I’ve had the idea to write a quick blog on the importance of creating a semester practice plan for a while, and what better time to write it than the start of the semester! I imagine you’ve heard a lot of what I’ll suggest before, but I hope this serves as a reminder and motivator to carve out some time to create your practice plan!
Before you start, I encourage you to reflect on your goals. What do you hope to accomplish this semester? What are your short term and long term goals for your technique, breathing, and musicality? Even reflecting on your career goals are beneficial for creating a practice plan.
Once you have identified your goals, a practice plan can help you track your progress. It also helps you learn the importance of the process – don’t miss this! The goal can be so much more than “perform this piece.” Remember it’s not always about the destination, but the journey along the way. What might you learn about yourself and the music along the way that will be beneficial in the future? How will your goals for this semester fit into the goals for your future career?
Once you’ve identified your goals, it’s time to make a detailed plan. Start with your recitals, competitions, concerts, auditions, etc. so you can see when something must be ready by, and work backwards from there.
Here’s a hypothetical example — let’s say you have a performance of the first movement of Mozart’s Concerto in G eight weeks from now. Your goal tempo is quarter note = 112. If you started today, you could spend this week reading it through a couple of times, and then narrow in on the tricky spots. Perhaps your week two goals are to increase the tempo by 10 clicks, plan out all your breaths, and listen to two recordings. In week three, you could increase the tempo another 10 clicks, plan all your dynamics, and listen to another recording. During week four, you might plan to increase the tempo again, create a detailed vibrato plan, study the piano part, and choose all your articulations (now that you’ve listened to recordings and have studied the piano part, you can make informed decisions). In week five, you could begin rehearsals with a pianist. Weeks six and seven could be continued rehearsals with a pianist, touching up tricky spots, and then you would perform week eight!
Now that you’ve roughly planned out when everything needs to happen, you can schedule exactly when you’ll practice it. I personally like to schedule my practice time at the beginning of the week, since my week-to-week schedule often varies. Consider when you are most focused and alert, and structure your practice time around then if you can! I’m a morning person, so I try to practice as much as I can in the morning, when I am most efficient.
As a side note, I also recommend planning some “insurance” sessions – these are back-up practice sessions carved into your schedule in case something else pops up and interrupts your previously planned practice time.
As you practice, I encourage you to keep a journal or log of what you did each day. This helps you focus on the goals you have set and how you moved the needle forward in that particular section. Keep track of what you did that helped you — how exactly did you work on that tricky technical passage? What did you do to get your articulation crisper? How did you execute that taper? Details like these will save you time in the future when you encounter a new piece that demands similar things. Plus, as I’ve been mentioning, they’ll help you see how you are progressing on your goals throughout the semester!
A few reminders as you work on creating and executing this plan:
- Timers are sooo useful in the practice room. They have personally helped me get through the things I don’t enjoy practicing. I set a timer for a set amount of minutes and practice whatever it is for that long.
- Give yourself grace when other things come up. A practice plan is not meant to make you feel bad, but to provide accountability. Life happens! Let it happen, adjust accordingly, and keep practicing!
- There is no such thing as a perfect practice plan.
In my experience, the hardest part of practicing is opening your case and picking up the instrument to start practicing. It’s also hard to practice when you don’t feel like it or when so many other things (hello giant pile of laundry….) are demanding your attention. Let me leave you with this thought, though: we all have the same number of hours in a day, and you are in charge of how you spend that time. If you say “I don’t have time to practice or work on my musical goals” but you spend two hours a day on social media or playing video games, what you’re really saying is “I don’t prioritize practicing.” A practice plan will only be beneficial to you if you prioritize practicing……. go make a plan and practice. 🙂