Practicing smarter, not harder.

As many of you know, Facebook has as “memories” feature that enables you to look back on posts from years past.  Apparently I posted this video 2 years ago:

Every musician should heed this advice. We all have interests outside of music (well, we should, anyway!) that we want to dedicate time to.  For me, I like to swim, run, and spend time with my family.  I don’t really want to be spending hours and hours in the practice room like I did when I was younger.  I wish I figured this out a decade ago!

It is especially a good reminder right now. I’m still on maternity leave, but that doesn’t mean that I have a lot of time on my hands. A three month old baby takes up a lot of time!  Especially when he’s so cute, haha.  Plus having family visiting (my parents are here on the island right now), it doesn’t leave that much time for clarinet practice.

For me, organization and planning is key.  For the upcoming Navy Band audition, I have organized the excerpts into groups – finger technique, articulation, and musicality.  I also identified excerpts that I have worked on in the past versus excerpts that I have never worked on.  For the first few weeks, I’m only practicing the excerpts that are technically challenging.  Finger technique is my weakest area, so for me it makes sense to spend the most time on those excerpts.  And then I’ve gone further and separated those technical excerpts into three more groups. I focus on one group of excerpts per practice session.  Over three practice sessions, I get to all of the excerpts.  This seems to work really well for me since the daily goal is relatively small and it keeps my brain from burning out.

The most important aspect that I have worked into my routine is writing down specific practice goals on each excerpt for the next session.  This gives me clear direction for the next time.  I don’t waste time thinking about what I’m going to work on that day because its already been decided!  I make a journal sheet for each excerpt.  Here’s an example:


And I try not to quit unless I achieve the goal I set for myself the previous session.  Sometimes it takes five minutes, sometimes thirty.  I do try to make it realistic as I can, but as you can see in the example above, I actually had to cross out and revise my goal from March 10.  One of the rules I set for myself is to stop and reassess or take a break when things start getting frustrating.  Frustrated practice is almost as bad as unfocused practice.  

So far, so good.  I’m making progress.  As I mentioned before, my parents are here in Hawaii visiting us and their new grandson, so I often don’t get a chance to practice (I just practiced for the first time in four days yesterday).  But its ok!  I’m trying not to stress about it too much.  I’m thanking my lucky stars that most of the excerpts on the audition list are ones I have studied before.  That makes things much easier.  The last audition I took was such a hard one!  I’m not having to spend as much time woodshedding as I did a year and a half ago.  I really don’t have time for that!

I’ll have more time to dedicate to practice once I go back to work in four weeks.  Practicing at home is really distracting sometimes.  Especially with such a cute baby who is constantly discovering his world!


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