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Diary of a practice session

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Many students ask about practice; how long should I practice?, how often? what should I practice? It's a very hazy area for many, and sadly many are fooled into the misconception that they must practice for long stretches of time and it must be every day (or almost every day). Inevitably life often gets in the way; leaving a feeling of frustration and failure at having missed the target. Some conscientious students will regardless push through and commit to their planned practice sessions; sometimes after a very stressful day, or emotionally challenging drama happening in the family etc. They grit their teeth and dig in, probably hating every moment of practice, resenting loss of their only bit of 'free' time that day, and consequently going down the dangerous 'lost my motivation/focus' path. In reality the time would have been spent far more wisely chilling out; leaving practice until another day.

In my humble opinion it's not necessarily the time spent practicing, but how you practice that will reap the most rewards, and you'll notice your skills broadening and progress pleasing. I decided this evening to takes notes on my practice session; I'm learning piano and have (foolishly!) recently bought the grade 8 ABRSM exam pieces book with the idea that I may try to achieve the coveted grade 8 before they change the syllabus at the end of 2016 (I'm not saying yet whether I'll achieve it but I'm going to give it a good try!). As a multi-instrumentalist I find giving ample practice time to all my instruments (soprano, alto saxes, sometimes sopranino, flute, clarinet, and piano) almost impossible so in a 'typical' practice session I'll usually practice two instruments, often with a longer session on one. 

The notes I've made showed how I approached my practice this evening; my practice session often vary greatly in content and approach as I like to keep things varied and take myself by surprise ;D. Here's what I did tonight;


Tuesday 31st March 2015. 7.20pm start;



I decided to focus on scales as I confess I have neglected them since taking my last exam before Christmas (tut tut!). I played all my majors, 4 octaves and on the way noticed my left hand fingers seemed weaker than my right hand, so I did left on their own to concentrate on the weight I was using whilst still trying to keep relaxed.

I tend to get stuck on a default speed which I know in reality is far too slow for grade 8 level. I picked a scale I am happy with, and played it about 8 times, increasing the speed on each playing; quite surprised myself that I didn't fall over my fingers as much as I thought I would. 

Observation; I've been holding my breath as I play. Try to breathe; your brain needs oxygen you numpty!

I stop myself when I get to Bb major as I'm free-styling on the fingering; sometimes getting away with it, sometimes not. I get the scale book out and play it very slowly around 7 times, then 4 times at a faster speed. I realised my error was in my left hand. I need to get to grips with this as my list A piece is in this key signature!

E minor melodic causes a few issues so again out comes the scale book. I soon sort this but the scale is just sounding as if it has no structure. I spend a couple of minutes stressing the scale in its groups of 4.

************************************************cup of tea has gone cold. Quick dash to the microwave************************************************

back again; having trouble with just the top turnaround on F# melodic minor; I loop this around a few times then play the scale again in its entirety. At this point I'm starting to lose interest in my scales (I've done all the majors, and the minors from C to F#; I'll complete these at another session and do arpeggios, extended scales, diminished, thirds etc another time).

I play my Chopin list C piece; just because I like it! The first two times I try to get my notes right although I'm still a bit stumbly. I pencil in notes for myself; warning triangles for bits that keep catching me out, and noting inversions of the chords etc. I play the piece one more, this time 'Alla Les Dawson' I actually go for the fluidity and expression this time; choosing to ignore any wrong notes and just let myself enjoy it!


At 8.16pm I move on to alto sax;

I play through Tango Etude no 1 by Piazzolla. Not very happy with my low notes (not speaking as easily as I'd like) and Altissimo A is not having it today. I notice that my mouthpiece patch seems to have slipped and worn a bit (I've had it on for months!) I put a new one on and with the mouthpiece 1/2 mm further in my mouth my low notes are speaking, tone is warmer, and altissimo A (after a gentle workout 'splitting' top Eb) starts to re-emerge. 

I run through 3 extended scales; Eb major, D major, and F minor melodic.

Lastly I drag out my Hal Leonard Latin Jazz book (all instruments) and play Mas Que Nada, and A day in the life of a Fool. I haven't played these particular arrangements before so I play the tune on first playing. I lose my place on the return to the DS but luckily 'wing' the melody (and it's actually not far off!). I have a go at soloing to the chart given; keeping it simple and basing my improvisation around the known melody and the 3rd notes of the chord (eg, E, in a C chord). 

It's 8.45pm now and I finish my session relaxed and having achieved some good things.

I microwave the cuppa once more, and now it's bath time! :D.



I hope you've found this insight useful; as said; I'm not advocating it to be the correct way to practice but just one viewpoint. I'll be back soon with another practice session log.


Night all.

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  1. Michael Pride

    Hi Keri, I found your practice session notes by accident whilst looking for a music teacher foolish enough to take on a 68 year old with a Alto and Tenor Sax that I would very much like to play properly! I have tried learning from books but to no avail, I cannot read music, but I would dearly like to. Despite my senior years I am still in full time work, Mon - Fri, finishing at about 5.15 at Clowne. I live in Langwith, so any chance of fitting me in, perhaps on an evening, or alternatively on a Saturday. I would like it to be fun as well as having a point to it. Hope you can help. Kind Regards, Michael

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