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#2085499 - 05/20/13 12:18 AM Music Practice Breaks
JosephAC Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/23/12
Posts: 168
Loc: Melbourne Australia
Hi

I am looking for some guidance on music practice time management.

Based on what I learnt at this forum, I break up my practice time to around 20 minutes or less sessions i.e I spent no more than 20 minutes on piece A before I move and work on piece A. I will resume working on piece A another time in the same day if time allows and the following day. For some pieces, I might spent 3 to 5 minutes as I repeat satisfactory run-throughs not more than 3x before I move on.

Needless, to say that each session whether 5 or 20 minutes is done with full concentration and end in mind. If you follow similar approach, my questions:
Do you move from one piece to the next with or without a break? Do you get away from the piano? How long is your break?

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#2085519 - 05/20/13 01:28 AM Re: Music Practice Breaks [Re: JosephAC]
SoundThumb Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/28/10
Posts: 325
Loc: San Diego, CA
I never take a break other than to stand and stretch. I have found that if I leave the piano for any significant amount of time, my concentration is broken and I probably will not return again that day. Seems like this is a very individual thing, so you may find you are most efficient when you practice just like the majority of other students, but also it is quite possible that you diverge from the nominal. Just saying that it may be interesting to know how your practice habits compare to the majority of others, but it is not necessarily very useful.

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#2085523 - 05/20/13 01:44 AM Re: Music Practice Breaks [Re: JosephAC]
JosephAC Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/23/12
Posts: 168
Loc: Melbourne Australia
Actually, I am looking to optimise my practice time. Hence habits are subjects to change and the usefullness of my original question. In my opinion, time mangement is a key ingredient to effective parctice routine.
For how long can you sustain your concentration without a break?

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#2085566 - 05/20/13 04:39 AM Re: Music Practice Breaks [Re: JosephAC]
earlofmar Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1128
Loc: Australia
I was a little surprised when I took up piano just six months ago how demanding it was. I found it was not possible to just practice without focus and all new pieces, even scales, needed a high level of concentration.

I think my concentration ability over the years had declined making it difficult now to get the best time management into my practice sessions. However I am fortunate in having more time than most. I will play through exercises, sight reading development, repertoire or new material until I feel the concentration slipping and then rotate. I think I spend 10-15 mins before my mind starts to wander too much and so I move on.

New pieces are terrible because I want to play them over and over until problems are ironed out. But more often than not I have to stop myself as eventually it seems futile. So I will go back a few hours later or the next day to the something that was tripping me up and invariably it can then, with a little more perseverance, be resolved.
_________________________
I thought I understood endurance sport; then I took up piano
XXXIII-4-XXX

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#2085567 - 05/20/13 04:46 AM Re: Music Practice Breaks [Re: JosephAC]
Michael_99 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/12
Posts: 935
Loc: Canada Alberta
JosephAC, I have read your post, here:

I am looking for some guidance on music practice time management.

Based on what I learnt at this forum, I break up my practice time to around 20 minutes or less sessions i.e I spent no more than 20 minutes on piece A before I move and work on piece A. I will resume working on piece A another time in the same day if time allows and the following day. For some pieces, I might spent 3 to 5 minutes as I repeat satisfactory run-throughs not more than 3x before I move on.

Needless, to say that each session whether 5 or 20 minutes is done with full concentration and end in mind. If you follow similar approach, my questions:
Do you move from one piece to the next with or without a break? Do you get away from the piano? How long is your break?

_______________________________________________

Practice time management routines I think are an ever shifting landscape.

I am a beginner working my way through my John Thompson method book 1 - of 5 books. I start my practice time with playing the pieces of book 1 non-stop from piece 1 to (currently piece 28) unless I make a mistake then I stop and play the piece and make sure I can play it without mistakes. It used to be that I would have to break up the practice into 20 minute intervals since I started playing a year ago - or the playing of 20 pieces at a time. It was always my future hope that I could play/practice longer playing without mistakes and staying fresh and alert. Just recently I have been able to play for about an hour at a time with a rest which can be a snack or a rest at a couch and then return to practice. My pieces are getting gently more difficult so I have to spend more time on the last 3 pieces working on them individually to where I work on the last pieces for 20 or 30 minutes each. But it can be that I go to the piano and know immediately it will be that I must play for smaller periods because my energy level is not perfect - feel tired or not alert enough.

