Three Ways To Practice A Difficult Lick

Impatience is your enemy

For me, finding ways to dissect difficult passages in music has become a habit and I will share three ways to practice a difficult lick with you. But first, let’s talk about patience.

If there is any one area I could say almost all of my students over the years have had to improve on, is dissecting sheet music. It’s not a particularly difficult task per se, but it does require a lot of patience. The world we live in today leaves little room for patience as wifi connections get faster, videos load in a couple seconds and information is literally at the palm of our hands.

I used to actually have to go to the library to find information. I would have to wait until the library was open, until I could get a ride, until I found the book and only then did I find what I was looking for. Assuming of course I already had a library card.

I grew up waiting 5 minutes for the internet to connect.

Most of my students grew up waiting less than 10 seconds.

It’s not surprise then that patience is their biggest obstacle. Is it your biggest obstacle? Do you find yourself repeating the same phrase over and over, only to continue making the same mistakes the next day? Do you ever sit and practice just those 2 difficult measures? Do you become frustrated often? Do you use a metronome most of the time?

Tell yourself that enough is enough and make a change with these three ways to practice a difficult lick:

Don’t rush!

I’m sure you know what Kung Fu is, but what about Tai Chi? Tai Chi is the practice of slowly moving through the same and similar forms used in the fast paced Kung Fu. By moving the body without hurry the martial artist gains control, smoothness and balance.

In the same way musicians can learn a lot about their playing by playing at turtle’s pace. When you play slowly your will hear the areas that need attention much more clearly.

Issues in intonation, rhythmic accuracy, articulation, tone cleanliness and dexterity will become very noticeable, which brings me to my next tip…

One click at a time

Now that the tempo is much slower we can use the metronome to break it up and work on the music. I recommend that you set your metronome at half the full tempo to start.

Play only the first beat of the passage. If the first beat has just one note, then play just that, but if it has four, then play all four. Repeat the first beat 2-3 times without making a mistake. Only then can you add the next beat and continue doing this until you have completed the passage. Once the entire passage can be played mistake-free, add 1-5 clicks to the metronome speed.

How much speed you add will depend upon the overall difficulty and your needs. Remember to be patient.

Make sure that you only play 2-3 measure at a time. This will help you to deeply examine smaller sections, as opposed to attempting too much and becoming overwhelmed.

When you finally arrive at your final tempo, or close to it, you will notice how much better everything sounds.

Take out the ties

More often than not, ties make technique more difficult for learning trumpet players. Since a tie adds the values of two or more notes, it has the potential to wreak havoc on your rhythm.

Sure, a tie connecting two quarter notes is simple. The two quarter notes become a half note. Easy peasy.

But what about when the tie connects an eight note at the top of a beat to a sixteenth note, which is followed by three 16th notes? Such is the case in the example below. 


A quick and reliable way to perfect this rhythm is to take the tie out completely. Play it a few times as if the tie wasn’t there at all. Really allow this broken-down rhythm to sink in; it’s the skeleton of the tied rhythm.

Now you add the tie, but be sure to maintain the skeleton of the rhythm in your mind’s ear.

This method is very effective and it can be used in any situation.

Applying these tips

Now that you have read about these three tips, put them to work immediately. Don’t wait until tomorrow, or else your drive and excitement to try something new will diminish or completely disappear.

Get to work as soon as possible and try at least one of the aforementioned practice techniques. If you want to learn about a few more check out this page with ten practice tips.

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2 thoughts on “Three Ways To Practice A Difficult Lick”

  1. Peter Castellano

    I tell you no one on this internet has so much value being offered as you do, iv’e been perusing information on trumpet(i’m an adult beginner) for a while and then found your site; it is just amazing. And i have only scratched the surface! The videos and book recommendations, websites, etc across all genres of music, the blog post help and tube videos, the wide breadth of your offerings are simply amazing in comparison to most out there (no matter what they are marketing) and honestly i have not found anyone delivering so much value let alone FREE value! I can tell that you are someone who lives their passion and loves to share it with others with a desire to help people. On the business side of things, this is what true marketing is all about; giving giving giving and in the process who would a person want to study with? Someone like you, who not only gives freely but then offers on line training at an extremely reasonable price no less! I’ve spent some time in marketing and your generosity is a breath of fresh air in a world where too many are simply trying to trick and gouge people. Thank you! Soon as my trumpet arrives, i’m signing up!

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Download the THQ Warmup Guide to learn eye-opening tips and lessons that will take your playing to the next level.