Ah fundamentals. You either love ’em or you hate ’em. Scales, arpeggios, and long tones are a necessary part of practicing. Fundamentals include tone and technique, but how do you even practice fundamentals?
Your specific instrument will determine how you should practice fundamentals. Wind players and string players will not practice tone in the same way, for example.
Before you start practicing fundamentals, you need to have a plan. A shorter, more focused practice session will always be better than a longer, mindless one.
Here are some tips to help you practice fundamentals in an engaged way.
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What Needs Work?
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. For me, my technique is my greatest strength. I can rip up and down a scale really well. My tone is a different story.
Lately, I have been focusing on my tone a lot more. I want to get the best sound I can, and that involves improving my tone. After advice from different teachers, I have started to focus on my embouchure.
For wind players, a better embouchure can make a huge difference in tone production.
Since my technical skills are pretty good, I should devote my practice time to other areas. If I have ample time to practice, I can spend some time on technique. Otherwise, I really just need to maintain the technical facility that I already have.
As I said earlier, how you practice tone will depend on the instrument you play. I know for me, I can’t practice tone for very long. My lips get tired, and sometimes I do get bored.
String players might be able to practice tone a little longer, because of how the instrument works.
No matter your instrument, there are ways you can make tone practice more fun. Find some simple melodies, and experiment with different tone colors.
Moyse’s Tone Development Through Interpretation is a great book for flutists. There are tons of melodies in the book that you can use to work on your tone. You can practice tone with more than just tone exercises.
No one likes scales. Anyone who says they like scales is probably lying. Scales are the building blocks of music, though. If you know your scales, it will be much easier for you to learn pieces of music.
For example, the fourth line in Fantaisie for flute and piano by Gaubert looks really scary. The line has long runs. When you look at the runs more closely, they are both a simple whole tone scale.
When I realized that the run was a scale, I was able to incorporate whole tone scales into my practice. That made playing the run and the piece much less daunting.
Many pieces have sections that are comprised of scales and arpeggios. If you can play your scales and arpeggios well, you will not have to spend as much time working through your repertoire.
Tone and technique are some of the basic fundamentals of playing a musical instrument, but are there other fundamentals?
Some other, less physical fundamentals include music theory and sight reading skills. While rock and pop musicians rarely read from a score, classical musicians do it all the time.
I believe that knowing music theory and knowing how to sight read are two things that musicians should learn. If you understand music theory, you will be able to read music and understand the overall form of a piece.
The ability to sight read will allow you to get last minute gigs or to have a good first rehearsal with an ensemble.
Making Fundamentals Fun.
I know what you’re thinking. “I know I should practice fundamentals, but they’re so boring!”
You’re right, fundamentals can be pretty boring. No one wants to spend hours playing long tones or major scales. That’s why it’s important to make fundamentals more fun.
As previously mentioned, you can find books like Moyse’s Tone Development Through Interpretation. This type of book focuses on shorter melodies with the end goal of working on tone.
A lot of the exercises have a slower tempo or longer notes. They are also a great way to make tone practice more engaging and enjoyable.
One way I like to practice technique is to take real excerpts from my repertoire. If there is a measure or phrase that is particularly hard, I will find ways to “edit” that part of the music. That can mean changing the rhythms or even transposing the phrase into other keys.
How do you practice fundamentals? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to subscribe below to get my “Practice Fundamentals” checklist/worksheet!