Clear Practice Targets

Setting clear practice targets is probably the most important 5 minutes practice you can do in a week. It helps ensure effective practice each session and should be done as soon as you get home from your lesson while the work is still fresh in your mind. You can also ask your teacher to help you set your goals for the week. Spending some time organising your practice in this way also means work from your teacher doesn’t slip through the net as you are planing your practice while the lesson is still fresh in your mind.

I use the term practice targets to refer to your targets for individual practice sessions and the list of what needs to be achieved over the week. Practice goals tend to be longer term aims, such as your overall goals for certain pieces and scales as well as longer term musical goals.

Know exactly what you want to achieve in a session

When planning your targets for a session know exactly what you want to achieve. Don’t just say “I’ll work on the Mozart this session,” have an exact target to achieve such as “Play through the first 32 bars of the Mozart five times in a row with no mistakes with the metronome at ♩=100. Having a clear target like this helps you know when you have achieved what you set out to do and can either move on to the next target for that session, or finish your practice if all targets for that practice session are complete.

Break it down, build it up

Determine your targets for the week (usually the work your teacher wants you to complete for the next lesson) and break these down into the number of sessions you have available each week. Ask your teacher to be as specific as possible in terms of what she wants. E.g., Improve the second section of the Mozart piece isn't as easy to plan for as The second section of the Mozart piece, three times in a row at ♩=100 with all dynamics with no mistakes" or "Bars 1 - 16 of the Gershwin piece at ♩=70 with all rhythms exactly in time and no speeding up"

Download the Weekly Targets Planner sheet This is on a single A4 sheet. Click here for a version with 2 weeks per A4 sheet. Fill in the top section with your practice targets for the week. Divide these into individual practice session targets for each day you will practice. As you are planning your practice targets play through the pieces and scales your teacher has asked you to prepare. Think about which sections are fairly close to being almost there already and those which are going to take more work. Schedule the sections that will need more work near the start of the week to give you a chance to review them as the week progresses. Read this page on the importance of reviewing work if you haven't already. You can also download some notes on using the planner if you would like a reminder to print.

Know your targets for each session. When you hit each target, move to the next until all are achieved. Sometimes you will end up practicing for a shorter time, sometimes longer. As you get used to setting your targets you will find it easier to judge the time taken to achieve them. As your practice techniques improve you will be able to hit more targets in less time!

Breaking practice down

When breaking your work for the week down, remember to leave time to build it up again! If you need to learn bars 1 - 32 of a piece use the first days to practice the individual sections and the couple of days before your lesson to put everything together. When practicing in sections it is always a good idea to either play the last few notes of the previous phrase or overlap your sections.

for example:
Section 1: Bars 1 - 8
Section 2: Bars 5 - 12
Section 3: Bars 9 - 16
Section 4: Bars 13 - 20 etc.

It is sometimes a good idea to have the discipline of this overlapping sections method to start with and gradually just divide 1 - 9, 9 - 16, 17 - 24 etc. playing the last few notes of the section before.

Whatever you decide, make sure you have clear practice targets to achieve during each session.

Click here to go to the next efficient practice habit: Practice by event

Expert Practice Secrets

practice makes perfect by simon horsey

Frustrated with your practice? Read Practice Makes Perfect and hack the 10,000 hour rule. Cut your practice time by up to 25%! Make faster progress, learn pieces and scales faster, memorize more easily, and much more. "If you play an instrument you need this book!"

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