how many instruments should you practice every day?

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successful percussionists practice differently.
i've watched 'em.

my former classmates have won auditions in the san francisco symphony, the milwaukee symphony, the oregon symphony, the detroit symphony, the cleveland orchestra, and more.

some people practice on one instrument per day, and some people practice literally ALL the audition instruments every day.

as percussionists, we have one huge disadvantage compared to other instrumentalists. if you're a violinist, you go to the practice room, you bring your instrument, you're set. if you're a piccolo player, maybe you bring your piccolo and you're flute. 2 instruments. percussionists have hundreds, maybe even thousands of instruments that we have to be good at in our lifetimes. the last MET percussion audition had 10 instruments on the list. so i want to help you figure out a very important topic:

how many instruments should you practice every day?

at juilliard, there's this main block of practice rooms comprised of three big ones that are all connected by a hallway that goes through the middle. when i was a student, i would hang out in that hallway and either shamelessly listen or just as shamelessly interrupt people while they were practicing. it's so interesting to hear how other people practice. you can hear things like how they shape phrases and how they go over each section. some people i'd hear play the 2 measures at the beginning of firebird, and then i'd come back 3 hours later and they'd still be on that excerpt. some people would have 4 or 5 instruments out and they'd just be flying from one instrument to the next. they'd practice xylophone for 10 minutes and then run something on bells then practice tambourine for 15 minutes. there's obviously a variety of ways to do this.

  • if you decide to go really deep and stay on one instrument and maybe stay on one excerpt in a day, it's going to be a huge, effective practice session. you can let yourself go on tangents. maybe if you're playing kije, you can go do some flam exercises which will lead you to some ruff or drag exercises. you can zoom in and put every single note in the right place. but if you choose to do that, for every minute you spend on kije or snare drum, that's one minute you're taking away from tambourine or cymbals or anything else.
  • if you structure your practice in a way where you're going to get to a lot of instruments, chances are you're not going to fall too far behind on anything. you're giving everything a chance to get better every day.

but each day you go into the practice room, you have to make a decision: what are you going to practice? how many instruments are you going to practice? what excerpts are you going to practice today?

my personal audition prep when i'm preparing for an audition includes a combination of both of these practice methods. at the beginning i'm letting myself get thorough on an excerpt and i'm usually only practicing one excerpt per day. sometimes two. as i get closer to the audition day, i start adding instruments and i make sure that i'm covering more things every day. and by the end, i'm definitely running every excerpt every day.

that's my way of doing it, but i wanted to hear from someone else, so i asked one of my percussion idols, chris deviney, the principal percussionist of the philadelphia orchestra, what he does.

so i asked him! here's chris deviney's insight.

"i think you should be practicing as many different [instruments] as you can. you're going to be playing a lot of them at any professional audition. i used to keep a tambourine and triangle at my house as i was watching TV to multitask. i think my roommates at the time were not too happy about it, but that was kind of their problem and not mine! particularly, accessory instruments are nice to generally just become very familiar with and that just means literally having them in your hand, accessible and comfortable to play rather than only playing them and practicing them for the hardest stuff written for the instrument.

i would do what i'd call a "goldfish bowl technique," which is that i took the whole list, i divided it up into what would be a typical round, i put [those lists i made] on a 3x5 index card (i made 25 or 30 of these cards), i'd walk into the room, i'd pull a card, an i'd play that list down. i'd walk out, i'd come back in, i'd pull a different card. i'd do this over and over again to the point that eventually when i get onstage live for an audition, chances are very good that one of those cards that i made is exactly what i'd be playing onstage. and there's a little bit of confidence with coming and knowing you've already done this. familiarity breeds confidence. this isn't brand new; this is actually a routine that you are prepared for. so that's what i did.

i have a whole system that worked for me, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will would work for everybody. the most important thing is trying to figure out what works for you. and that's what i work with with my students. [i give] them some ideas. if it works, fine! we review, we reprocess whether we're going to keep some things, throw out some other things, try different things, and then ultimately when you find something that works for you, replicating that over and over again is the most important thing."

so what should you do?

what it comes down to is that whatever process you currently do can probably benefit with trying the other way. it's good to have a variety, and now's the time when you should start trying other models of practice.

if you're trying to up your audition game, or if you'd like to find a more organized and structured approach to audition prep in order to become better prepared for audition day, then i made a course for you called how to advance at an orchestra audition 101. i go into things like the 3 major phases of audition prep, i talk about what the committee is listening for and how you can start shaping your excerpts in order to get more "yes" votes from the committee, and i included some audio of excerpts from my actual MET orchestra audition so you can get an idea of what it sounded like. the course starts next week, it's free, and you can go enroll know at

the mini-course is open again! enroll (for free!) in how to advance at an orchestra audition 101.

rob knopper

hailed by @nytimes and james levine as needing 'louder triangle notes'. recorded delécluse: douze études for snare drum, percussionist in @metorchestra.