And a follow-up from Tuesday’s post

April 23, 2008

It’s really cool when there is a directly-related follow-up to something I talk about. Yesterday, I posted about mistakes. Well, the follow-up was on MSNBC today:

I’ll talk more about this next Tuesday…


Decluttering Your Practice Time: Making a Practice Schedule That Works For You

April 23, 2008
Make a schedule. The two big questions are: what time(s) are you going to practice? and what are you going to work on? The time you’re going to spend is fluid in the sense that it can be scheduled for whenever works for you. It can change day to day, or whenever it needs to, although I caution against trying to make up time on the weekends (too easy to get overloaded, tired and possibly sore from physical exertion).


Schedules should be done with thought and care, for yourself as well as others in your house. The easiest thing to do is to look at your calendar and mark off times that will not work, for whatever reason. You may find that you have several smaller blocks of time available throughout the day, or a single large block at a given point. Start by keeping your scheduled sessions short — no more than about five minutes at a time. It is OK (and actually preferable) to do several of these short sessions, but keep them separated. Take breaks in between each one, or if your schedule allows, go do something else that needs your attention and come back to it later. The main benefit to taking frequent, regular breaks is that your brain gets time to process what you just worked on and get it encoded into your long-term memory. It also keeps you from overdoing it physically, which is really important if you’re a beginner — sore fingers take all the fun out of practicing. This method is also extremely effective and usually necessary for pre-schoolers, who normally have a very limited attention span. Adults and older students can often focus for longer amounts of time, but that’s because we’ve trained ourselves to do so. Small sessions also help a student learn to focus and develop critical listening and analytical skills; in other words, how do you know you’re accomplishing anything if you’re not paying attention or listening to what you’re doing, compared to the time before? Some people find it helpful to also schedule their listening time, but that’s not always necessary for every student.


As you build physical stamina and get a better idea of how much you can actually accomplish in a given amount of time, you can start increasing the length of the sessions to whatever your brain can handle. I can pretty well maintain full, active concentration for about twenty minutes at a time. You may be able to do more, or not quite that much — everyone is different. It is also helpful at making it routine by scheduling practice every day, or as close to every day as you can. Five or six days a week will work, but aim for seven if possible. Two probably won’t help you much. The more time you can devote means the more times you’ll actually get to play, which means your learning will be faster and probably more solid.


So, to review our main points here, successful scheduling of practice includes: short sessions initially; frequent, regular breaks; and dedicated time on a daily basis. I’ll start talking about the second scheduling question next Wednesday — what are you going to work on?