The guide to practicing is always to be able to play/practice slowly without mistakes - else I walk way to return for another time that day.

When I am not at the piano, I usually read through the pieces I am working on making sure there is no hesitation on reading the music and I notice now I am able to see the patterns in the music as I read through the measures. I would read that people would always mention noticing patterns of the music but I think as a beginner at that time, there was just too much going on to really notice as I do now. It helps me when I return to the piano because I am just that much more familiar with the pieces I am working on/working through.

Without a doubt, playing any music at a very relaxed, comfortable pace, without errors, of course, gives you excellent "gas milage".

I can see as a beginner that not that far down the road I am going to have to spend way more time on the pieces individually as they become much more complex.

That is my daily routine, but it takes me many, many, many months of this daily routine before a piece is played at an acceptable level of being smooth and musical.

Also, critical to my well being is to step outside for a walk around the block for some fresh air. It is like charging a battery, my brain loves the fresh air slipping through the nostrils and wakes me up.


Edited by Michael_99 (05/20/13 11:07 AM)

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#2085576 - 05/20/13 05:30 AM Re: Music Practice Breaks [Re: JosephAC]
Saranoya Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/27/13
Posts: 474
Loc: Brussels, Belgium
First, a disclaimer: I was terrible (and I mean absolutely terrible) at practicing efficiently when I started lessons in September. Back then, I made up for that by just playing *lots* and *lots* of piano. But soon, for various reasons, it became impossible to invest the kind of time I really would have had to, if I had wished to continue progressing at all, without changing my practice habits.

So, I think I'm slowly becoming somewhat more effective at it. But I'm probably still terrible, compared to many here, and especially compared to those who are getting (or have gotten) really good at playing the piano, to a degree that has enabled them to consider conservatory, and/or a career as a professional musician.

All of that said ... here's my practice routine as it stands, right now:

First of all, I have two very important tools sitting on my music desk.

One is a metronome, which (as I only recently discovered) is not there to help me speed up my playing. It is there to help me slow things down enough that I can play with control and confidence.

The other is a stack of post-it notes. I tear them up into little strips and use those in the way that Mozart's father, according to a possibly apocryphal story I read somewhere, used peas: he would make his son start with ten peas in his right coat pocket, and every time he got a repetition of a troublesome set of measures right, one of the peas would go into the left coat pocket. If he got one repetition wrong, all of the peas in the left coat pocket would go back into the right coat pocket. The idea was to get him to do ten clean repetitions in a row. I do the same thing with post-it strips, which I will stick onto the right edge of the music desk to start, and then move to the left as I get through my repetitions. Usually, though, I stick to five repetitions, because ... well, there are only twenty-four hours in a day.

Now, a little more detail about the time I actually invest in playing the piano, and how I use these tools throughout that time:

I typically get up at around six o'clock in the morning, and will play for twenty minutes to half an hour (depending on how quickly I got going after the alarm sounded) right after waking up. This practice time is mostly devoted to playing things that are 'almost there', but need some more polish. I will do one of a few possible things with these pieces:

  • If the piece is already 'all there', but I keep making mistakes in unpredictable places when playing up to tempo, I will force myself to get five clean repetitions of the entire piece, at whatever tempo I can do that at *right now*. If I did it at 55BPM yesterday, then today I might be doing it at 65BPM. And I will keep that up until I'm up to tempo, or until my teacher tells me to move on to something else.
  • If the piece is all there, except for a few troublesome spots where I keep messing up every time, then the 'five clean repetitions' technique gets applied specifically to those troublesome spots. Usually in this case, I will do five clean reps right hand only, first, then left hand only, then hands together. If my five clean reps were at 45BMP yesterday, then today I might be trying 55BPM. You get the idea. And I will keep that up until I'm at the tempo where I am with the rest of the piece.
  • There are also sometimes pieces that are 'all there' to my ear, but where my teacher told me to correct a specific thing. For example, right now I'm working on a passage where the timing of my pedalwork was all off, and I hadn't heard that myself before my teacher pointed it out to me. These things are often much trickier to correct, because when I'm having trouble identifying the problem independently in the first place, I have to listen *very* carefully to even know whether I'm actually solving the problem. Usually, these take the most time to get right.


