What makes a good practise session?
What does a good practise session look like?
A good practise session is well structured and allows you to focus on specific goals. The ability to meaningful structure your practise sessions it is the cornerstone of becoming a good musician. Without practise you cannot hope to improve, but just practising without thinking how you use the time will also result in no or incremental gains. You may have heard the phrase ‘practise makes perfect’. A better phrase is ‘perfect practise makes perfect’.
A typical practice session should be broken down into several parts:
- A warm-up
- Technically exercises
Along with getting this structure correct, you also need to consider the following things to make your practise ‘perfect’
- Always work at a speed that is comfortable (on warmups, exercises and pieces). This may not necessarily be the final tempo of the piece. Trust in the process though—slow and accurate practise will ensure that you can play the piece at the correct speed easier and sooner than trying to go straight in at the performance temp0 (where you likely).
- Use a metronome—it is your best friend when you’re practising.
- Learning repertoire effectively rarely involves simply starting at the start of a song and working all the way through. Focus on the problem areas first, as they need the most time. You may also consider making exercises out of the problem areas to use as technical exercises. This will address the underlying technical issues that make those parts difficult for you and will transfer more readily to other pieces.
- Record yourself regularly—it is the best way to keep track of your progress.
- Set goals (explained next…)
Collect at least 2 warm-ups or technically exercises you can use as part of your practise routine. These might be provided by your teacher, or, you may find them on the web. Post them in padlet below, in the appropriate column. You should check the resources posted by others too—this will allow you to further build up your range of practise options. Make sure that you post an explanation of what they are (in your own words). You may also link to videos or websites for further reading.
Task 2: Poster creation
Choose one of the warm ups or technical exercises listed above. You are going to create a poster for this exercise for our classroom. You should include details of what the warm up exercise is and how it is performed correctly. The ‘correctly’ part is important. Consider: when you’ve researched this exercise, have you found instructions that detail things like:
- what speed the exercise should be done
- physical sensations when it is performed correctly
- how it can be done incorrectly and common mistakes (and therefore how to avoid them)
Your poster doesn’t need to be too text heavy – you should be able to convey the information above in a way that can be quickly absorbed by anyone reading the poster. You may consider breaking the exercise down into steps.
To create the poster you can use Canva (www.canva.com) or Google Drawings.
Using S.M.A.R.T goals to organise you practise schedule
Having goals for your practise is an important cornerstone in keeping you on track throughout your music career. If you don’t set proper goals, you will often end up using your time ineffectively and achieving little. Goals can be short, medium and long term.Setting long term goals is worthwhile, however, too often they may seem too distance and the path to achieving them isn’t clear. This, initially, we are going to focus on short term goals (over the cycle of a week) as this will allow you to focus more on the ‘here and now’ and placing ‘one foot in front of the other’.
To aid us in this process, we will be using S.M.A.R.T. goals. These goals are:
In order to be useful, your goal must be as SPECIFIC as possible. Define EXACTLY what you will do. For example saying I will learn ‘a few new songs’ might be better expressed as I will learn to ‘play the chorus of piece x at the same speed as the recorded version by the end of the week’.
If you have made your goal specific, it should be clearly measurable and easy to state whether it has been met. Avoid setting goals that are ambiguous (a few new songs) as this is difficult to measure.
A – Actions
Once you have a specific and measurable goal, you need to make a list of actions you need to take to complete it. If your goal is to learn to ‘play the chorus of piece x at the same speed as the recorded version by the end of the week’ you need to think about how you will do that. Your actions might be (if you were learning a song on the guitar for example):
- learn the chords needed for the chorus
- learn to play the chords slowly in time with a metronome
- once I can play the song slowly and accurately, try it at a faster speed on the metronome
- build up the metronome speed until I can play it at the recorded tempo
- play along with the recording
- recording myself and evaluating my progress
R – Resources
Actions rely on Resources. In the above example, slow practise is made easier through the use of a metronome. Resources can be physical, like a metronome, sheet music, access to recording etc. They may also be personal, like access to a teacher. They even include such things as time and a place to practise.
T – Time
Time is the final piece of the puzzle. In order for the goal to be met, it needs a due date. When will you have your goal complete? Bear in mind it may take some practise to set usable time limits. Sometimes we set a date that is too soon or too far into the future. Don’t worry if you get this wrong at first. Just keep adjusting until you find what works.
Your practise journal
In order to start using S.M.A.R.T goals to organise your practise time, you are going to keep a practise journal.
You’ve been provided a practise journal template to fill out. Below is a copy of this template with an example entry:
The steps to completing your journal are:
- You will need to set t yourself some S.M.A.R.T goals. These can be long term goals that you work on over the course of weeks or months.
- Each practice session will also need to have a specific goal. This goal will be related to your more long term S.M.A.R.T goals.
- You may have the same (specific) goal(s) for several practice sessions in a row – that is fine.
- Keep a record of what warm up and technical routines you’ve done, as well as what repertoire you’ve practiced. You should log the total amount of time for each practice session.
- You should write a brief comment after each practice session. How did the session go? How did you feel about it? Did you meet the goal you had set?
- Periodically you should assess how you’ve progressing towards your S.M.A.R.T goals. Where are you in achieving your goal. You will use Gibbs Reflective Cycle to aid with this process (see the page on Gibbs Reflective Cycle).
- Try to include regular videos of yourself and your practise in your journal. Record yourself often and link the videos in your journal (this could go in the comments section, for example).