Practice Charts

I started using practice charts only a few years ago when I had several students that had a difficult time developing good practice habits. I found the charts helped them see how much practice time they were actually getting (most people practice significantly less than they think they do), but the charts also helped students see what they tend to practice, and more importantly what they tend to avoid.

Even though the motivation was to help my students, I found that the practice charts were even more helpful for me. In retrospect, I can see why. For younger players (such as beginners) it is far more important that they just develop habits of playing and having fun while playing, so practice isn’t viewed as laborious and tedious. If you are teaching young players, you need to keep the details of high-level pedagogy to yourself, and if you are going to try to infuse it into your teaching, you have to do it discreetly. The detrimental results of demotivating a student from wanting to practice are more problematic than less efficient practice for a beginner. Therefore beginners do not really need to keep accurate notes of what they practice in order to improve- they just need to play.

The further one travels on the journey toward becoming a professional/working musician/teacher the more important it is that practice sessions are highly specific and focused. Goals need to be specific and built from session to session in the most efficient manner possible. I learned first-hand how valuable keeping accurate notes was for my development. I feel like each year my practice sessions become even more productive. Here are some reasons why:

Total honesty with practice time.  Most people do not practice as much as they think they do.  Practice charts help illuminate that.

Humans tend to avoid the things that are less gratifying to practice.  If you want to be a professional, you have to develop your weaknesses until they become strengths. Practice charts make it painfully obvious if you are avoiding any technical areas, and then enable you to address them proportionally.

Human memory is biased. We tend to lose track of how much time we have put into developing something. With practice charts, I can start to see how many minutes it takes to learn a new solo or solve a specific technical issue within my playing. This information is as valuable as gold for the developing brass player. Everything has a cost. Our currency is time.

Humans like to fill in charts. When you see a trend in your practice (let’s say 8 units a day for 5 days straight) it can actually become a motivating factor to help you get 8 units on the 6th day. We have a need for order, symmetry, and continuation. As trivial as it sounds, keeping a chart will help you fill in the chart- the byproduct is more practice time.

Practice charts help us practice in smaller, more focused chunks of time. This has tremendous benefit for us both mentally and physically. This cannot be overstated. We need mental and physical breaks in our practice in order to keep our productivity at the highest level possible.

Practice charts help control against our OCD/ADD tendencies.  We all gravitate toward more 'OCD' or more 'ADD' habits in life. Some of us can practice the same line for an hour, some of us get bored before progress has really been made and struggle with 'following through'. With practice charts, one can more successfully find the middle ground.  By ‘forcing’ us to either spend an entire 15 minutes working on a specific goal, or by ‘forcing’ us to ONLY spend 15 minutes working on a specific goal, it becomes a way to control our more extreme mental tendencies.

Here is a video where I talk about practice charts. Watch this, then download the practice chart and try it.

Practice Chart PDF


Remember to take care of your body while you practice.  Follow this link for some great resources on stretches and body rehab work you can do in between practice units!