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Piano Practice Checklist!

Posted By: Bobpickle

Piano Practice Checklist! - 12/05/12 10:41 AM

It seems like we're all looking to improve upon the efficiency of our practice sessions as time isn't always as abundant as we'd like, so I thought this might be a beneficial thread topic for this sub-forum. It especially might be of value to those like me who are familiar with some of the below ideas as well as their particular value, but have trouble following through with them as they get distracted easily, by their ego or some other force unless they follow a checklist or remind themselves via notes (my life in a nutshell).

My idea is to construct a 1-page checklist (in Microsoft Word or an equivalent) of how to conduct practice sessions at the piano (of at least 10-15 minutes to make writing in an accompanying journal worthwhile). The checklist is to be made thorough enough that it addresses any and all concerns about how to practice (in general terms), but also concise and articulate enough that it's easy to navigate and takes up no more than but 1 page. The end result is that you have a practice journal and a 1-page checklist for how to conduct practice sessions throughout your career.

I think you could also keep journal pages separated specifically for different weekly practice topics (i.e. repertoire, technique, improvisation, etc.) and pick-and-choose what to practice by topic, though while I do think you should keep pages separated/divided like this, for organization, I don't feel that this method of practicing allows for much, if any, spontaneity despite still ultimately pursuing your same weekly goal(s).

Below is my 1-page rough draft copied (the dressed up word .doc is attached should you choose to view the nicer edition). Please critique it for my benefit as well as everyone else should they choose to adopt such a practice. Also, if you're confused on any part or would like some clarification, just ask!

Before Practice:

1) Write and/or review WEEKLY GOALS (or other large-scale time period)

2) Review prior journal entry/entries to set up for practice

3) Write date in journal

4) Write general goals of practice session (sight-reading, repertoire and specific piece(s), technique, improvisation, etc.)

5) Write SPECIFIC goals of practice session (1 page of reading practice, piece title and, more specifically, measures/phrases x,y,& z brought up to tempo, practice improvising with these scales and accompaniments, etc.)


6) Optional (Repertoire): Divide repertoire piece(s) into phrases and list in order of difficulty

7) Optional (Repertoire): Write in fingerings you won’t remember

8) Take it slow - "When you think you are practicing very slowly...slow down some more. You spoil everything if you want to cut corners. Nature itself works quietly. Do likewise. Take it easy. If conducted wisely, your efforts will be crowned with success. If you hurry, they will be wasted and you will fail." - Franz Liszt

9) PRACTICE MAKES PERMANENT: 5 PERFECT repetitions make for perfect performance (PPI)

10) Avoid mindless practice; make every note sing – “Always play as though a master were present” – Robert Schumann

Before quitting practice, pick one thing and practice it slowly, playing it evenly and beautifully

Post Practice:

1) Note in Journal progress with specific practice goals and whether they need be touched on again next session(s) (ex. Measures/phrases a,b, & c are fluent at tempo x)

Link to Download Word .docx file (Click the SMALL BLUE Download icon)

Lastly, please keep this thread friendly and focused on the topic on hand. Thanks!

While I often think my threads are worthy nominees for stickies, I really think it about this one! laugh

edited: to include Liszt slow practice quote
Posted By: Michael_99

Re: Piano Practice Checklist! - 12/05/12 01:34 PM

Pobpickle, excellent idea. Much needed.
Posted By: PianoStudent88

Re: Piano Practice Checklist! - 12/05/12 09:33 PM

I've tried keeping a practice journal, but it takes up so much space to write what I think I'm supposed to be keeping track of, that it's too lengthy to be easily reviewed for a bird's-eye view of where I've been, where I'm at, and where I'm going. I don't know how to solve this.
Posted By: JimF

Re: Piano Practice Checklist! - 12/05/12 10:40 PM

Last item on the list: Tell yourself "good work today" then close the fallboard.
Posted By: jotur

Re: Piano Practice Checklist! - 12/05/12 11:08 PM

I eventually go bananas with that kind of checklist laugh For me, it generates too much pressure/stress.

I keep a loose-leaf 3-ring binder with a page for each piece of repertoire (at this point in my life my practice is defined by repertoire). So I do note each day on that piece's sheet what I've done.

I also keep a running page that just lists, day-by-day, which pieces I practised and my total time.

