Benjamin Coy

Trombonist

Practice log

March 10, 2014 at 11:30 am

I have previously written about the importance of building a plan and a schedule for your practice. Long-term structure in practice strategy is as important to large-scale progress as individual practice techniques are to small-scale improvement. However, we all know about the best laid plans. It would be naive to expect that every element of a practice schedule will be executed, despite the best of intentions.

It can be valuable to analyze the results of a practice strategy, but the only way to gather accurate data is to record what actually happened. A lot of successful players talk about using a practice journal, where they take notes on each of their practice sessions, but I have never been good at keeping a journal. I needed to find a solution that was easier for me.
5628-practicelogInstead of confronting the blank page of a journal, I printed out this little form which guides me through logging my practice.

At the top, I circle the day of the week, so I don’t have to remember or look up the date. Since the forms stay largely in the order I completed them, day of the week is enough information to figure out the specific date later if necessary.

Most days, I do a routine. This is almost always the same – after all, it’s the consistency and repetition that makes the routine valuable. So, I can just circle which routine I did and move on. One pencil mark represents an hour or so of practice very efficiently. If I happen to do a different kind of exercise instead of the routine, the form has room to write that in.

Whether working towards an audition, a recital, or something else, I usually have a list of music to work on. If I do a full run of the list, I note that, and also whether I recorded the run or played the list for someone else in a mock performance. Then, I mark the three biggest issues I had. There will always be more than three things to work on, of course, but the idea is to prioritize so that the worst areas receive the attention they need in a future practice session.

As I’ve discussed before, I often like to pick two or three specific things to work on in a day rather than trying to cover a lot of ground quickly. On the form, I note each object of my focus (ideally informed by the problems from a previous day’s full run). If there are specific details I should remember to help me resume my work later, I can add them to the notes section at the bottom of the page.

I keep a stack of these little forms in my practice room and tack them to a bulletin board for easy reference as I complete them. A receipt spindle would be another easy way to keep these pages together after they’ve been filled out. The structure of this form captures the most vital information about each day of practice very efficiently and allows me to refer back to what I did in later analysis. A practice journal could capture more data, of course, but that’s a larger investment of time both in recording the data and then sifting through it at a later date. The inherent prioritization of information in this format makes it very easy for me to get an overview of my progress to date and determine a strategy for future practice sessions.

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