Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bringing Structure and Focus to Your Practice Routine

 In the spirit of New Year's Resolutions, I have been brainstorming ways to improve my productivity and efficiency in the practice room. The result is the following list, which splits up practicing into several numbered categories, with bullet-pointed ideas/guidelines nested beneath each category.

I use the list as a reminder to myself that the best practice is deliberate practice, aided by having specific goals and by concentrating on just one thing at a time. I keep the list on the front of my music binder, so that when I feel as though I am lacking focus or structure in the practice room, I know exactly where to look to remedy that.

Since I created the list for my own personal use, the categories and guidelines are somewhat specific to my own musical skills (strengths and weaknesses), priorities, and goals. (Some are piano-specific concepts as well.) Therefore, the list might not suit your own needs perfectly, but hopefully it can offer some ideas/insight/inspiration as you create your own version of a practice guide.

Components of a Practice Routine

  1. Ear Training
    • Choose a tonal center (tonic), then play a random pitch. Identify the pitch by naming its sol feg syllable in the chosen key.
    • Play two pitches, identify their interval.
    • Play one pitch, choose an interval and direction, then sing the second pitch. Play both pitches to check if you were correct.
    • Listen to a pop song and identify the chord progression.

  1. Technical Exercises/Warm-up
    1. Scales
    • Major and minor.
    • Parallel and contrary motion.
    • Straight and swung.
    • In 3rds and/or 6ths.
    1. Arpeggios
    • Slowly. No pedal. Finger legato.
    • Concentrate on fingering.
    • Major/minor triads, seventh chords.

  1. Classical Repertoire
    • Direct focus on specific technical challenges.
    • Work in chunks.
    • Identify keys/chords/form.
    • Practice for perfection

  1. Jazz Theory
    • Choose one voicing and play it in all keys, following the circle of fifths. Use metronome.
    • Invent or transcribe a ii-V-I line. Cycle it around the circle of fifths.
    • Practice other scale types (dorian, lydian, mixolydian, lydian dominant, double diminished).

  1. Jazz Improvisation
    • Solo over Aebersold recordings.
    • Walk a bass line over a tune.
    • Comp over a tune.
    • Solo using limitations/parameters:
      • Use only particular pitches
      • Use only arpeggios (disjunct) or scales (conjunct)
      • Solo with RH only/LH only/both hands

  1. Upcoming Gig/Work Repertoire
    • Wedding music
    • Church music
    • Solo piano music

Overall Guidelines
  • Practice for perfection. Do it right the first time.
  • Have a pencil handy, and use it often.
  • Quality of practice > Quantity of practice
  • Switch things up. Use variety in the practice room.
  • Take breaks when necessary.

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