Couch Practicing: Benefits of Practicing without your instrument

Generally, when we think of practicing, we imagine someone in the practice room playing their instrument. They might be playing scales, long-tone exercises, etudes, or their recital pieces. Did you know you can practice without your instrument? In fact, you SHOULD practice without your instrument sometimes because music is not all about playing the right notes or not.

Here are a few ways I practice without my instrument!


Before you start to play a piece, you should always research the piece. By doing research you will have a better understanding of the music! You could research the composer, when and why the piece was written, was it written for a specific musician or not, etc. With all the info you get, you can then determine how you should interpret the piece. For example, how we play trills now is different than how people played trills in the Baroque period. So if you are playing a Baroque style piece, you should follow the performance practice of the Baroque period.

Score Study

Know how your part fits in with others! No matter if you are only playing with a pianist, or with other ensemble members, you need to know how your music fits in with the group. There are a few things I look at when I do my score study:

  1. My entrances. Sometimes when I play a concerto, I have to wait forever before I even play a single note. Of course, you can count all those measures before you come in, but sometimes accidents happen! You might miscount! Therefore, mark what’s happening before your entrance. Is the piano playing an 8th-note line before your entrance, or is the oboe playing a solo before your entrance in this band piece?

  2. Know and understand your role in the music. Who am I playing with? Am I the melody or the accompanying part? I am currently playing a piece of saxophone quartet music with my quartet. There are a lot of 16th notes interchanging parts in this piece, I often write down who I pick up the line from and who is the next person I pass the line to.

  3. Analyzing the structure of the music, so that you can make musical decisions which reflect the structure. For example, knowing the cadences of the piece will help you to determine how to shape your phrases. Another thing we should analyze will be learning the form of the piece. That will give you the big picture of the piece, by knowing the flow of the piece, it will help you to plan out your performance.

Listening and picking recordings

Listening is a part of researching and score study! One of the best ways to help you to learn the piece. By listening, you will learn the style from the musicians, learn what to expect (like all the entrances I mentioned earlier, and your role), sing and play along with the recording (you could use solfege to sing), and hear how different players perform the same piece.

A few questions you should ask when you listen to recordings, and how to pick a good recording.

  1. Who is playing in this recording? Is it a famous player in your field or just a student recording of a recital? Keep in mind, not all famous players fit your style of playing! So don’t blindly pick the recording just because it was performed by a famous musician.

  2. Right Style? Are the musicians playing in the right style? (You should know that because you did your research).

  3. Do you like this recording? Why and why not? What could you learn from this recording?

Sing/ say your music

“If you can sing your music, you can play 90% of your music.” - From many teachers in my musical life.

Being able to sing your music is very important. Singing your music helps you to learn rhythms, pitches, and phrasing.

Here are a few things you can say/ sing:

  1. Rhythm. There might be some hard rhythms in your music, instead of playing it on your instrument, you could say the rhythm out without worrying about playing the note at the same time on your instrument. Say the subdivisions out loud!

  2. Say the note name and sing with solfege. I found that this is very helpful especially when you are learning scales. A lot of time we play scales with muscle memory and we don’t actually know the notes in the scale. By saying the note name, you will learn the notes of the scale. And by singing solfege, you will learn how the scale or your music sounds like. That will help you improve your aural skills!! Let’s try Ab melodic minor. Say and solfege it with a metronome at a medium tempo………. Was it harder than you thought? You can usually play it but now when I ask you to say it, it wasn’t as easy as just playing it on your instrument! The same thing could apply to a harder passage in your solo music or band music. Give it a try! Don’t forget to say it with a metronome though.

  3. Sing the intervals. Singing the intervals will help you with intonation problems! Sometimes there are little tricks for intervals. For example, the theme song of The Simpsons starts with an augmented 4th. The theme song for Star Wars begins with a perfect 5th!


Now, go be a musical couch potato!

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