More About Practice: reflecting on music-making

When you read or hear the word “practice,” what do you think about? This is a question that everyone has an answer to, but the answer is often negative in nature, ranging from “I have to practice everyday if I ever want to be good” to “practice is boring and I’d rather be doing something else.” A few weeks ago, I posted a survey about practice that I hope will help students view practice as what it ideally is: music making, learning, a venue to explore creativity, and hundreds of other positive experiences. (I am still compiling answers to said survey from students here at A Street, which I will share when I am able).

A great former teacher of mind shared a half-truthful joke with me recently that I’ve revised slightly: 70% of four-letter expletives spoken at any given time in Boston, MA happen in the small area that includes Berklee, New England Conservatory, and Boston Conservatory, and 95% of those are happening inside of practice rooms. Practice can be hard! People make mistakes all the time in practice, and it can be really frustrating. Some musicians have a hard time practicing because they don’t know how to make goals for what they want to accomplish. Other musicians, like the people mentioned in the joke above, set very strict goals that can drive them crazy.

I’m going to stop myself now before I start writing a thesis on practicing. I could go on and on about this subject, because I’ve been through my own troubled relationship with practice. Luckily for me, I learned how to treat practice as a positive experience – as a time for me to explore music and to grow in my ability to express myself musically. The worst way – the absolute worst way to practice – is to be judgmental of oneself. This does not mean that you can’t be self critical, but the moment you apply a judgmental word or phrase like “bad” or “not good enough,” practice will become a negative experience. At A Street Music, I’ve just created practice logs for our students, and I’m sharing both of them here on the blog. These logs are designed to help students of music reflect on what they do in practice in a positive and constructive way.

Reflection is a really important part of the learning process, and setting goals based on observations of practice is a great way for any student to move forward. The first document is a weekly log, with spaces for daily entries regarding practice. The log requires that the student notate short and medium term goals, and answer four questions each day: How long did you practice, what did you practice, how did you improve, and what did you learn.

A Street Music Weekly Practice Log

The second document requires that a student focus on specific material on which he/she is working. Both sheets have some space for teacher suggestions, this second sheet especially. However, both forms can be easily adapted in case you don’t have a regular teacher.

Directed Practice Log

Enjoy the logs, and have fun practicing. Please feel free to comment.

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About Justin Stanley, Teaching-Artist
I'm a musician and educator based in Boston, MA.

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