Feel like you over-practice? Like you sit in a chair for hours and never quite accomplish what you set out to do?

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with detail-work during a practice session, which is why it’s so important to create small goals, take breaks, and to also be okay with the fact that sometimes your goals may not be met. This does not mean that your practice time was wasted; it simply means that your body and your mind are not in the place to accomplish what you are asking of them at the time. That’s okay! If you maintain consistent practice and intentions for that practice, you will reach your goals in a time that is best for you.

Here is a basic example of what works for me as a healthy practice outline. This is aimed at an intermediate player who is used to at least two hours of practice per day. If this does not describe you, just cut down the number of sessions into smaller chunks!

Session 1 Warm Up: Approximately 15-20 min I cannot begin to tell you how important it is to warm up your hands. This is the equivalent of stretching for an athlete, and it also helps to warm up the mind for your following sessions. Focus on accuracy with the exercises you choose, and make sure that you are not doing any kind of speed practice here. If you have technical exercises you want to use for speed, add those to the beginning of a later session. Pay close attention to your tone quality, sound, and tension levels during your warm up. Try to be aware of any places that you feel tension gathering in and address those issues immediately. Stretch if you need to, and never be afraid of extending your slow warm up time, even if it cuts into a later session!

Session 2 Approximately: 30-45 min Okay, now you can start your goals! It helps me to have them outlined either directly in my music, or on a piece of paper in a list format that I can check off for satisfaction! Make sure that you don’t have goals like, FINISH THIS WHOLE STINKING PIECE! (I use this example because I have done that to myself more often than I care to admit!) Your session goals should be particularly small in order to be able to focus intently on them. An example of a goal might be to visualize and commit to memory one line of fingerings in a piece, and then to be able to play that passage slowly and accurately. Once that is accomplished, you can check it off your list, and the positive reinforcement of accomplishing that goal can help motivate you to add more goals as you go!

Break time! 20 minutes max: Now it’s time to rest your brain and your hands. Meditate, do yoga, or play with your dog! Do something that will bring your stress levels down, but not distract you too much from your previous session. It’s important to still maintain some focus so that you’re motivated to continue with your sessions. My ideal breaks are about 10 minutes. This gives me time to refresh without losing momentum!

Session 3: Approximately 30-45 min (Can be second to last or last session) Session three can either be similar to session two, or you can use this time to wrap up whatever goals you’ve been working on before. Now you can try some of those passages at tempo that you worked on slowly in the previous session, or practice running any pieces you’re preparing to perform. This is a great session to practice running a recital program.

You can add more sessions before this last session if you are used to practicing longer! Just make sure to add that break time in between each 30 or 45 minute session, and to only do what your hands allow!

Please know that this is not an extensive practice guide, and that everyone learns and grows differently. This is only meant to be an introduction to what can work as a daily practice habit.

-Kathryn Lambert