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​How often do you spend hours practicing, only to realize later that much of that time was wasted?  Do you find that you need to revise your plan as you go along from time to time?

If the answer is anything other than “occasionally,” you can do something about it.  Practicing does not have to be unconscious.

Life happens.  You get a phone call, expecting it to be brief, and it turns into something else.  Or someone comes to the door.  Your child’s school calls, and now you have to drop everything to pick up your daughter.  Schedule changes happen ever 5 minutes some days, it seems.

You had planned on having a block of uninterrupted practice time, and then this happened.  Sticking to your original plan won’t work.  How are you going to learn all that music?

Deciding what to do when you need to change plans

Make a plan for this practice session based on what you can realistically touch upon in the time available.

If some of your planned time has been derailed today, make a new plan.

  • Less time per piece/section
  • Save some repertoire for next time
  • Look at the music you need to do soon
  • Keep notes about what you left out; be sure to look at it next time

Adjusting your plans results in better practice than attempting to do everything, regardless.

Reserve part of your consciousness in order to self-journal your practice in your head.

  • How much time have you spent on one passage?
  • After a few minutes, are you making progress?

You may want to switch to something else for the time being.

If taking a minute every so often to assess your progress just doesn’t happen, try setting an alarm for every 20-30 minutes.  Sometimes musicians, myself included, become completely involved in the music and don’t want to stop.

Tailor today’s practice to the way you feel.

  • If you are tired or under the weather, practicing at performance tempo can wait a day or two.
  • If you are feeling pressured by deadlines or having too little time, practicing faster and faster is not likely to help.  If you are conscious of this as a tendency, you can set a slightly slower tempo and see better results.  The hardest part of doing that is realizing that you’re caught up in going faster because of a time crunch!

If you find yourself yelling at the composer, the instrument, the editor, the publisher, the wrong notes, or yourself, something is wrong.  None of that is helpful.  Take a step back, take a deep breath, and try another approach.

It’s not about the time you put in.  It’s about the music.

Identifying what needs to be done today, right now, can help you meet a deadline.

During college, I felt that putting in a certain number of hours per day/week meant that I was progressing. And then I found a wonderful teacher who was able to convey what was important. Learning the music well is the game plan, not awarding points for time spent.

I know from personal experience that revising one’s practice plan on the spot is easier said than done. But it is possible, and you’ll be saner for it. By being aware of how we use our practice time, we can obtain better results. Even if we reach the end of our available time today without realizing what happened, we can refocus tomorrow.

Do you have a habit of self-monitoring your practice sessions?  Or do you have regrets after you’re finished for the day?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Updated from March 2010

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