Solo and ensemble contest time is upon us. With that in mind, it might be wise to remind ourselves of a couple of things which might make the process work a little smoother. When examining the solo at the beginning of the preparation, start with some very basic items like key signature. Although this sounds simplistic and obvious, there are many honor band auditions which I have heard in which the musician did, in fact, miss some or all of the key signature. If the signature strays into some “non-standard” areas, take a few minutes to mark with a pencil those spots where you feel you might miss the E#. Next look for awkward fingering passages and figure out which, if any, alternate fingerings you might want to consider using. Identify those passages which pose obvious challenges from a technical standpoint and concentrate your most intense practice on those spots. In other words, practice smarter, not harder. Figure that there is probably about 50% to 70% of the piece which falls under your fingers without a great deal of work. Don’t spend huge amounts of time on those areas. Work on the tough spots, then go back and put the whole piece together for the sake of continuity. It’s important to identify the challenging technical spots early on and figure out what needs to be done on them. Otherwise you run the risk of practicing the mistakes. You do get really good at the mistakes, but they are still mistakes.
Methodology for working on challenging technical areas:
Let’s say that we have a measure of difficult 16th notes in 4/4 time. Here are the steps which I follow…..they are older than dirt. The reason musicians have used these tricks for so long is that they work. This will actually get things “under your fingers” in a most efficient way.
1. Double up: play everything twice as long, ie 16th become 8ths and so on.
2. Change the notation: For example, tongue all notes. Try playing all the 16ths as if they are dotted 8th/16th . You are now emphasizing notes 1 and 3. Or, play all the 16ths as if they are 16th/dotted 8th. You are now emphasizing notes 2 and 4.
3. Play groups of 5 as 16ths: Play notes one through five. Once the first group is working, start on note #5 and play to number 10. Once that group is working start on note #5 of that group and play another 5. You now have four groups of five notes and can piece the measure together.
4. Move on to another area: After doing all of these tricks, things should be working better. If not, come back later to this section.
Last hint. Start the process early. Working things out the night before contest usually ends badly.
Good luck… Jerry Zinn