Is There a “Perfect” Practice Routine?

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organizationI love organizing things. I remember as a teenager using the wee hours of the morning to organize my dresser drawers. My mother didn’t approve of my being awake so late, but she loved opening my closet. (Not so much my brother’s…)

I love organizing my practice too. I like experimenting with different etudes, exercises and warm-up routines, new practice schedules and techniques.

And while I don’t believe in ONE perfect practice routine, I have found over the years that the routines that work the best for me (and I believe, for you too!) have five things in common.

So here, presented in David Letterman countdown style, are my top five components of a perfect practice routine:


5. It must be personal.
What works for me may not work for you. Your practice routine must fit your objectives, your musical style and your goals. A practice regimen to prepare for a recital will obviously need to be different from one that will keep you in condition for therapeutic harp work, or just playing for your own pleasure. You must take into account the amount of time, energy and ambition you have. Most importantly, your practice should be fun for you, not exactly party time, but it should create and help you sustain energy and momentum in your playing.

4. It must be flexible.
There is no point in trying to schedule a “one hour every day” practice session if you know that on Tuesdays, Thursday and Sundays your schedule is already bursting the seams and you really can’t make time for practice. Fit your practice to your schedule, not the other way around, and you will be able to practice free of the guilt and stress that comes of making commitments we can’t meet. Even better, create “short day” practice plans for those days when you have only a brief time to practice.

3. It must be efficient.
Don’t spend so long on your warm-up that you run out of practice time for more important things. Plan to do your most difficult work toward the beginning of your practice when you are freshest and have the most energy. Use practice techniques based on intentional learning rather than mere repetition (see the bottom of this post for more information).

2. It must be effective.
In order for your practice to be effective, you must know exactly what it is you are trying to accomplish. What do you need to do, and how will you plan to achieve it? What practice techniques will actually speed you toward your goal? Where are you in your musical development and where do you want to be tomorrow, next week or next year? What are the precise steps you can take to make it happen? When you know the answers to these questions, you can design your practice to move you ahead faster than you could believe.

1. It must be planned in advance.
The biggest waste of practice time usually comes right at the beginning, at the moment when you ask yourself, “What should I do today?” Once you understand what your goals are, and what you need to do to achieve those goals (see #2 above), you can plan your practice time. I don’t plan my practice sessions by the clock, but I do have a specific list of what I want to accomplish in my practice session. And I believe that this is the biggest key to practice success: before you leave the harp from your practice today, make a quick list of the three things you want to do TOMORROW and put in on your stand.

You won’t waste a moment of your next practice session trying to remember what you wanted to work on, and you are less likely to be sidetracked from working on what is truly most important to you. This technique will help you make progress toward your goals, use your practice time wisely and prevent the frustration that can come from inconsistent practice. It also means that your practice routine will be changing from day to day, which will help keep you interested and motivated as well as moving you forward.

So what does your perfect practice routine look like for today?

Ps. You can learn practice techniques I mention in #3 in my Kaleidoscope Practice system. You can find out more by reading my Ebook, using “The Harpist’s Playbook” or learn the whole system step by step in the Practice for the Finish online video course.

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  • Jennifer

    Hi Anne! The timing of this article is amazing; I spent yesterday evening overhauling my practice schedule. I like to see at a glance everything I could be working on. I have a chart I call my practice inventory where I have spaces to keep track of various scale/arpeggio exercises and the rhythms I use with them. Below that are the various technical aspects to work on, then etudes, pieces in progress, and each piece in my repertoire. There is also a column for making note of the tempo for each item. On the back is where I have spaces for listing sight-reading, supplemental-reading, and active listening/watching. As I work on each item, I make a tick to keep track of how many times I worked on each. I give my inventory to my teacher at each lesson and she can see what I have worked on and how often. I decided early on that I needed to work this way so that I wouldn’t overlook anything.

    The list of items on the inventory are spread evenly across three days, A – B – C, and are done in rotation. The 7th day is a free day or a catch up day to allow extra time for Kaliedoscope practice or my ensemble music. I use the 30/30 app on my iPad to keep track of the time I spend on each item on days A, B, and C. This way of working comprises 1/3 of my practice each day. The other 2/3 are spent working on my 3 pieces in progress using your Kaleidoscope Practice method, and on harp ensemble music.

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  • Mary-Kate

    Thank you so much! I love the line about “party time.” Off to practice now!

    Reply

  • Rob Stone

    To quote Alan Iverson, past great of the Philadelphia 76ers, “practice,practice, we’re talking about practice”. to which his coach Larry Brown replied that “he used the word “practice” more times than he actually showed up for practice! But I concur, and you make a good point, practice should be something you look forward to, enjoy and play like you’re performing!

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  • Otis

    I thought this was an excellent article for really anyone learning how to play any string instrument, or anyone seriously interested in maintaining their chops. Even famous musicians that you hear from one year to the next shock me when they don’t learn any new techniques. It’s really discipline and practice, and those “efficiency and effectiveness” categories that make the musician well-rounded over the long term, and I appreciated that you pin-pointed how to make that happen.

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