How can I structure a good practice session?

As with anything in life, we need a plan to tackle tasks.  Whether it's your daily to do list, a marathon training program, or sitting down to practice your instrument, success comes from a having a plan for small and large tasks alike.  With practicing an instrument, its a good idea to have some structure in place when sitting down to practice.  In other blogs I’ve talked about the length of time I would advise for students to practice depending on their age, so this blog is not going to address that topic.  But how you or your child approaches a practice session can make all the difference.  

Pick the days of the week that you or your child can practice.

I find that just picking out the days in the week that I will do certain tasks for work, or having a schedule for my runs (I’m training for a couple races) make a big difference in my ability to approach the week and get things done.  The same thing can be said for picking the days you will practice.  My one student seems to practice on the same days each week, always getting in a practice session before our lesson on Mondays and focusing her other practicing days on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  For others, they might want to put all of their practicing during the weekdays.  Either approach is fine, jut as long as you have an approach and schedule these sessions out.  Not having a plan is a recipe for disaster as it can always be put off to tomorrow.  Along these lines, it might make sense to pick the same time each day to sit down and practice as establishing that pattern can be very helpful to stick to a regular schedule.

When you’re actually sitting down to practice

1 Looking over the teacher’s assignments for the week

2.     Start the practice session with 5 minutes of warm-ups (scales, arpeggios, body exercises).

3.     Tackle the tough stuff first

  • Don’t just play the song from the beginning to the end all the way through, unless this is the exploratory phase.  Once you get past that stage, you need to start focusing in on sections of the piece, maybe 2 - 3 measures at a time.  

  • When you’ve gotten through those tough sections, start from before where they start and play through that entire section including the tough spots.  Then go back to the beginning and see how playing through the piece feels.  If there are new spots that become challenging, isolate those sections and work through them 2 - 3 measures at a time.  

3.     Mix up the different sections to get out of the habit of only being able to play a piece when it’s in a particular order.  When you really know a piece well, you could drop in at any section and start playing from that point on.

4.     Reward yourself with the easier pieces next

  • Experiment with playing sections in wildly contrasting dynamic ranges, or with different tempos than they are written in.  The key is to learn the material so well that you can make alterations and still be able to play the piece.

  • Try to see how much of these songs you have memorized, and if you can pick up any interesting patterns you may have missed before.

5.     Don’t neglect music theory!

  • Theory is all of the concepts that make up the language of music, and it’s all just as important as actual playing.

  • If you teacher has assigned you some pages in the book, this is a great time to work on them.

  • For fun and for further exploration - some other things to work on towards the end of the practice session.  If you have 5 minutes to spare, try a few of these!

    • Sightreading

    • Rhythm reading

    • Improvising

    • Composing melodies

    • Just playing to have fun!

7.     Now that you’ve gotten through everything, take a moment to go over what went well, when you felt distracted or frustrated by something, and what you think you could achieve the next time you sit down to practice.  Like a to do list we write out to tackle the next work day, maybe write down something you think you’d like to start with first when you get the chance to practice again later in the week.  That way you’ll be starting with something you know you need to work on, and won’t spend any time trying to remember what it was that you wanted to work on.


Happy Practicing!