You wake up. It's Lesson Day. Does that fill you with dread, or excitement? Usually when you are not looking forward to a lesson it means you are not prepared. Is that because you focused too much on one thing, and not enough on others? Did you not manage the precious little practice time you had wisely? Maybe there's a lack of focus to your 8 hour practice session?
Goals are wonderful to help keep focus during practice. They can be specific things like 'focus on tone production and quality' , or 'learn the rest of the notes of this sonata'. They can take the form of a question. As you play, you could ask yourself, 'do I like my tone in this passage?' Or maybe, 'what is character of this piece, and does it show in how I play?'
Priorities are important in your practice. Do you have a competition coming up soon? Is there an audition for which you need to learn new music? Make a list of all the music you have to practice, and label the high priority pieces. This will help in determining how much time to spend on each piece.
I spent my junior year of my undergrad working almost 30 hours a week at a restaurant, because my family was having difficulties financially and I could not count on their support. I was also taking 18 credit hours (a full load for undergraduates) of classes, music and non-music subjects. Needless to say, I was strapped for time. This became apparent in my playing almost immediately. I didn't know my chamber music. I bombed my seating audition. I was unprepared for lessons.... My teacher asked me what was wrong (I previously had been very prepared and responsible!) and I admitted that IF I had practice time, it was maybe 1-2 hours tops (less than half of what I had been practicing before). We spent the rest of that lesson detailing what to practice-given 1.5 hours- and revamping my routine so I was able to make progress. I started setting timers, and documenting my progress in detail (practice log!). MAN did that make a difference! I made just as much progress that year as I did any other year, and have been organizing and planning my practice ever since!
Because I would manage my time so well, I also realized that even 10 minutes of practice is better than nothing- if it's goal oriented and organized. Prior to this realization, if I didn't have at least an hour to practice, I wouldn't. Countless minutes were WASTED when I had that mindset!
Some things to keep in mind while setting the parameters for your practice:
-Give yourself just a little LESS time on each thing you do than you might want. The extra pressure will make you work more efficiently.
-plan when you take breaks (at least one 10 minute break every 50 minutes. If it work s for Gil Shaham it works for me too!) and what you will do in your breaks. (Netflix episode? Ehhh... Maybe not. Log your practice, stretch, hydrate, read my blog? WELL SURE!)
-constantly check and recheck your priorities list. As you work on things, they might become less of a priority, so you should spend less time on it, or move it to something you do every other day.
-ask yourself questions. In this way, you become your own teacher. That can help your time be super productive. Even if it's something as simple as, 'can I play this passage confidently and consistently?'
-read your log. It might seem silly, but that little note you made about finding a good fingering next time could have slipped your mind! Or maybe you forgot that you practiced arpeggios yesterday, and instead need to focus on broken thirds and chromatic scales today.
Questions? Comments? Need help setting up your practice list and log? Let me know! And happy practicing!!