In the evenings, I usually do another hour of practice, in which I will work on new pieces that aren't all there yet, and on sight-reading. I don't do scales, because my teacher hasn't asked me to do them, and I find them rather boring, personally.

For new pieces, my practice routine is a little peculiar (at least according to my teacher). I can't do slow practice from the get-go (which is why I usually end up slowing down significantly *after* a piece is almost done to get all the mistakes out). Why? Because I am an instant memoriser. So with a new piece, I will play through it once as I read, right hand first, left hand second, up to tempo or something close to it. That way, the 'shape' of the piece sticks in my memory, and I don't need the score anymore. If I were to play too slowly at this stage, I wouldn't be able to remember the music. I'd have to keep referring to the score, and my natural inclination is not to do that (though it probably wouldn't hurt my sight-reading skills).

After that, I will play through the piece hands separate a few times, with the score in front of me, but usually not looking at it. Sometimes, I will do right-hand practice on a piece one day, and once that's reasonably secure, stop and do the other hand the next day. Or I might break the piece down into sections, and do right hand, left hand, and hands together on the same day, then stop and do the next section the next day. Most of the time, though, I do right-hand and left-hand practice on the same day, and then hands together the next day.

I usually stop when I can do either right hand, left hand, or hands together reasonably smoothly (usually with mistakes, but without stopping). I will then, often, get away from the piano and go get something to drink, or check my e-mail, or go to the toilet, or do something else that will only take a minute or two. When I come back I'll focus on a different new piece, on sight-reading, on improvising, or when I'm really tired, on playing something I already know. I would guess my evening hour of practice usually gets broken down into two thirty-minute slots this way.

Once a piece gets to the 'all there, but needs more polish' stage, it gets moved to the morning slot.

Hope that helps!
_________________________
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#2085578 - 05/20/13 05:36 AM Re: Music Practice Breaks [Re: JosephAC]
Sam S Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/12/07
Posts: 1350
Loc: Georgia, USA
There has been research that supports breaking the work up into segments with rest between.

There is a technique called pomodoro that has become quite popular, and even spawned an internet industry. Basically you work for 25 minutes at a task, then take a 5 minute break. It's called pomodoro after a kitchen timer in the shape of a tomato that was used originally to time the tasks. They even sell the timer.

wikipedia page for pomodoro technique

The pomodoro technique

I use it, more or less. I don't have a timer, but I find that I naturally run out of steam after 20 - 30 minutes, and I take a very short break (get up to get the next piece of music, record the time, take a drink of water, back to practice).

But the timer is sort of cute...

Sam
_________________________
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#2085594 - 05/20/13 06:54 AM Re: Music Practice Breaks [Re: JosephAC]
-Frycek Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/06/05
Posts: 5921
Loc: SC Mountains
I'm always hopping up and down. I usually good for no more than 30-45 minutes at a stretch. I'll practice, and then go unload the dishwasher, practice, go and get ready for work, practice, go water my plants, check my email, feed the parrot etc. I generally get up at four, manage two hours of practice in the morning (spread over about 4 hours) and another hour after work, pretty much in one stretch.
_________________________
Slow down and do it right.

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#2085615 - 05/20/13 07:54 AM Re: Music Practice Breaks [Re: -Frycek]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 10798
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: -Frycek
I'm always hopping up and down. I usually good for no more than 30-45 minutes at a stretch. I'll practice, and then go unload the dishwasher, practice, go and get ready for work, practice, go water my plants, check my email, feed the parrot etc. I generally get up at four, manage two hours of practice in the morning (spread over about 4 hours) and another hour after work, pretty much in one stretch.
This is more like how I am. I will sit at the piano for 45 minutes to an hour, but my work is broken down into 15-minute segments. So I have a specific task that I want to work on in that 15 minutes, and then I move on to something else. Sometimes, I go over if I need to finish what I'm doing, and sometimes I move onto another area in the same piece if I complete the task sooner than 15 minutes. I will usually come back to the piano if I plan for it (if I have a break in between lessons, for example).

