Mixing Up Your Practice Sessions

Yesterday, a wonderful little bird by the name of Nancy Stagnitta (a former teacher of mine at the Interlochen Arts Academy) told me about another lovely blog called “The Bulletproof Musician” (see link below). This blog has a few tasty morsels to keep you going strong as a musician! As I was taking a look as this blog, I happened across a post about getting the most out of your practice sessions and making sure what you practice sticks with you from day to day. Needless to say, I was intrigued!

Since I have started my studies with Robert Langevin at Juilliard, my practicing has been largely focused on Scales and Etudes (with much work on sound and repertoire, but that is a given). While I recognize the EXTREME importance that scales and etudes have on keeping my playing at a high level, I must admit that sitting in a room by myself, practicing an etude slowly and inching up the metronome every 3-5 minutes is NOT how I would ideally like to spend my time. To add insult to injury, I was finding that this method of practicing was not sticking. I would inch up the tempo from quarter equals 72 to 80 for one etude in a practice session, only to come back the next day and only be able to play the etude successfully at quarter equals 74. Going 8 steps forward and 6 steps back is NO way to make progress!

When I happened across this article, it could not have come at a better time. Basically, this article says that it is OK to mix up your practice sessions! NO MORE practicing long tones for 20 minutes at a time only to ignore every long tone at the first 5 or so. NO MORE practicing an etude for 30 minutes straight in 20 different rhythms, then inching up the metronome click by click by CLICK. Instead, after just a few minutes spent practicing one thing, you move on to another, giving your brain a break from one task and allowing yourself to focus 100% on EVERY task at hand without tuning out due to the monotonous nature of practicing everything in large blocks of time!

Here is what a “Mixed Up” practice session might look like:

Length / Material to Practice

2 minutes – Long tone, scale, long tone, scale… (I do B down to E)
3 minutes – Excerpt A (using first rhythmic variation)
2 minutes – Third progression, arpeggio, third progression, arpeggio… (Full range scales C Major to C minor in the circle of fifths)
3 minutes – Excerpt B (using first rhythmic variation)
2 minutes – Long tone, scale, long tone, scale… (Now E down to A)
3 minutes – Excerpt A (using second rhythmic variation)
2 minutes – Third progression, arpeggio, third progression, arpeggio… (Full range scales Ab Major to G# minor in the circle of fifths)
3 minutes – Excerpt B (using second rhythmic variation)

From “The Bulletproof Musician Blog”: “The permutations are endless and the exact division of time is not important. What is crucial is that you are keeping your brain engaged by varying the material. More engagement means you will be less bored, more goal-oriented (you have to be if you only have 3 minutes to accomplish something), and substantially more productive. Most importantly, when you return to the practice room the next day, you can start from where you left off. This type of practice sticks.”

I encourage you ALL to try this just for a week and track your progress. I would LOVE to hear comments on how it worked for you, modifications you made to the proposed “schedule,” etc.

I am still trying this method out, but from what I have done so far, I already notice a HUGE improvement in my focus, in meeting my practice goals, and in maintaining an upward trend with the material that I am practicing.

For the FULL details, visit “The Bulletproof Musician” blog: http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/why-the-progress-in-the-practice-room-seems-to-disappear-overnight/

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