How to Form a Great Practice Routine

Forming a great practice routine can be challenging. You only have so much time to practice in a day, and out of context statements such as "I heard musician X practices scales 2 hours a day! Should I be doing that?" can lead you to forming routines that don't work for you. Sure, scale practice is very important - but before you sit down and spend a practice session on scales, consider that a practice routine should have the following four phases.

The Four Phases of a Practice Routine

Simply put, a practice routine should factor in these four phases:
  • Exercises for warming up and focusing on techniques or concepts you want to master
  • Tunes you're learning for building up your repertoire, consistently adding difficulty to grow your skills
  • Repertoire review for ensuring tunes you already know don't grow stale
  • Open practice time to play whatever you want to enjoy yourself and keep your interest.
Depending on what your current goal is, the amount of time spent in each of these phases may be change. For example, a beginner that doesn't have a larger repertoire may not spend much time on repertoire review, whereas a musician with an upcoming gig, performance, or recital might spend most of the time on repertoire review. 

Start by devising a practice routine that focuses on these phases. Here's what an example can look like in tuneUPGRADE:


Exercises: There are 10 minutes of warm ups and exercises with scales and hand independence exercises. Details for exercises can be captured in the practice notes for that exercise.

Tunes to Learn: This is where the majority of beginners will spend their time - building up the tunes they know and learning new techniques along the way. In this case, Hey Jude, Fur Elise, and Piano Man may all be tunes to learn. For an hour long practice routine, focusing on 2-3 songs at a time is a good benchmark depending on where they are relative to your skill level.

Repertoire: Include a small bit of repertoire review. tuneUPGRADE can automatically select repertoire pieces you haven't practiced in a while by using the smart tune features.

Open Practice: You've made it through your routine - now it's time to rock out! Was there something you wanted to get back to because you feel like you want to put more time in on it? Was there something you were enjoying doing and want to do more?

Stay On Track - And Adjust Often

The first time you try a new routine - it probably won't feel right. You might allocate too little time to one area, and too much to another. Each time you run through a routine, you might need to tweak it afterwards to right-size each part of it. You might even find you're taking on too much, and need to reduce what you're playing.

Make sure you keep in mind what you can reasonably handle and get through. A professional musician who doesn't have a day job might be able to allocate an hour or two to just their exercises, but an hour routine every single day for a hobbyist musician with a full time job might be fatiguing to get through. If you aren't making it through your routine - ask yourself why - are you losing interest? Are you not moving on when you should? 

Adjust as often as you need to. I tend to tweak my timings often, and once a month, rebuild my routine from scratch to ensure it keeps my interest and reflects any new goals I've set or things I've learned or want to try.

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