Friday, July 5, 2013

Working at the instrument: the practice log

Earlier in this blog, I listed some basic musicianship skills (i.e., good habits) that resurfaced with my return to memorization practice. A few of them turn up in the next few posts in greater detail.

Practice log
I can not stress enough the importance of good planning and good record keeping. Your practice log is a dated diary of your daily work, listing what you accomplished in your previous session and what you hope to accomplish in the current and future sessions. Use your log to list your goals, problem areas, successes, needs--anything that comes to mind when practicing. (I even use my log to jot down fleeting thoughts that might enter while practicing. Need to buy milk? Write it down quickly, and get that distracting thought out of your head!)

Your practice log will list metronome markings, landmarks, timings, thoughts on musical form, emotional ideas about the music--whatever it is that you feel your practice session needs or will need in the future. If you take a few days off from practice, you'll find that the log is also helpful in reminding you of where you've been and what you need to do.

Each day, before practicing, you will map out your practice session:
  • How much time do you have?
  • How will you divide your time?
  • Based on yesterday's log, what needs to be addressed today?
Some days, the entries are short; other days, they're long. The page below has four days of work. (Don't try to decipher my notes. I'm a slob on paper.)

You might even use spare pages to create a chart of metronome markings with your intended tempo goals and the steps you've been taking to get there. In these cases, I flip back to these charts and update them each day.

When I have a full program to prepare, I'll create a checkoff list indicating which movements I've played at the instrument and which movements I've worked away from the instrument.

Over the years, I've saved my practice logs. I don't really refer to them beyond the moment that I worked on them, but I think they make nice keepsakes of my hard work. I particularly like this entry from a long time ago:

Now go out and splurge for a nice notebook. You might be keeping it for a long time!