The Perfect Practice Recipe

Have you ever been stumped trying to figure out how to organize your practice? Sometimes it’s because we have too much to do; other times it’s because we don’t have enough to do and our practice is aimless. Here’s my solution for those times I need a little structure: I use my “40/40/20” recipe.

The “40/40/20” method is easy to explain. Every day, 40% of your practice time should be devoted to technique and musicianship, another 40% to pieces in progress, and the remaining 20% on reviewing repertoire. I would divide a one-hour practice session like this: 25 minutes for technique, 25 minutes for current pieces, and 10 minutes for review. The math isn’t exact, but it’s close enough.

From a teacher’s standpoint, it’s like a megavitamin: everything is in that one formula. You will be working on scales and arpeggios or other exercises and etudes, which are necessary to warm up your fingers and develop your technique. You will be working on pieces that you are learning, as well as keeping older repertoire fresh. A student who follows this plan will always make progress.

But what if you have so much music to learn that you don’t have time for scales and etudes? That 40% is to be spent on technique. Nobody says you have to practice LaRiviere, if you can practice your scales from one of the pieces you are learning. For example, one of my favorite arpeggio exercises is the Waltz of the Flowers cadenza. There is no need for separate arpeggio practice when that cadenza is on my music stand.

And if the 40% to be devoted to your current pieces doesn’t seem long enough, you either need more practice time in general, or you need to learn to work faster. In most cases, it is possible to work better in a compressed timeframe. If you know you only have 25 minutes to practice your pieces, you will work faster, with greater focus and concentration.

Is it really necessary to review repertoire? Absolutely! Not only will you have something prepared to play when friends come to visit, but by reviewing pieces you used to play, you will renew the skills and coordination you needed to learn them the first time. The more variety of pieces you play, the more comfortable you will be at the harp, and the more your reading speed and facility will increase.

So whether you are a very busy harpist or one who needs a little extra motivation, this practice recipe can work miracles. It does for me.

Teachers, this is a fabulous way to organize your students’ weekly practice. Write in their journals what they need to practice and how long it should take them. I find it really helps keep students focused and on track.

In a future post, I will show you how to combine musicianship training – ear training, theory, dynamics and articulation – with your technical workout.

How will you use your 40/40/20 this week?

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