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We recently taught our 12 year old canine child Auggie a new trick: we place a treat on his nose and he waits until he’s given the go ahead, and then he catches it and eats it. Last year at age 11, he learned how to spin around, to both his left and his right. He mastered each of these new tricks pretty quickly. Aside from the obvious motivation, a Charlie Bear treat, he was open to learning something new and expanding his usual repertoire of standard tricks.
Earlier this month at the NFA Convention, I bought a bunch of new music. Among the many new pieces, I finally treated myself to a new technique book; The 28 Day Warm Up by Paul Edmund-Davies. I’ve wanted this book for awhile, but every time I’d go to buy it I’d have a dozen reasons why I shouldn’t: “I don’t need it; I already have a zillion technical study books; I have technical study books I never even use – maybe I should pull them out and save my money; I really prefer Taffanel and Gaubert and Moyse studies because that’s what I’ve been doing forever and they work just fine, so why spend the money on another technical study book…” etc., etc.
I’ve gotta say, it’s the best $40 I’ve spent in a long time. This book is phenomenal. First of all, it’s totally different than any other technical study book I’ve ever used because it’s much more than just a technical study book. Mr. Edmund-Davies breaks the book down into four sections with seven different studies in each: Sonority, Fingers, Articulation, and Intervals. Then, he creates a practice chart, suggesting how to pair each of the 28 studies so that you do 1 from each section per day. He reminds us of three important words to remember as we practice: Awareness, Balance, and Flexibility. It’s brilliant, it’s challenging, it’s kicking my butt, and I’m loving it. Don’t get me wrong, the time honored studies I’ve sworn by for decades are still excellent and I continue to do them, as well as others I’ve created, and those I have learned from various teachers along the way. But, there is truly something to be said for changing things up, learning something new, and expanding ones repertoire. Musicians, I think you’ll agree, it’s easy to get in a rut and stop listening to what we’re doing in our practice. We tune out, and when that happens, we reach the point of diminishing returns. Why do we have to save the joy in music making for the concert stage? We should enjoy what’s happening in our practice room. OK, maybe not always, and truth be told, I’ll be the first to admit that there are times when what’s happening in my practice room is anything but enjoyable. Still, I really think there’s something to this business of changing our routine and trying something brand new.
At some point every day, we’ll grab a few doggie treats and take Auggie through a few of his tricks. Most of the time he’ll do each trick as he’s asked. Sometimes however, he gets impatient and really wants the treat. So, when asked to sit, sit becomes lay down, roll over, then roll over the other direction, sit up, spin around, etc. He just runs through the whole deal, boom boom boom, and then looks to us for his reward. Truth be told, it’s pretty adorable.
I wonder if it’s a little like that with musicians, though? We run through our tone studies, our scales, our études, etc., and maybe we’re paying attention and listening carefully, aware of what we’re doing, and enjoying the creative process. But, maybe we’re a little like Auggie: we just want to get through it all so we can have our treat.
I can’t say what my practice time will be like 6 months from now; what I’ll be practicing, how it’ll feel, what my perception of how I sound will be.However, right now with this new routine, I can actually see and feel the progress I am making, and more importantly, I’m having a ball. Maybe it’s time I take a little reprieve from all of the Taffanel and Gaubert and Moyse studies I’ve been doing day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. OK, not Tone Development Through Interpretation. That’s still a favorite, hands down.

So, in the spirit of a new academic year, I’ll offer this: Students, consider mixing things up a little. Invest in a new book or two. I recommend going with something you’ve heard about and keep meaning to buy, but simply haven’t gotten around to buying yet. Nothing comes to mind? Ask your teacher to suggest a few of their favorites. Then, see what happens. You might find yourself in your practice room enjoying the journey. What a treat that will be!

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