It can sometimes be a little overwhelming to think about all the different musical minutiae we have to be adept at when we’re mastering an instrument. Modern day music and music standards are demanding; we have to be able to play around our horns without fuss or struggle.
Of course, there will always be things we’re better at than others, and we can use our big brains to devise ways to make sure we hit all bases on the musical field. Today I’m going to start ‘simple’- with the three main variables of musical style: Dynamic level, range, and articulation.
In order to make sure I hit all possible combinations of these three, I’ve starting using my daily tunes in all 12 keys. First, I’ve identified three subsets in each category:
Range High Mid Low
Dynamics f-fff mp-mf ppp-p
Articulation smooth (slurred, legato) short (staccato) marked (marcato, sfz)
From there, I created notecards for each:
Each morning after I go through about 20 minutes of careful warm-up (long tones, slow slurs, flexibilities), I set up my drone mp3s and pick a simple tune to play in all twelve keys. For now, the key I start in is ‘fixed’- i.e., I pick on. This can also be randomized, of course, as could tempo. Or you could fix one or more of the above variables- freeze range and work on dynamics and articulation in the higher register; freeze range and articulation and work on dynamics on low, staccato notes, etc. Make sure you change it up the next time!
For an example, I’ll use Scottish song “Annie Laurie” as my tune today. The highest tone in this tune is the 3rd, and the lowest is the root an octave and a half below that. So if I choose “high” as my range card, I’ll start somewhere in what I consider my high range, F above the staff to D or Eb above it (depending on the day, this is about as high as I go).
As you can hear from the video my upper register fights a bit at a soft dynamic. So I may consider freezing the range at high and the dynamic at soft for a few days to sort it out.
You can play around with this concept as it works best for you, and of course there are subsets within subsets in all three categories, but this is a great place to start if you need help organizing your practice and strengthening your routine.