Identify. Isolate. Repeat. – Joe Allard
That very profound quote from Joe Allard contains almost all of the information you need to become a great musician, or a great anything for that matter. For about the last week or so, I have been manifesting this quote by starting up some technique notebooks – one each for flute, clarinet, and saxophone. When I practice, if I have any kind of technical problems while working on scales, patterns, etudes, etc., I first try to pinpoint exactly where I’m having the problem (Identify). Next, I extract the problem area and write it down in my notebook (Isolate). Finally, I work on it daily until I get to a level of speed and ease that I think is acceptable (Repeat).
Here is an example in practice. A few days ago I was going through the Bozza Douze Etudes-Caprices for saxophone just to do a little sight reading. While reading through Etude 11, I come across this little passage:
I was chugging along through the rest of the etude and feeling good about my reading. I got to this section and could not play it. That can only mean one thing – it has to go in the notebook. I did not put the exact, literal passage in the notebook. My overall problem with the passage is jumping between the octaves so I wrote an exercise that would address that problem. It’s number 3 in the picture.
There’s a little note at the end of the exercise that reads “Iso Ab-D.” In working through the exercise, I found that I was having the most problems between Ab and D so I isolate those and spend more time on them that the other parts of the exercise. I don’t have any articulation marked, but have usually only been tonguing the first note of each 4-note group. I do that so I can working on slurring both the ascending and descending octaves. I have also been working on this super, super slow. I’m more worried about doing it well slowly than doing it fast poorly.
There it is. This is a good way to stay focused on improving technical issues with your playing that are giving you trouble.