Recently, since I have a twice-a-month gig at the same place, I've been more concerned about making sure all my pieces are in playable shape, so I don't bug them with the same pieces each time. So I have a monthly schedule that lists a couple of new pieces I'm just starting, a couple that are in the mid-stage, a couple in the final-ready-for-gigging stage, and a list of 5 pieces of repertoire for each week of the month for review.

So far I've almost never used the "review" list, other than at the last minute before a gig to make sure I have a little something different laugh

I'm only obsessive on the surface.

Posted By: Sand Tiger

Re: Piano Practice Checklist! - 12/06/12 04:53 AM

Originally Posted by PianoStudent88
I've tried keeping a practice journal, but it takes up so much space to write what I think I'm supposed to be keeping track of, that it's too lengthy to be easily reviewed for a bird's-eye view of where I've been, where I'm at, and where I'm going. I don't know how to solve this.

Less can be more. Spend 10 minutes on the journal once a week, and whatever you can write out is enough. Hit the highlights such as major pieces that you may be working on or completed, average practice time per day, days missed. It may not be comprehensive, but it is a lot better than nothing, and also better than spending hours a week on journaling instead of practicing.

I keep my "journal" by posting once a week to the AOTW thread (Achievement of the Week thread). I find it helpful. Some weeks I feel like I have accomplished nothing, until I start to write.
Posted By: PianoStudent88

Re: Piano Practice Checklist! - 12/06/12 05:15 AM

Thank you, Sand Tiger, that is a helpful suggestion.
Posted By: zrtf90

Re: Piano Practice Checklist! - 12/06/12 02:36 PM

The checklist must be relevant to the practise system adopted and that will always be different for each individual. The purpose is to ensure nothing of importance (to the individual) is neglected. You may of course develop it into a 'Standard Operating Procedure'.

Mine would be of little use to someone who uses a different system or approach, or someone who prefers to be less methodical.

On the journal front, I use a school exercise book (6" x 8"). One page per week. I keep it on the piano and have a collection going back years. The contents and layout changes to accommodate new practise methods.

My journal supports my current practice system. It changes to suit. You need to find what works for you. I need to have a goal for every day and I need to know whether I've achieved it. I can't stick with one or two pieces until they're done, I need to change them every week - I also find both they and I improve from the time away.

It takes me few minutes on Sunday to write out my pieces and target measures for the week ahead and next to no time each day to tick what I've completed, cross what I've not and dash or leave blank where I've not attempted.

Posted By: Bobpickle

Re: Piano Practice Checklist! - 12/09/12 09:36 AM

Interesting responses! Thanks for all of the thought put into your posts. I see that this is a completely personal/personalized practice

I think I'll find it useful to remind me of certain rules and pieces of advice when I'm struggling to help me through

and for mentions of keeping a journal - so long as thoughts recorded into the journal are concise and articulate, I feel it helps to keep my mind organized and thus ultimately able to better focus on the task at hand. Keeping such a log need not be such a hassle, as often presumed, and the way I see it, the benefits wrought from the small amount of time and energy invested into one far outweigh the sum of any cons.
Posted By: Forrest Halford

Re: Piano Practice Checklist! - 12/15/12 07:46 PM

Bob, I have to thank you again for leading me to Graham Fitch's blog


I read an entry before practicing, sort of a 'meditation' if you will.

He's good. REAL good.

I was a music major (Bachelor of Arts with emphasis in piano) but I consider myself a beginner in that I'm trying to rebuild technique in a way that doesn't cause stress and I haven't been playing (at a higher level) for some 20 years due to not having a quality acoustic instrument.

That changed this past March and I'm back in the world of 'flow'.

Oddly enough, these days my practice sessions have less sound and more thought behind each phrase, I rarely play through anything at speed even when I've acquired enough technique to be able to.

I use the metronome to set the tempo in my mind, rarely using it while my fingers are engaged with the keys.

In my college days and earlier I used to let my fingers reveal to my mind what the music should sound like. Now I try to imagine the sound, the voicing, the tempo, the phrasing... and then try to tell my fingers what to do.

Again, there is more thinking than actual note playing in my practice sessions. Well, sometimes. I know that may sound odd, but there ya go.

At 54 years old and 9 months back playing, I feel I'm way smarter about it than I ever was prior.

I told my instructor that I would give her a dedicated hour each day, but it usually runs way past two. :-)

all best!

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