Excellent master class yesterday given by Mark Ridenaur, associate principal trumpet with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra! He was asked a great question. "If you had your schooling to do over again, what would you do differently?" After taking a moment to think on his answer, he responded with a great on-point reply. "I would listen more, and pay more attention to what was going on around me."
A common problem in our schooling is "so much to cover in so little time!" Consequently, we put in many hours of practice, but find ourselves spinning our wheels and discouraged with the lack of real progress. Mark even confessed that up to 80% of his practicing while a student was unproductive. So the answer is usually not just more practice, but first knowing what to listen for. He talked about critical practice efficiency as well as an alertness to the skills of others.
Concerning private practice, he mentioned the consistent use of the metronome, tuner, decibel meter (for even sustained notes and phrases), and high quality recording devices on which side-by-side comparisons can be made with the best recorded passages. Real improvement came when he became serious about imitating the great players and correcting the areas of need that he heard in his self-recording.
Once in the Chicago Symphony the pressure was on to learn a lot of repertoire fast, increase and decrease dynamic range, polish legato technique, refine a variety of articulations, projection, tone quality, and survival abilities! Other than all that, it was easy! But I like the summary that begins the process for all of us: PAY ATTENTION!