.

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Depending on your practicing philosophy, this might seem like a lot of time or not much at all. If I had unlimited time to practice, I’d probably do more. As it turns out, I’ve got to work to pay what bills I do have (bass and piano lessons, gas, food and credit card). So, with the time I’ve got, I try and always get the above done in some way, shape or form. That might mean I do excerpt stuff in the morning before work, and the solo and etude stuff when I get home. I do this quite a bit, actually. Generally, working on excerpts isn’t as much fun as solo stuff, so to make sure it all gets done, I do the hard stuff first.

Some people stand by the whole practicing 8-9 hours a day thing. I can see benefits to occasionally doing that, but certainly not all the time. Most of us have to work when we’re in college, but for those of you out there that don’t…put in your hours of practice, but also take time out to be human! Make friends, see movies, read books, play sports, go to concerts, feed pigeons in the park (just for fun), whatever you like…but locking yourself away in a practice room for your entire collegiate education can have some adverse affects. I’ve seen some of these affects in my musical peers, and it’s sad. I’ve seen people become less and less social, and then lose the ability to make friends and engage others socially altogether–which I think are two essential skills, at least in the freelance world.

I was in a Borders with a friend a couple of months ago, and he showed me this page out of one of those ‘Post Secret’ books. On the postcard, it said something along the lines of,

“I spend all my time in the practice room because I don’t know how to talk to people.”

While the percentage of music students this actually happens to is in the minority, to be sure, I figured it was worth mentioning. Being an excellent musician is very important to me, but not at the expense of missing out on the people and life experiences that make me who I am.

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So, if you wanted my advice on how to divide up limited practice time, what would the skinny on it be?For every excerpt, etude, solo and the like that you know relatively well, spend half an hour on it every day . What does relatively well mean? In my mind, that means you can play it straight through, in tune, in time, without many mistakes in regard to pitch and time.For every excerpt, etude, solo and the like that you are still learning, spend an hour on it. Work these up until they fall into the previous category of spending a half an hour on them.

I also want to say that I always practice with a mirror and metronome (unless I’m not at home or at school). A mirror is a great way to make sure your bow is straight, posture is good and movement is fluid and natural. Obviously, having excellent rhythm is essential for the good musician, so practicing with a metronome is a must. It’s also cool if you have one of those metronomes that can produce a drone. So, if say you’re practicing a solo that’s in G major, you can have the metronome play a G drone, which helps you to listen and make the connection as to when pitch is sharp, flat or right in tune.

Last…practicing has got to be done daily. I struggled with this a couple of months ago. I’d come home from working an 8-hour shift (usually getting home around 11 or 12 pm), and I’d be ready to grab a coke, sit down, and pop in a DVD; picking up the bass would be the last thing on my mind. I was convicted, though, upon hearing Donovan Stokes’ interview on Contrabass Conversations. He made the comment,

“One of things I see people falling off to the wayside with is discipline. They might be extremely talented, even genius level, but they can’t get the disciple to sit down and practice every single day. Practicing has got to be like going to the gym or brushing your teeth, you’ve just got to do it, everyday.

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I want to stress the fact that I’m no expert in this! This is simply what I’ve been doing for the past 6-7 months that I’ve been taking with my current teacher. I’ve always been curious about how students at other colleges practice, so I thought I’d put my way of doing things out there for anyone who’s interested.

I didn’t intend for this post to get into real specifics about the way that I actually do practice–only the number of hours that I find to be appropriate and most helpful. The next post in this series will deal with how I actually tackle solos, etudes, and excerpts.

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~ by benjamin86 on January 7, 2008.

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