One thing I'd like to add is that the level of piece you are working can vary the amount of time spent per piece.

One concern I have with the OP is that he mentioned spending 3-5 minutes running through a piece. The "running through" thing is not very productive use of time, and I only do this once in a while to see how things are going with my individual tasks or to find new areas to concentrate on. Of course, if you are working on elementary 16-measure pieces, then the "running through" practice is going to be a bit more useful. However, it can instill bad practicing habits now if you're not careful.

Before you run through the piece, try to find areas that you hesitate, that you're not sure how to play, that you play a wrong note etc., and work on those areas first. If you don't know where to start, play through the piece it tempo and wherever you make your first mistake, that is what should be worked on. Ask yourself these questions:

1) What was the mistake I made? This could be anything from a wrong note to awkward fingering, not understanding the rhythm, difficulty in a transition from one idea to the next. It's important to identify what you did wrong so that you can effectively find a solution to that problem. Fixing the wrong problem won't help. Be sure to pick a small enough passage to work on effectively.

2) Why did I make that mistake? This is also important. Sometimes a mistake is made because we spaced out and just weren't paying attention. This is usually a fluke, and it happens. However, most mistakes happen for a reason, so this is where you figure out that reason: you wanted to play B instead of C because you misread the note, you were inattentive in this part and so you weren't looking ahead at the next measure, you don't really know what the correct rhythm is, etc.

3) How can I fix that mistake? Hopefully by correctly identifying the mistake and the reason for it, you would be led to ways to solve it. This could be anything to writing the correct note in your score, slowly working out the correct fingering (or a better fingering solution that works for you), tapping and counting the rhythm, etc. Sometimes a small problem only needs one solution, but a larger problem will need to be approached in several ways to resolve. Also, when you are doing this kind of practicing, be sure to practice your solution many times until it's easy. Practicing a passage in rhythms for example (swinging the 8th notes) is not very helpful if you don't do it once.

4) Did my solution fix the problem? It's important to assess whether or not what you did helped. Sometimes the problem is fixed in one session. Other times, you may need to do the same solution over a period of days or even weeks. You should feel progress, however, even if the problem isn't completely resolved in one sessions. If you do not feel any progress after one session of playing through your "solution" then it's possible you will need to try something else.

5) Can I now play this passage within the context of the piece? It is important once you've done your trouble-shooting to try and play the measure to two before and after the passage to make sure you can get into it. Sometimes another problem is the transition from one idea to the next, and so some creative practice techniques might be needed to help you reincorporate this passage back into the entire piece.

The more creative you are in the methods used to work out a problem, the more interesting your practice time will be. There are, of course, standard techniques that might be applicable. These include: practicing in rhythms (long-short, short-long, chunks of fast 3-notes at a time, and 4 notes at a time), slow practice, staccato or legato (the opposite of what is written), blocking chords, playing just the notes that land on the first beat of the measure, practicing with accents, shadow playing (playing a note but not pressing down the key so it doesn't sound), alternating RH/LH, playing one or two notes of a chord instead fo all 3 or 4, and I know there are more but you kind of get the idea.
_________________________
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www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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#2085638 - 05/20/13 08:55 AM Re: Music Practice Breaks [Re: JosephAC]
zrtf90 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/29/12
Posts: 2238
Loc: Ireland (ex England)
I tend to work on five main pieces each day Mon-Fri and do technique and repertoire maintenance at weekends.

As pieces change focus over time the mental demands change. When a piece is new most of the time is mentally demanding, concentrating on technically difficult passages one hand at a time, putting polyrhythmic or syncopated passages together and memorising the music. As the pieces develop they become easier as practise involves just a few slow repetitions of each of typically four to six sections.

If all the pieces are new I'm exhausted after about forty minutes on four pieces (I can easily spend twenty minutes on a new Bach piece) if all the pieces are being joined from small mastered and memorised sections into larger sections I can go for over ninety minutes on six or seven pieces. I try to get a balanced mix each week of about thirty minutes hard graft and sixty minutes of joining and securing each day.

I typically interrupt each difficult piece or two easier pieces with a two to five minute break walking round the garden or taking light refreshment.
_________________________
Richard

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