_____When I was in high school and college, I never planned my practice or even realized it was a skill I lacked. It never would have crossed my mind. I just went in the practice room and spent time - that became my specialty, spending time. I did work but not necessarily the right work. I just did random stuff. Sometimes I would practice what I needed to but it was almost by chance. I would work on double tonguing, or my interpretation of the music, but I often couldn’t play through my assigned music without stopping or messing up. There was no prioritization or assessment of the big picture. Some of this was avoidance of difficult tasks (what you need to do), but mostly the lack of planning was simply a practice skill I was lacking.
__________So what does good practice planning look like?
- Goal oriented - not time oriented, three hours of screwing around is meaningless, but accomplishing the goal of being able to play the hard part is real work. Spending time is easy, getting stuff done is hard; Don’t do alibi practice: “but I practiced 3 hours a day....”
- Prioritization - What’s most pressing and what can you cut? This will depend on what music you perform next, what you can already play or do, and what you can learn quickly. Answering these questions is a hard skill you must practice. You will inevitably get it wrong many times so start iterating now so your ability to prioritize improves. Improve this process every day, week, month.
- Start from the end and plan backwards - Your overarching framework will change often, but if you don’t plan from the end, one tends to meander down paths that don’t accomplish the big picture goal.
Let’s look at a scenario where your lesson is tomorrow and you know you are going to run through the first two movements of a concerto for your teacher; You have 3 hours to practice.
_____What I used to do:
- “Oops I spent 3 hours making the slow movement super musical, listening to recordings, and falling in love with the piece... but I still can’t even play through the allegro 1st movement without stops and mistakes. My lesson is tomorrow and I’m pretty much screwed and overwhelmed. Cool.”
_____What I would do now:
I need to focus on three things in the Allegro 1st movement because I can’t play through it without stopping and mistakes:
- 1. Top half of page one
- 2. Ending of page two
- 3. Performing total run throughs without stopping or lots of messing up
- (If there is time, 4. making the slow movement more musical)
Working backwards in 30 min increments from the successful lesson:
- 2:30 - I feel confident overall and have time to work on making the slow 2nd movement more musical
- 2:00 - final run throughs to make sure it’s solid and I can play everything in context
- 1:30 - second pass on the hardest parts, really solving them
- 1:00 - test complete run through again
- 0:30 - really dig into the hard parts, make them easier.
- 0:00 - run through to assess where I am, get everything flowing and playable
_____To help plan daily practice, try my Practice Organizer Worksheet by entering your email below. It's a fillable PDF, so no paper, and you can duplicate it and fill it out as many times as you want (use tab to jump to the next line.) It takes less than 30 seconds. Practice your macro thinking each time you fill it out, get your reps in, and you will be planning like a pro in no time.
How do you plan your practice?