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9 Ways to Practice More This Summer

Helpful tips to keep your chops up during the summer months.

Girl playing flute

Summer is here, and with classes out, it can be easy for student musicians to lose a lot of the progress they made throughout the year. The good news? That loss of progress is 100% preventable through regular practice!

We know it can be difficult to keep up with a regular practice regime during the summer, but trust us, it’s worth it. Practicing over the summer helps you retain and build on your musical knowledge, keeps your skills honed, and gives you a serious head start when you get back to class in the fall. It really is a struggle when a student doesn’t play at all for the three months over the summer and has to relearn a lot of the basic skill sets when school starts back up. It can be normal, however, to not play as much over the summer than a student would have normally during the academic year. The important thing to remember is to at least play some, maybe a few minutes a day, to retain “chops.” This lack of playing is commonly referred to as “summer chops” once school (and heavier playing times) resume again in the fall.

Here are some tips to help you keep practicing a priority during the summer months:

1) Keep your instrument at hand.

Don’t stick it in a closet or under the bed, keep it where you’ll see it and be reminded to practice. The second part of this is to keep your instrument out and safely on an instrument stand. Studies have shown that students are more willing to practice if they don’t have to take their instrument out from the case every time. The case itself represents a psychological barrier, and if you see it sitting there ready to be played (mostly), you’ll be more likely to sit down and play a few notes.

Pro tip: Keep your instrument on a stand or on a wall hanger out of the way, but visible. It still needs to be in a safe location, but visible to easily grab. Ask us about instrument stands and hangers!

2) Try out new music!

Summer is the perfect time to get some fun sheet music to spice up your practice routine. Try practicing the soundtrack to your favorite movie, a collection of pop songs, or even some good ol’ Disney favorites.

Pro tip: give us a call, we can special order almost any sheet music you want! We also have a good selection of easy to intermediate books full of fun music already in stock!

3) See some live music.

Nothing will inspire you to go home and practice more than seeing professional musicians crushing it on stage! Seriously, even well-established musicians (like most of us here at Windsmith) will see a famous or well-known musician play live, and almost every time we tell ourselves, “man, I got to go home and practice. I want to sound that good!”

4) Take summer lessons.

Keep yourself accountable and learning new skills by teaming up with a local music teacher for the summer. Use our online referral list to find a teacher.

5) Get a practice buddy.

Practice with a friend to keep yourself accountable. Bet one of your classmates that you’ll practice X hours per week and hold each other to it! You’ll both be vying for first chair in September.

6) Upgrade your accessories.

Something as simple as a new neck strap or higher quality rosin can boost your playing experience and spark renewed interest to practice. Even upgrading a mouthpiece (or even a brand-new instrument!) will really inspire students to get more practice time in.

7) Make it part of your routine.

This is good advice to follow year-round, but especially in summer. It can help to have dedicated time blocked out for practicing each day.

8) Have fun with it!

If you think of practicing as a chore, it’ll feel like one. Instead, keep it fun and focus on playing music you enjoy along with pieces that challenge you. It can be really boring paying the same thing over and over, so spice it up by playing something new or in a different order.

9) Take your music with you on vacation.

We know, it’s summer and you and your family will go on vacation. However, that is not necessarily an excuse to leave everything at home. While away, you can take a mouthpiece, your music, drum sticks, or anything else that’s small to keep up your chops over the summer. While idling in a hotel room or at a relative’s house, you can practice breathing, sing along with songs, go through music and make notations, or play your mouthpiece. Maybe you can take your whole instrument with you. You never know!

The Takeaways

Keep your instrument where you can easily access it. Pick some new and fun music to keep yourself entertained. Play with friends and challenge yourself, as well as your fellow classmates. Go out and see some live music to get inspired. Try and get in a routine going for regular practice sessions. When on vacation, you can still practice, even if you don’t play your instrument completely. The point here is to maintain what you have learned from the school year, and to try and prevent the dreaded “summer chops” when fall comes around.

Pro tip for rental customers: Our rent-to-own program is designed for your student to keep playing over the summer! With rental payments, equity is being built to purchase an instrument. If you return it, you lose the equity and have to start over the next school year.

Music on a Budget

How to upgrade your student’s education and experience while sticking to a tighter budget.

Violin propped on woven basket with dollar bills in front of it

Minor upgrades can make major changes

Something as simple as better strings, a higher end bow, the next level mouthpiece or ligature, and trying new reeds can drastically change an instrument. This is by far the most budget friendly way to get the better tone and response without purchasing an entirely different instrument.

Rent or Buy?

Both options have their pros and cons. Purchasing an instrument outright can save you money in the long run, but what happens when little Susie quits or changes instruments? Renting an instrument is the most economical way if you’re not sure if your student will continue on past a few months. You can always return a rental, but not necessarily a purchase after 6 months. When renting, you end up paying a little more over the life of the contract, but most retailers have maintenance programs and a way to change instruments if desired. Some stores even offer discounts on purchasing early at any point of the rental.

Are repairs really budget friendly?

Yearly maintenance is essential. Just like a doctor visit, they can spot minor problems before they become money holes. Proper care and cleaning can also protect from unwanted repair bills and permanent damage. Something as simple as not swabbing out Timmy’s Alto Saxophone can lead into a $600 plus repair bill once damage sets in. Ask your local store about care kits and proper care techniques. You can also ask your teacher.

