Is Your Practice Journal Working For You?

Does your practice journal need a makeover?

When looking through old practice journals, I see a change that has occurred over time. In older journals, I would write down each scale, exercise, and piece I worked on, and the exact number of minutes I spent on every step. My goal was to add up the amount of time I had spent and have it equal an impressive number of hours.

That was my goal. Hours.

BEFORE

It looked something like this:

  • 13 minute - Stretching
  • 10 minutes - Long Tones
  • 9 minutes - Harmonics
  • 15 minutes - TG 1
  • 23 minutes - TG 4
  • 5 minutes - TG 5
  • 26 minutes - Anderson Etude #5
  • Etc...

I don’t know who I was trying to impress with my exacting calculations, but I was a slave to my list and my timer. 

  • Did I have focused practice sessions where I learned things?
    • Absolutely! (Using a timer to stay focused on a particular goal is something I still do, and I find that I learn the most when using one!)
  • Did the desire to keep an impressive list of exercises and hours motivate me to complete a well-rounded, thorough practice session?
    • Definitely!

The point, however, is that the information I wrote down does nothing for me today. I've filled several notebooks with lists like this, and when I look back months and years later, what do they tell me that can help me today? Not very much.

After

More recent journals reflect the shift that has occurred in my practice goals and daily intentions. While I still strive to practice for a substantial length of time, my goals are now specific to learning and refining skills rather than the number of hours I spend doing it. My daily entries now contain several pages of actual sentences and paragraphs. I include questions, trials of experimentation, and observations, in addition to everything I've worked on and how long I spent doing it. (Like I said, I still love using a timer!) In three years when I open this book, I'll be reminded of that decrescendo-intonation breakthrough I made while practicing Moyse's De La Sonorite, and I'll have the specific instructions needed to reproduce the experience.

In Conclusion

In looking at your practice journal, consider whether or not you're including information that not only serves you during your practice session and throughout the week, but also over the course of several months and several years! Include sources of inspiration and detailed accounts of growth that will help your practice journals feel like hidden treasures when you re-open them years later!