How we organize practice: Part I

Organizing practice sessions: Part I

We’ve gone through many iterations of practice organization. In the post, I’ll describe what we’re doing now and the resources we use to accomplish it.

First, we practice every day. Even lesson days, group class days, whatever. It’s a habit. We modify our routine heavily on lesson days; but we always do some warmup.

We use printed sheets that I designed to act as a guide and checklist for practice. We try to mimic the order of her lessons (sort of) when doing practice. The current sheet that I use has two sides. The front side has seven sections, one for each day of the week. Each day block has fields that I fill out based on her teacher’s assignments for the week. I usually fill them out during the lesson. The back side of the sheet is designed to structure notes during the lesson. The lesson notes are on the back side so that I can write on that side of the page and the front side of the next sheet (where I’m implementing the practice plan for the next week) during the lesson without having to flip back-and-forth.

Back side

Again, the reverse side of the practice sheet is for me to take notes during the lesson. It has fields for:

  • Date
  • Questions - I usually spend a few minutes before leaving for lessons trying to think of questions that have come up during the week. It’s a reminder for me to ask at the end of the lesson.
  • Warm-ups - Her lesson usually starts with tonalizations, scales, etc.; so I write down what she did, what needs work, and so forth.
  • Schedule - The studio teacher keeps a list of calendar items and reminders on a whiteboard. I write those down each week so that I can recall what events are coming up.
  • Notes - This is the body of the sheet, where I record comments about repertoire and what the teacher wants us to work on.
  • Assignments - When her studio teacher makes an explicit assignment, I write it here then I copy it over to the next week’s daily practice schedule.

I don’t bother to write this neatly because I’m usually the only one who reads it.

Front side

The front side is the main area to which we refer during the week. In our binder it’s the next page, again, so that I can write on both sides without flipping pages. There are blocks for each day of the week beginning with day after lesson day and ending with lesson day.

Each day’s block is divided into two sections: morning and afternoon because we practice twice a day. Morning is black and afternoon is blue to distinguish the two. We repeat some of the items such as tonalizations because they are intended to warmup and “tune” the ear before moving into the repertoire. The morning block has the following items:

  • Tonalizations - We always begin with tonalizations. Here I write down what position (1st - 4th) that we do for major (M) and minor (m). There’s not much space to write; so I abbreviate everything heavily.
  • Scale - The scale that she should work on.
  • Lesson - Refers to the lesson in her note-reading book.
  • Lines - These are the lines in the note-reading lesson that she should work on that day.
  • Fiddle 1 and Fiddle 2 - The names of any fiddle tunes that she is preparing. This is something we do mostly on our own.
  • Working - These are the current working pieces, the three most recent pieces that we play through twice each day.
  • Vibrato - Any vibrato exercises that she should do.
  • Scale book - Exercises in her scale book
  • Fiddle rhythms - Exercises from a fiddle rhythms book. This has been inactive lately.
  • Other - Anything else that we need to concentrate on.

The afternoon block is similar:

  • Tonalizations
  • Shifting Any shifting exercises that are assigned
  • Book 1 rotation All of the Book 1 pieces are on a review rotation (I’ll get to that part some other time…)
  • Book 2 rotation Same as above but for Book 2
  • Book 3 rotation Same as above but for Book 3
  • Vibrato - We do that same vibrato exercises again.
  • Ear training - We try to do some interval training exercises
  • Other/comments - This is used mainly for bits that we need to give extra attention to - audition prep, recital prep, etc.
  • Date
  • M/D - Did Mom or Dad do practice this day? Usually Dad.

As we complete each item, either ViolinGirl or I put a little red dot on the sheet. We don’t always do the items in this exact order; and the order doesn’t exactly conform to the way the lesson goes. Mainly, this sheet is a checklist for us.

I hope this has been helpful to you. I’ve included pdf’s of the front and back sides of the sheets and the original document which is in Omnigraffle format in case you want to modify it for yourself. Next up, I’ll post part II with our rotation schedule.


Written by:

Alan is the main practice partner and accompanist for a young violinist.