My Top 5 Takeaways from my Emergency Practice Plan

musicianship practicing Aug 14, 2013






           One page of my practice log

I want to report back to you on my experience using the 40/40/20 plan as the structure for my emergency practice.

First, the results. I did get enough practice, despite two days of travel time when I could only manage one hour instead of two. Everything that needed to be prepared was ready. Would I have liked more prep time? Certainly! The concerts, especially the first one, took every ounce of concentration. While I always concentrate during performance, this time I had no wiggle room. And there were some elements that no doubt would have been more refined with some additional practice.

But the point of this experiment was twofold: could I prepare two difficult chamber programs of fairly familiar but challenging repertoire in only two hours a day for two weeks if I had no more time than that? My qualified answer if yes. And here are my top five takeaways:

1. Long-term preparation pays off. I was able to do this primarily because I had prepared and played most of these pieces before. The hard work that I did (in some cases YEARS before) was enough to make this abbreviated schedule workable.

2. Technique matters. I have found, especially as I age, that I play best when I have been doing focused technical work. While I love the efficiency of using parts of my repertoire pieces as technical exercises, for me that does not replace daily exercise work. When I can count on my fingers, playing any piece is easier. My current exercise choice: The Harpist’s Daily Dozen by Salzedo.

3. Scheduling practice time is crucial. I was able to look at those two weeks and block out practice time, just as if it were any other appointment. That discipline enabled me to keep my promise to myself and do my practice without anything else competing for my time and attention.

4. I love rotating repertoire. My 40/40/20 plan gave me only about a half an hour of “review,” which I dedicated to playing through pieces that didn’t need more concentrated work. That wasn’t enough time for every piece, but it gave me the chance to rotate pieces each day. I found that kept the pieces fresh and interesting.

5. Practice cramming is not ideal. No news here. Practice is part situational and part foundational. If you only practice for each particular situation (concert, audition, etc.) as it occurs, you are losing the foundation in technique and musical knowledge that you gain with a more rounded practice curriculum and a longer time frame. We should always seek to enlarge and strengthen our skill set through our practice, not just to learn the next page.

So would I do this again? Not on purpose. But knowing the nature of things, I am positive that this will not be the last time I find myself in a race against the calendar. And now I have a proven emergency plan which works.


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