Keeping a Journal

  1. Thom
  2. December 16, 2007 3:12 pm

Several years ago I took an independent study class at my high school. Every day I had 90 minutes of practice time and had to prepare something for a recital at the end of the term. On the very first day of this particular class my orchestra director, always full of music wisdom, shared a great nugget with us.

“I always practiced, but I never really knew how to practice until I had gotten to college. Had I known and used this before- I could have excelled so much earlier and faster!” Not only did he tell us to keep a journal, but also how to keep a one in such a way that will really show us improvement. “Its important to structure and plan out your practice session in order to be the most productive with your time.”

The first question you ask yourself is, “what are my goals for this session? What do I want to do?” Here is where write down exactly what you want to achieve. You aren’t just going to write, “I want to get better at such and such piece.” The goals have to be specific and achievable. What are your trouble spots? Is it the sixteenth note run in multiple positions from measures 34 to 36 giving you trouble? Great- so write down that you want to master the basics of those measures at a solid tempo, perhaps 60 BPM. Make sure you ARE starting slow enough that you can focus on executing each individual note perfectly. Continue picking out trouble spots in each of your pieces and dedicate your time to working solely on those! You know you are able to play that whole note on the open G string no problem, so don’t spend so much time practicing that! I was once told that if what you’re practicing is too easy, you’re practicing the wrong things.

Next you’ll want to plan and write out your schedule. It is important to always warm up with your scales! Don’t just rush through your scales either, REALLY listen to make sure each note is perfectly in tune. I’ll write an article on this later as well. When you have spent a good ten minutes working through your scales (preferably some of them should relate to what you’ll be working on later in your session) you can move onto etudes. Etudes are great because they are technically challenging. Learning finger patters on top of techniques all while still trying to keep a consistent tone is great practice for everything from improvising to sight-reading. It is like learning new vocabulary to read, write, and speak with!

While you are working through your session, if you find yourself slipping or getting frustrated- take a break! You don’t want to practice bad habits! Go get something to drink or take a second to chat. Try not to spend anymore than a couple of minutes on your break before heading back unless you really need to clear your brain. In my class I would always get some water and then take a brief walk around the halls, making sure to relax my hands and my head.

After your session is done, take some time to critique yourself. Did you stay on task? Did you reach your goals, or at least come close? Maybe you surpassed your goals no problem and need to set the bar a little higher next time. This is the place where you can really journal- don’t be afraid to include how maybe you saw a certain image in your head, or your finger suddenly ‘got it,’ and are now just clicking into place as if it was completely natural and easy. Maybe you made a new discovery or connection between a note, technique, or anything at all. Write it down!

The last bit is to plan a little bit. Did you run out of time on a piece and want to attack it next time? Maybe you set the bar too high for yourself on a passage and you want to spend more time slowing it down. Game plan some things for your next session so you know what you want to work on next time.

Quick Review

  • What are my goals today? Be specific!
  • What am I studying? Warm-ups, etudes, passages, and pieces.
  • How did this session go? Self check.
  • What could I do next time? Plan ahead.

Keeping a journal is not only an effective way of encouraging good, productive practice sessions, it also is a great tool that will show you where you came from and where you’re headed. Now go ahead and pick up a notebook, or simply download this word document with the questions written out for you to print out and toss into a binder!

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1 Comment

  1. That’s way more clever than I was exetpcing. Thanks!

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