Five Tips for a Productive Practice Session

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Horn player Kelsey Ross is an active performer and educator currently based in New York City. Prior to moving to NYC, Kelsey earned both her M.M. and B.M. degrees from the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, as a student of Denise Tryon (former fourth horn, Philadelphia Orchestra). While in Baltimore, she recorded the music of Kevin Puts and Aaron Jay Kernis under the direction of Marin Alsop and has recorded pieces by emerging composers with the Peabody Wind Ensemble for Naxos Records. She was also a founding member of both the Brassanova Brass Quintet and Harbor City Wind Quintet which performed at venues throughout the Baltimore area.

Recently, Kelsey made her Carnegie Hall debut performing with the New York String Orchestra under conductor Jaime Laredo. Kelsey has also participated in the Domaine Forget summer festival in Quebec and the Barry Tuckwell Institute in Colorado. She has played in master classes with David Cooper, Radovan Vlatkovic, Frøydis Ree Wekre, Gail Williams, Barry Tuckwell, Abel Pereira, and the American Horn Quartet.


1. Have clear, specific goals

I’ve found that the best way to keep myself productive is to be as specific as possible with my goals. When I first got to school, there were so many different parts of my playing that I wanted to work on, and I did not know where to begin. Thankfully, my teacher helped me define goals to work towards so that I was focusing on just a few things at a time. For some people, these goals could be anything from cleaning up articulations to strengthening loud playing in the high range. For many people, the goal is as simple as winning an audition. Whatever your goal is, write it down.

2. Create a plan – and stick to it

Now that you have your goals in mind, it’s time to create a plan of action to reach them. If your goal is to win an audition, what do you need to do to get to that point? Figure out how much time each day you will dedicate to your audition excerpts, how far in advance you will start working on the excerpts, at what point you will start playing mock auditions, and how many you will play each day/week. Schedule out each step leading up to your goal and again, write out your plan so that every time you start a practice session you know exactly what to work on. No more aimless practicing.

3. Find a friend to keep you accountable.
Sometimes it can be hard to keep up the motivation, which is why I like to partner with a friend to keep me accountable in sticking with my plan. While I was in school, my friends and I would keep each other motivated to wake up early and practice before most of our peers were even awake. Knowing that my friends were also waking up and getting work done motivated me to do the same. Surround yourself with positive, hard-working people who inspire you, and you’ll be motivated to be as productive as they are!

4. Eliminate distractions

The more focused you are, the more productive your practice session will be. If possible, find a quiet place to practice and put your phone on airplane mode so you’re not tempted to check your notifications. If you can’t resist your phone, put it outside of your room and use a separate tuner/metronome to practice. Figure out what time of day you are the most focused. For me, this is early in the morning and late afternoon. Therefore, I try to schedule most of my practicing during those times to maximize my focused energy.

5. Record yourself  

It can be difficult to evaluate the larger picture of your own playing, especially when you are focusing on specific details of your technique. Recording is a great way to hear your playing from someone else’s perspective. When you record yourself and listen back, you can notice things that you might not hear while you are playing your instrument. I’ve found that recording myself every day has made my practice sessions more efficient because it helps me pinpoint exactly what I need to work on, which allows me to set specific goals for my practice sessions.

P.S. Every so often, take a step back and notice your improvements. Remember to celebrate the small wins!

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