Five Favorite Practice Strategies – Melissa Hagstedt 8/25

Super excited to share another great productive and helpful Friday post – this one from trombonist Melissa Hagstedt.


Melissa is a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of the Arts High School,  and is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree in Music Performance at New York University. While at UNCSA she studied with John Ilika. At UNCSA she performed frequently with the Symphony Orchestra, Jazz Band, Trombone Choir and Wind Ensemble. Prior to her time at UNCSA, she was a member of the 2013 National Association for Music Education’s All Nation Concert Band. Currently she is studying with Dr. Per Brevig and plays in various ensembles throughout the NYC area such as the NYU Symphony Orchestra, NYU Brass Choir, and the NYU Brass Trio. She has had experience as a pit orchestra musician in the productions Lucia di Lammermoor, Don Giovanni, Ballad of a Baby Doe and Pirates of Penzance with both the Blue Hill Troupe, Utopia Opera Company and Vocal Productions NYC.

Thanks, Melissa, for sharing your practice strategies with the Brass Chicks community!

Here are my five favorite practice strategies. Each of these practice strategies have been personal breakthroughs which I feel have helped me make great strides in becoming a better player. I hope that you will try some of these out to see if they work for you!

  • Wake Up Early.  I have found that waking up early to practice, especially during the school year, can be extremely helpful.  First of all, if you are practicing in a music building at school, you will likely be one of the only people practicing.  Because of this, it will be quiet which allows you to concentrate on what you are doing rather than the annoying vocalist’s warm up next door.  Secondly, it will feel great knowing that it’s only 9:00am (or whatever time you choose) and you already have an hour or two of practicing under your belt.gjekwag;ewa 
  • Stretch. Trombone players don’t start their days playing Bolero just like trumpet players don’t start their days playing Petrouchka.  As brass players, we need to start our days playing long tones, lip slurs and buzzing.  Shouldn’t our bodies also get a chance to prepare themselves for the coming practice session?  Before starting any practice session, I like to stretch because it helps to relieve tension and start the practice session with a sense of ease in movement.  Stretching is not only helpful for the singular practice session in which it is done, it will also help to prevent future injuries.

Here is a website with great examples for stretches which can be done at both the beginning and completion of a practice session.

  • Breathe.  This one is a little bit more specific.  There are many different breathing exercises that you can experiment with on your own.  I encourage you to create your own or find some that work for you.

This particular exercise really helped me to break a barrier in my breathing stamina.  All you need for this exercise is a piece of paper, a wall and the ability to breathe.  So go to the wall with the piece of  paper.   Press the paper against the wall.   Take a deep breath and release the air pointedly at the center of the piece of paper.   While you are exhaling, you should not be touching the paper.  In this exercise you are trying to hold up the piece of paper with your air alone. It may be difficult to do at first but if you keep at it, it can be a great help.

  • Record Yourself. When we play our instruments our brains have many things to focus on.  We are reading the music, trying to be technically accurate in our sound production all the while trying to be musical.  It is nearly impossible to be entirely focused on the entire product of these efforts.  Our ears can lie to us, which is why recording devices (much like our frenemies the tuner and metronome) are so important; they do not lie.  You can learn a great deal of information from listening to a recording of yourself.  Am I in tune?  Was my tempo consistent?  Did I create a quality musical phrase?  Was I musical?  Listening to recordings of yourself can be irritating when you first start out, but the more you do it the less you’ll hate it because you’ll become your own teacher.  You will hear what needs to be improved and do it on your own.  Eventually, you will actually like what you listen back to (sometimes)!
  • Phones.  It is easy to become distracted by the endless stream of notifications which constantly pop up on our phones.  These notifications can pull our attention from the task at hand.  When practicing, we need to be focused on what we need to accomplish in that particular session.  If our attention is pulled every few minutes by what is going on in the world outside of the practice room, a very minimal amount of work will be accomplished.  However, phones can also be great tools, if used properly. Metronomes, tuners, recording devices and music players can be found on our phones.  These tools can enhance the productivity of a practice session, but only if we do not allow ourselves to be disturbed by the notifications.  In the practice room it is important to know how to both utilize and separate ourselves from technology because it can be both a help and a hinderance to our practice time.

Happy Practicing!


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