A review of the Practice Routine
By blogger Joanne Kathleen of Composed Dynamic, Mar 21, 2011

A few weeks ago, I had a lesson with Amy Porter while she was in the area for the Louisiana Flute Festival. Since then, I’ve been trying to use her 4 hour practice session routine every time I practice. I had read about it before, but always wrote it off as impossible because who has 4 consecutive hours a day to practice?

I wish I could say I had some kind of epiphany to start me off, involving a contemplative look at my life as a musician, complete with a soundtrack of some sort, but I didn’t. I just decided one day to try it and since then, have been pretty consistent with it. 4 hours isn’t as long as I thought, and the time passes quickly… almost too quickly.

What I like most about this practice routine is that you never spend too much time on any one piece, yet I’ve been getting much more done week to week than I have before. I suspect this is due to the same principle Tim Ferriss mentions in his book about how having time limits can really amp up productivity. Instead of walking into the practice room with a vague idea of how long I’m going to practice, or just saying I’ll practice till I get it (or get so frustrated I end up quitting), setting a time limit helps prioritization and prevents burn out. The way this routine is set up also prevents you from hammering at a piece until you kill it. You spend no more than 30 minutes during any given hour on a piece. In some cases, it has also allowed me to go deeper into the music while I’m practicing. Pieces that I would normally just run through because I already know the notes and have harder things to practice now get a full 50 minutes (total) of my time.

I’m making musical choices, getting getting more intimate with the piece, and not just blowing it off with a run through because I “know” it. Plus, I have the time to practice the harder things, too.

As for finding the time, it hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be. Perhaps this comes from the crazy schedule as a Music Ed major, but practicing was never on my top list of priorities. When I had the time, I practiced. When I didn’t, I didn’t. I practiced around my other priorities. Now, I’m really starting to make practicing the priority around which the rest of the stuff on my “To Do List” is scheduled. I know this may not be a super revelatory concept for most musicians, but for me it is. I also strongly believe that the excuse of “I don’t have the time!” is not relevant when it comes to practicing, if you’re serious about it. It may be difficult to find 4 consecutive hours to practice Amy Porter-style, but following her routine exactly is not what makes a good practice session; taking the elements of her routine that make it successful and applying it to your practicing is. The easiest way would be to divide practicing up into one hour blocks, using her routine exactly. Or establish how much time you have to practice on any given day and make up your own routine using the elements of time limits, breaking up practicing one piece with a 10 minute rest, and daily exercises (tone, technique, etude). It’s all about perspective. If you want to find the time to practice, you will. If you operate under the mentality of “NO TIME” then, guess what? You won’t have the time. Surprise!

To supplement this practice routine, I’ve been checking off on my calendar each day I practice. A check means I’ve practiced between 3 and 4 hours, and a check minus means I practiced less than that. It’s a nifty way for me to visually see how often I practice and how much of an effort I’m putting into it. I also started making a checklist after my lessons of what needs to get done for the upcoming week. I have 5 categories: Tone, Technique, Etude, Repertoire, and Excerpts, and write out specifically what I need to do in each. Next to that, I have a little graph with the days of the week at the top, so that every time I practice, I can check off what I did in that day’s column. I’m a visual person, and really like being able to see that I practiced my etude, for example, x number of times this past week. It also prevents me from forgetting to practice something or procrastinate practicing something, and I am the procrastination queen! This new practice routine with my own additions keeps me honest and mindful in the practice room, and that’s what’s most important, after all.
Posted: November 27th, 2018