One of my students recently asked me how he could get the most out of his practice sessions. My last two posts dealt with this to some extent: honestly evaluate your practicing, and make sure you put in enough correct repetitions to outweigh the mistakes. I’ve also written about scheduling everything to make sure that you have a plan for when you’re going to practice (and do everything else).

Now you can really up the ante on all this by coming into each practice session with a plan.

Most of my students start their practice sessions with a plan that looks like something like: “play through my piece, see if there are any mistakes.”

I almost never do this.  From the very first time I sit down to practice a new piece, I am keeping track of the trouble spots so that I can start my next practice by zooming in to those trouble spots.  I then END my practice session with a run through so that I can see how I improved through the work I put in that session.  

When you begin your practice session with a run-through, you are HOPING that you won’t have mistakes.  Inevitably, there are mistakes, and because you are blowing past them in an effort to complete a run-through, that helps cement those mistakes in – they aren’t getting corrected.  By ending my practice session with a run-through rather than beginning with a run through, I am solidifying the focused work I just did, and I am much more likely to be rewarded with a much more successful run through which will help me feel positive about doing that work.

You can up this ante even more by recording that last run-through and then listening back to it while watching your score.  Mark any mistakes that did slip in and you’ll know exactly which spots to start with in your next practice section!  This sets up a positive feedback cycle that reaps many rewards – you’ll have proof that you improved since the last time you recorded, and you’ll have a plan for your next practice session ready to go, making it much more likely you’ll get to that next practice session sooner rather than later!

When I am working on a program (several pieces at a time), I even take that a step further by keeping track of how many problem sections each piece/song has – the one with the most problem sections is the one that needs the most attention, and is therefore the one that I will start with in the next practice session!

Having a plan for each practice session goes a long way to making your practice time more productive!