The title is a famous excuse when faced with the question why have you not done any practice? and one of the hardest things about learning any instrument is the perception from students and teachers of “practice” and how to approach it in a productive and enjoyable way. Teachers offer various ideas about learning an instrument while students put this into practice in solitary confinement to show progress in their playing.


Time management

Time management is critical in any practice session as a set number of areas are studied and the amount of time may vary.  The practice session can be broken down into suitable time units, moving on to the next area when the allotted time is up knowing that you will have covered many facets by the end which is better than concentrating on one aspect too much. Separate the time units if need be and have the recorder ready-to-hand on the music stand to go back to when you can. This feels spontaneous but concentration in short spans is more beneficial than long stretches of staring at the page!


The practice session itself

When practicing, aim for variety of repertoire or techniques keeping things fresh and building up a wider perspective and approach.

The start of a practice session is almost like meditation: playing long notes usually from the bottom end of our recorder upwards with a good breath supply focuses on relaxing and listening to a sound-world of our own making. Fingers get used to the space and feel of the holes while my hands and body “wind down”. I do not have to use my tongue to produce these sounds letting the air do all the talking. Varying the breath pressure now will also be beneficial for future tone colours.

Have pieces you just play through at the end enjoying playing without having the interruption or intense workout. A fun piece or improvising away from the music stand being creative and spontaneous... ‘messing around’ is recommended!


Tips & hints


Juggling notation and rhythms is tricky so try learning the notes with no sense of the counting helps you concentrate on the sounds produced and enables fingerings and hand/recorder positions to be checked. Try singing or humming the music at the same time as fingering the patterns building up a mental picture of the piece giving more scope for musicality: you can be far more expressive when communicating with your own voice! Slow practice aids muscle memory and turning tricky passages into separate exercises with changes to rhythm and speed while adding different versions of phrase shapes and groups will be a more creative input.


We always tend to learn a piece of music from the top left hand corner knowing the first part well but struggling in the latter stages so working backwards towards the beginning will give a better understanding of the piece, cover more ground and highlight melodic ideas, patterns, styles that are repeated or developed. Starting at different places in the music will also show you are able to cope with the instruction to play from other points other than bar one!


Learning a multi-movement work takes time so concentrating on a movement a day and at the end of the week playing all through the work will give an idea of progress; this can also be applied to learning a set number of lines. Being confident in playing the various moods and styles is helped by working through the links between movements or sections and being able to switch from one to another with preparation will bring a boost to the performance.



A big step is progressing from the practical to the musical sense of a piece and we need to observe suggestions made by the composer or teacher. By playing the slower or longer note passages first giving them a shape or style you will then be able to move on to the faster phrases with confidence. Working on simple scales in a variety of articulations and styles while listening and remembering  will help when you have to reproduce the same in a performance. Listening and watching recordings will open your ears and also instruct: as the recorder is compared to the human voice responding to vocal performances is a positive thing.


I’m off now to feed the dog! Happy Practising!

Stanesby Players Article (1344kb)

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