Positive Practice is something I work on for myself and for my students. I define it as practice that is focused, time-efficient and goal-oriented. Even my younger students are able to practice in a way that is more interesting than mere repetition and yields faster results.
This is the story behind my Positive Practice system: When I was in college, I had hours to practice. Practicing was how I was supposed to spend my time. Then in the years after school, I still had plenty of time to practice as a young professional musician.
But after I had a family and a busier teaching and performance schedule, I found myself with a dilemma. The musical demands of my performing were greater, so I wanted more time to practice, but I had much less time available.
My options didn’t look good. I could spend less time with my family, especially my young son. Or I could perform less frequently or less challenging music. Neither choice was acceptable to me.
So instead of being negative and frustrated, I decided to be positive, and to learn to work more efficiently. (By the way, although I have a system, being more efficient is an ongoing process!)
And so I developed my Positive Practice system:
Each week I write down what I need or want to achieve that week. And I plan my work over six days of the week. (On the seventh day, I follow Salzedo’s example, and play through repertoire for fun, and to keep it fresh.)
I divide my time this way:
40% of my practice time on tools: technique, musicianship skills and expressive skills. I use my warmup routine, my scales, exercises, etudes and spot practice to develop these tools.
40% of my practice time is in depth work on current repertoire. This is “normal” practice: repetition, working on difficult passages, memorization, whatever the piece needs.
The remaining 20% of my time is spent looking at the bigger picture. I play through entire pieces, working on pacing and expression. I will sightread or review other pieces that I need to keep current. This is also a way for me to rotate my pieces and get everything covered in the course of a week. One day I will do in depth work on one piece, and just play through the others. The next day one of the other pieces gets the in depth treatment.
What I love about this is that I always know what I need to do BEFORE I start to practice. This system allows me to use my time well and to not neglect anything important. And when I am done, I can get up from the bench and feel satisified that I have completed my task for the day.
What more can you ask from a practice session?