Practice Goal Setting

January 27, 2013

After 26 days of posting daily practice notes it has become obvious to me that most of my practice sessions are aimless. While I do learn new music, and incorporate new or improved technique into my playing, this is more due to exposure and repetition than some grand plan. It's time to have a grand plan, or at least a plan.

Each week at my lesson we review the things I've worked on since the last lesson and David assigns me things to work on for the next lesson. Usually these assignments are fairly general, "Schröder #31", or "Minuet 2, starting with individual bows and not slurs". It's up to me to break these assignments down into something I can practice.

Normally at the start of a practice session I glance at the assignment sheet in my notebook and decide what I want to play that evening. I almost always warm up with scales or finger patterns, and then I move on to my current pieces. Some evenings I latch onto some aspect of a piece that needs improvement and I worry at it until it is improved. Other evenings I end up just playing and not practicing. Without a goal in mind it's too easy to fiddle (ha!) around and not focus.

Starting with my lesson on Tuesday I plan on jotting down goals for each of my pieces. For example, in Minuet 1 I have trouble starting the trill at the end of the first line on C, I tend to start it on B. So one goal would be to correct the trill. I also get fumble-fingered midway through the B section at the same place every time. Last night I penciled in finger numbers as a way to break this cycle. So another goal would be to correct fingering - and list the measures where I need work.

With a list of goals for each piece I would have something to work toward each night and each week. My practice notes would become a record of what I had done toward specific passages or technical problems, and not just a recitation of what I played that evening. It isn't that I haven't been goal oriented all along in my playing, but only having those goals in my head makes it too easy to fudge a little here and there. Which results in progress through happenstance rather than purpose.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.