Violin propped on woven basket with dollar bills in front of it

Where can I get an instrument but not pay an arm and a leg?

Now, you might ask why you shouldn’t buy the first great deal you find online. Yes, you can find instruments extremely cheap, but they’re just that… cheap. Manufactures “battle to the bottom” in terms of price, but in doing so, they often use softer material, poor fittings, and plastic to a point where they can not be repaired. It is cheaper in the long run to spend a little more up front once than to pay for a cheap instrument multiple times whenever it needs to be replaced. Repair technicians often refer to these as “disposable” or “throwaway” instruments.

Hand-me-downs

Family instruments can go either way for the budget minded. Before you spend any money, you should take it into a shop and get it looked over. The repair technician should be able to give you a rough idea on repairs, replacement parts and cases, and if the instrument is a good fit for a beginning student. Grandpa’s old 1930s Saxophone is going to have some ergonomic issues and extra bits that are not suited for a new student. They can make cool retro horns for later years and more experienced players so keep it safe for that day! Sometimes, family instruments (maybe the one you played back in high school) are worth passing on to the next generation of musicians. Our best advice is to have a repair technician look it over to see if it would be a worthy instrument for your student. That said, instruments have changed a lot over the years as well, and newer student ones are designed for beginning players in mind and are easier to play.

Importance of having a Good Instrument

Nobody likes not succeeding while their classmates are playing circles around them. Finding a good instrument means less resistance while playing and ergonomically comfortable on the hands. A technician or teacher can give an instrument a play test if you are unsure, and can give advice.

The Takeaways

Upgrading accessories like mouthpieces, strings, bows, and reeds is a great first step in achieving a better sound on a budget. Renting an instrument can be cheaper in the short term to just give it a try and give flexibility when making changes. Minor repairs often are better than major repairs not only for your budget but for the instrument itself. You honestly get what you pay for, and doing a little research and asking questions is the best way to make smart informed purchases and save money. Always check with the teacher and a repair technician when using an older instrument. Listen to the player; if they seem to be struggling more than most of the class, go to a local shop and get the instrument looked at. One of the biggest reason players don’t practice or quit playing is due to the difficulty of getting the correct sound from an instrument in need of help.

When in doubt, just ask. Local shops are full of musicians with years of knowledge and experience. The best part of the job is seeing the next generation start their journey! Remember that everyone started where you are today; taking the first steps and asking those questions.

When is the Right Time for an Instrument Upgrade?

Upgrading to an intermediate or professional instrument can be a big investment. When should you or your student upgrade? What should you upgrade to? Where should you start?

man holding a saxophone

When is the Right Time?

This is a common question that most parents have when it comes to their child's musical future. It all depends on the age of the student, years of experience, and willingness to progress. Most students start band or orchestra in late elementary school or middle school, and continue on to high school. The most common time to switch out of a student level instrument is around early high school, but this can vary depending on the circumstance. If your student (or you, for that matter) is progressing well on their instrument, and they have the drive to continue all through high school, then 8th or 9th grade is a good time to start thinking about switching. This gives the student a good couple of years to learn and get a feel for the instrument. A lot of the time, most beginning players will not be able to tell the difference between a student level and a professional level instrument. It's perfectly fine to wait a little while after your student starts playing to start looking at an upgrade.

Don't be Afraid to Give it Some Time

Student level instruments are perfect for beginners, and offer a more cost effective approach to starting, as parents aren't sure if their student will continue. It's okay to be patient and wait until you or your student is sure that they want to continue on through high school before making a purchasing decision. When upgrading, you can either go for an intermediate level instrument, or make the jump to a professional model. If you or your student is growing rapidly in music and on their instrument, you may want to look at skipping the intermediate models. This ensures that your investment is only a one-time purchase, and you won't have to upgrade to a "better" instrument again later.

Musicality and Style

When talking about musicality and style, it's important to know what you or your student is looking for in an instrument. A lot of pro model horns have certain features, key configurations, attachments, or more advanced features, and these could influence which one you go with.

Don't Rush

Just like buying anything that is expensive, finding the right "fit" can take some time. Feel free to take your time to make sure that what you or your student is trying out is the right one. Our best advice is to play, play, play! We like to think of it like buying an expensive pair of shoes. You have to try them on and walk around in them before you get a sense of how they feel. Then after time, you get used to them as they wear in. Instruments don't wear in as much as shoes do, but woodwinds in particular will need regular adjustments as time goes on.

Look for Deals and Promotions

A lot of the time around March through June, instrument manufacturers will offer incentives or rebates for customers to upgrade to intermediate or professional instruments. This could be anything from rebates on a prepaid Visa card, special interest-free financing, or special sale prices on certain items. Currently, Yamaha is running a promotion where you can get a $50 or $100 rebate back when purchasing a qualifying step up or professional instrument. In addition to this, they also include 12 and 18 month interest free financing through Synchrony Bank, a 3rd party financing option. This gives you as the parent flexible buying options and a monthly payment plan instead of a one-time upfront purchase.

The Takeaways

Do some research on what you or your student is looking for in an instrument. Play, play, and play different instruments from different manufacturers to get a sense of what is available to you and how they play. Set a budget, but keep in mind that most instruments that are worthy are not inexpensive. Also, ask your local music store if they can get anything else in for you to try. Sometimes, manufacturers can lend out instruments to music stores for a trial period, and this could be a great way to try out multiple instruments. If you're unsure of what you're looking for, music store staff can help in that decision too.

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