Roy Cho was twice named principal of the All-State Honors Orchestra and now studies clarinet at DePaul. He also has played for years with the Chicago Youth Symphony among other presitigious groups. Roy also placed in national concerto competition.
-Practices at least 3 hours per day
-Warms up with emphasis on sound and long tones
-Keeps a practice journal
-Practices at a time he can concentrate best
-Prioritizes individual expressiveness
1. Why practice? Aren’t you good enough already? I practice mainly because there is no such thing as “perfection”. There are no limits to one’s level and I try to be better everyday.
2. What do you do before physically playing, if anything, to prepare (for example, stretching)? For me, before even warming up by doing long tones, I strongly hum Major and Minor triads in all keys with a piano to “wake” my nasal area up. I do that because my concept of sound comes from focusing my sound to my nose, and then I do long tones.
3. What do you do immediately after practicing?
I usually keep a practice journal, and I go over things I learned that day. It could be anything from fundamentals to musical ideas. 4.What time(s) of day do you normally practice?
I like to practice at late afternoons to night because I am able to concentrate better for some reasons. 5. Do you have a practice routine? If so, please describe it in detail.
I do have a practice routine. During weekdays, I try to practice at least three hours a day. I break every hour into 50min of practicing, and 10min resting. For me, resting is very important because it helps me rebuild my strength and therefore not build any bad habits. You may wonder how does one build bad habits when you don’t properly rest? One would build bad habits from not resting because our body isn’t built invincible. When we lose energy, our body will try to take energies from other parts of the body. One very common example, when one plays too long, his/her embouchure will tire out, and one will start to bite hard to get stable sound and his/her facial muscle will tense up, which is bad because the sound will get muffled, the air won’t go through as fast, and one’s lower lip will hurt a lot from biting too hard. During weekends, I do essentially the same thing, but I try to go at least five hours, and most of the times, it ends up being like seven hours, and I end up going to bed at 3AM (Fridays and Saturdays). When I am having one of those days when I just cant concentrate, I still try to practice three hours, but I would divide it up to one hour in the morning, one hour afternoon, and one hour at night. 6. How did you establish your practice routine? Did a teacher, multiple teachers help you? Have you read scientific studies about how to practice effectively?
My teacher did give me advices on how to practice, but I had to eventually develop my own routines that fit my schedule. 7. How has your practicing changed since attending college?
Nowadays, I have to practice at night no matter what due to the long lines in front of the practice rooms earlier in the day. So I always start practicing around 8PM to 11 to 11:30 PM. 8. Please state your name, age, instrument, years of study, year in school.
My name is Roy Cho, I am 18 years old, I play the Clarinet, I’ve been playing for 6 years, and I am a freshman in college. 9 .Please state the high school you attended (and location)
I went to Fremd High School at Palatine, IL.
10. Who has helped you the most purely in terms of developing your practice philosophy/technique?
That’s easy. My first teacher who I still see every weekend for lessons, Mr. Keun Jin JUNG.
11. What did you practice today?
Currently, I’ve been doing a minor change in my embouchure, so I’ve only been practicing slow etudes to concentrate on that. I am now comfortable with the new embouchure, and I just need to be able to lock the position in every time I play without even thinking about it.
12. How long do you practice per day?
I practice 3 hrs on weekdays, and at least 5 hrs during weekends.
13. How do you achieve your specific sound on the clarinet? Do you intentionally practice striking the keys a certain way?
As I mentioned earlier, my concept of sound is focusing the vibration/sound in my nasal area. It is a traditional French playing style, and I was influenced by my teacher Mr. Jung to do that, as he studied in Paris for a long time. As far as keys are concerned, I just try to keep it as smooth and silent as possible.
14. What are the big ideas you use to guide your practice?
Examples might be technique, repertoire, improving sense of rhythm, etc. For me, the biggest idea is my heart. Everything comes down to what I want to say. I establish my phrasing, and then I practice slowly not only thinking about getting used to the fingerings, but more importantly keeping the same phrasing even with the difficult fingerings.
15. How do you stay motivated to practice?
I stay motivated by watching YouTube videos of my idols and staying inspired by themPaul Meyer, Michel Arrignon, Olivier Patey, Karl Leister, Florent Heau, etc. And I always tell myself to be better than my current self rather than somebody else. Once you set a goal to be better than somebody else, you’ve also set a limit to yourself. There are always room for improvements, so don’t set any limits.
16.Do you enjoy practicing?
I love practicing. It’s not possible to not love it. Every time I learn something and finally get it by working hard, it is an awesome feeling. All the hard work and selfdiscipline may be tedious and uncomfortable, but by doing so, I become better at it.
17.What is your process for learning a new tune?
As soon as I get a new piece, I immediately stop listening to other recordings of the piece. My teacher Mr. Jung told me that if I listen to other recordings, I will start copying and ultimately, the music I play won’t really be mine, but rather a compilation of others’ music. The first process is I look into the history of the piece. Once I understand the history and the story of the composer’s life when he was composing it, I slowly play it once plainly. Then, I try to be an operatic singer and start singing it. I would sing a phrase differently until it feels right. When I find that feeling that it feels totally mine, I mark it down. This is the hardest procedure, because there are no limits on how I could phrase, but also because I have to make sure that I keep everything within the composer’s ideathat I don’t go overboard. Once the phrasing is set for the whole piece, I then practice very slowly with metronome, paying attention to all the details of phrasing and fingerings. It is very important to practice it so slowly that it is impossible to make any mistakes. And I always record myself. It is always important to monitor yourself when you practice because it tells you exactly where it can be better. After the tempo feels comfortable, I increase the tempo. I keep doing that until I reach the ideal tempo, and then I can actually play the whole thing straight through. From then on, I take it to my teacher and he would touch on phrasing and musical ideas to make it better. After all that is completed, I have learned it completely, but I don’t stop there. I come back to those pieces later on, and see for myself if my ideas are changed, and make improvements on those areas, until when I feel every phrase I play feels truly mine. It is a long time investment, but there is no “completion”.
18. Which part of your practice do you think contributes the most to your overall playing? All of it. I can’t imagine practicing without any part of how I do it.
19, How do you master different styles?
Styles are tricky. I try my best by listening to other pieces by the composer, looking at the history and the backgrounds, and experimenting on my own. But ultimately I have noticed once you have your fundamentals set, it is easier to master styles because styles are mostly variations of how one would articulate, blow, etc. So I always try to stay prepared as much as possible for approaching different styles by practicing staccatos, longtones, scales, arpeggios and etudes.
20. Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you wish to share about your practice?
My youth orchestra director Maestro Allen Tinkham (Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra) once told me the difference between Pro Practicing and Amateur Practicing. He said that Amateur Practicing means practicing until one gets it right, and Pro Practicing means practicing until one can’t get it wrong. That is what really separates the professionals from amateurs.