What to practice as an orchestral musician

April 24, 2018, 12:25 PM · I was just thinking about what happens once you achieve the (very difficult) goal of getting a job in a pro orchestra. It's a demanding schedule so what do you play aside from ripping through repertoire? Do you practice Paganini and etudes to keep your technique up or maybe focus on chamber music...? Just curious!

Replies (14)

April 24, 2018, 12:39 PM · There are numerous volumes of tricky extracts from symphonic works, sometimes more difficult than much solo repertoire.

Let's say 2-3 hours technique and extracts before lunch; a 3-hour rehearsal after lunch, and a 2-hour evening concert (not necessarily the same programme as the rehearsal). An 8-hour day!

April 24, 2018, 1:57 PM · Supposedly, Mischakoff went home to practice scales and arpeggios AFTER his rehearsals and concerts with the NBC Symphony-- to try to recover what he felt he had lost.

There is a video out there of his student Joseph Silverstein recommending a fair bit of practice beforehand. His feeling was that if you were going to play well for a few hours without actually hearing yourself, you needed to be on your best form going into the room.

April 24, 2018, 2:45 PM · Paganini's not the way to keep up your fundamental technique.

From what orchestral pros have told me: Scales and other fundamental exercises, and Kreutzer.

(And the rest of the time typically goes to whatever they are preparing for concerts.)

April 24, 2018, 6:58 PM · The ideal schedule would be one hour of fundamentals, technical work; scales, exercises, etudes, then orchestra excerpts from whatever is coming up next. Adding solo pieces or concertos to a full-time orchestra schedule is really tough. Over the years I have purchased a lot of 1st violin orchestra parts; If I am the concertmaster they come in very handy, I don't have to wait for the librarian to send them to me.
April 24, 2018, 7:25 PM · I think anyone who plays in an orchestra, whether pro or amateur, finds that rehearsals and preparing parts takes a serious bite out of individual technique maintenance, not to mention those of us still trying (read: needing) to improve.
April 24, 2018, 7:59 PM · Scales and Kreutzer.
April 25, 2018, 9:02 AM · Before getting tenure:

you carry through your conservatory practice routine of practicing everything, including excerpts for the next audition.

After getting tenure:
you develop new hobbies: you become a car guy, with cars in various stages of repair, up on blocks around the house. You hang out in bars out near the airport. You take up tennis or golf or model railroading.

April 25, 2018, 1:04 PM ·
April 25, 2018, 1:11 PM · You get into stereo equipment and collect vinyl.You take TaeKwonDo or anything else to make your life well rounded.
Another angle is what do you do with yourself as you are nearing retirement from professional orchestral playing?
April 25, 2018, 2:24 PM · "Another angle is what do you do with yourself as you are nearing retirement from professional orchestral playing?"

You take on more and more students and build up the wedding business in anticipation of the not-impressive and currently very shaky AFM pension. You also consider ways in which to make sure your husband (whose pension is both more secure and more lucrative) stays happy.

April 25, 2018, 3:40 PM · Thanks for the replies - both informative and highly amusing. I take it the most important things are 1) Kreutzer and 2) collecting an obscure item of your choice. Or have I got that in the wrong order...?
April 25, 2018, 4:06 PM · Well written Mary Ellen.The AFof M worries me too.
April 26, 2018, 8:27 AM · But seriously...
I'd suggest to someone who just got into a full-time orchestra that they forget Kreutzer or Paganini or Tchaikovsky concerto. Unless you are some kind of sight-reading genius, then your priority should be nailing your orchestral parts.

When you come into an orchestra, no one knows you. It's easy for people--especially conductors--to form lasting impressions of your playing and work ethic. It may be an orchestra and conductor that likes to throw in lots of new (and difficult) music.

Is the new hire nailing their part? A hack? Maybe you nailed Don Juan, but maybe you also get befuddled by difficult rhythms. Remember you have to get tenure. And not only that, many gigs may come from your colleagues. And they don't care if you can play a great Tchaikovsky concerto.

So my advice on what to practice if you're in an orchestra is to practice your part. You'll have your hands full just with that.

April 26, 2018, 11:51 AM · Not only know your own part but be extremely aware of everyone elses through listening to recordings and score study.Dont be the dufus who comes in a beat too early.You'll be spotted quickly...

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