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18 October 2017

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What makes "The Perfect Practice Session"?

What should you include in a daily practice session and how long should you spend on each section.

This post is in response to a question I received on my YouTube channel, after last week's, which I thought would make another interesting topic for today's post. 

The Viewer Nighthawk wrote:
What should you include in a daily practice session and how long should you spend on each section.

First of all, thank you for the question Nighthawks and by the way, if anyone reading this has a question they would like me to consider covering in a future post, please leave a comment below.

So, to the topic in hand, "What Makes the Perfect Practice Session?" Of course there is not one simple answer, but I think some basic principles should cover what would constitute a "Perfect Practice Session".

Firstly, I would include all of the above areas everyday, i.e. Pieces, Sight Reading and Scales. I would be interested to know at this point, honestly do you incorporate all three of these aspects every day? You can let me know in the comments below.

Scales are probably a good idea to warm up with and once they are known they don't take that long. To go through every scale for your grade every day, should take from 5 minutes for Grade 1, to half an hour for Grade 8.

So, many people, to be blunt, suck at sight reading and if I'm honest when I was going through the grade system, it wasn't my strongest point. However, this is because it is simply the most neglected part of daily practice. If you're learning a new piece then by definition, there will be some sight reading involved, but very often this kind of sight reading is very tentative and with a poor sense of pulse. Even with a new piece, try to keep the flow going, playing slowly with a metronome to force you to keep in time. I have also developed a sight reading trainer HERE  which will do just that, force you to keep going as you play along with the videos. Why not give it a try and do at least one example EVERY DAY.

Finally and everyone's favourite - the pieces. Last week I talked about some bad practice habits that don't make effective use of time. For me to prescribe a set time for a particular grade misses the point. Rather, for a "Perfect Practice Session", you should prescribe for yourself a goal for that session. By all means, play through once some of the old stuff that you have already learned just to keep it ticking over, but spend 90% of your time achieving a specific goal for that day. For example, you might want to increase the speed a particularly tricky four bar section using a metronome. Your session can be described as "perfect" not dependent on how many minutes you spent, but on whether you achieved your goal for that day.

A couple of final points. Firstly, it might be a good idea to split your day's practice into a couple of sessions. Sometimes after a period of time, our muscles and also our concentration need a break to work at optimum level. If you are getting to a point of frustration where you can't achieve what you want - STOP and come back later, refreshed and calm. Secondly, you have probably seen some of my video performances of the grade pieces. I find the quickest way to learn for example, a Grade 8 piece in just a few days, is with a metronome. I probably use the metronome in my practice about 75% of the time. Obviously there comes a point you need to wean yourself off this tool so as to play musically and not mechanically, but for learning technically difficult passages, especially fast ones, it is the most effective method I can recommend.

I said at the outset, that I would be interested if anyone has any other questions I could consider for a future post, so if you haven't done so already, please leave a comment below.

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