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by Ashley Cumming

With summer vacation quickly approaching and a big break before lessons resume again, I am reminding my students (and myself!) of a few ways to be our own teachers and keep learning over the summer break. We have many great resources within ourselves to find new life in our music and to improve our practicing habits– believe it or not, dancing, singing, and making up stories for our music are all great ways to break through tough spots. Try new ways to get around obstacles!

Here are a few pointers to get yourself started on practicing more effectively.

What are your short-term and long-term goals? Figuring those out will help you decide where to focus your time. Are you applying for a college music program or are you trying to improve your playing for band?

Are you working on technique or on learning music? Sometimes there is a faster way to tackle your music by working away from it. For example: are you having trouble with tonguing fast passages? Get rid of the melody, work on your tonguing on its own, then bring it back to your music.

Practice in small sections: concentrated work on shorter segments will be more productive and rewarding. A whole concerto is tougher to master in a half hour than 16 bars is!

You can either tackle an obstacle head-first or try and go around the obstacle; both ways may help you find a great solution. For example: are you tense when you play? Try playing REALLY tensely and tightly first, then let yourself relax. Or, try dancing while you play and notice the tension disappear!

When something goes awry, first ask yourself "what happened?" then ask "why?" until you get to the root of the issue! Asking "why"- even a few times can be much more effective than telling yourself "don't miss that note!" For example: are you missing notes in your scales? Is it fingerings? Try changing the scale pattern– add one note at a time, change rhythmic patterns, or start at the top and work your way down!

Eliminate variables that might be making it trickier! Is the rhythm difficult? Then get rid of the melody! Singing and buzzing your music can always help!

Have fun while you practice! There are many great ways to practice and have fun with your music, don't be afraid to try new things, fail miserably, sound bad, and celebrate successes on your path to greatness!

Ashley Cumming hails from Cambridge, Ontario and is featured as a soloist, orchestral, and chamber musician worldwide including principal horn with the Aradia Ensemble in Italy and Columbus Indiana Philharmonic, and section horn with the UANL Symphony Orchestra in Mexico, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Danville Symphony Orchestra in Illinois, and Orchestre de la Francophonie in Quebec. Touring the United States with Spark Brass, Ashley performs concerts and educational programs with the acclaimed quintet. Maintaining a busy teaching schedule, Ashley is the horn instructor at Marian University while teaching privately throughout Indiana. Ashley holds a Doctorate of Music from Indiana University. For more information, please visit www.ashleycumming.com.

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