Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How to Write an Effective Journal Entry

When I first started keeping a practice journal, my entries would often look like this:
Practiced band music really hard today. 1pm to 1:15pm.
On the surface, this looks like a good entry. It's factual information about what I did. When we think of journals, we usually think of them as a place to record information about what we did, or thought, or whatever. They're a storage tool.
How exciting! A book where I can keep track of how much I practiced, and maybe what I practiced. Oh, boy!! 
And this helps me how, exactly?

For a practice journal to be helpful, to actually improve your effectiveness in the practice room, it needs to be more than just a record. It needs to be a place where we reflect on what worked, what didn't, what we're struggling with, and what we plan to do about it next.

When I pick up a new piece (whether it's a concerto, symphony, or scale exercise or anything in between) I typically will try to play through it. Sometimes this goes well, sometimes not so much. I make adjustments to tempo and other factors to help me get through any tough spots, and I pay attention and make note of those spots. I create "sub items" in SPM to keep track as I go, then enter a quick note just to remind myself of what was tricky about that particular spot. I don't linger on the difficulties in this first phase... I take a quick note and keep moving.

Once I've finished that process, when I return to practice the piece again, SPM presents me with a list of the passages I called out during the first run-through. I dive in and practice those first, before trying to play through the piece again.

As I look at each individual spot, I first read the note I'd written previously. What was tough about this? Did I have any ideas on how to improve it? Did I try anything the last time?

After reading the two or three most recent notes about the passage, I look at the goal, if there is one. I try to put something pretty specific in the goal at the end of every practice session, so this usually gives me exactly what I need to do.

Now that I've read my recent history on this passage, and looked at my goal for this session, I get to work! Sometimes I'll re-check my notes to jog my memory, but usually I leave the computer (or phone, as I often use the mobile version of SPM) alone and focus on the music.

As I practice, I can type notes as they occur to me. The last thing I do is take a little time to think about (reflect!) on what I want to do next time I look at this item, and type that into the goal field.

Finally, I click "Save" and it's on to the next item!

This past week I've been working on Gustav Mahler's 6th Symphony for my upcoming performance with the Flint Symphony. Our first rehearsal is this evening, so my goal was to be able to play the whole thing by yesterday. There was one particular passage that terrified me the last time I played this symphony, and I remembered it right away when I did my first run-through in the practice room. Here are my journal entries for the passage:
Tuesday, January 06 2015, at 06:24 PM -- FSO Music::Mahler - Symphony No. 6::Top of page 9Goal: None
Whoa, this is crazy difficult! I remember stepping all over this lick the last time we played it. Not gonna let that happen this time! It's OK at around 100bpm to the eighth.. way too slow!! Will need to woodshed this tomorrow
 
Thursday, January 08 2015, at 08:04 PM -- FSO Music::Mahler - Symphony No. 6::Top of page 9Goal: Get this up to tempo!
Ugh, had to slow this down to 88.. and even at that tempo it's a bit weird. Going to interleave this..
Thursday, January 08 2015, at 08:19 PM -- FSO Music::Mahler - Symphony No. 6::Top of page 9Goal: Get this up to tempo!
Interleaving works!! Got it up to 120 this time!
Friday, January 09 2015, at 05:08 PM -- FSO Music::Mahler - Symphony No. 6::Top of page 9Goal: Get this up to tempo!
OK, got it up to 152 right now. Here are the keys:

  1. Lot's of air right on the first note. Push through from there (trampoline)
  2. Fingers - Slam The Valves
  3. Have fingers in place and SET before each group of 32nds
Sunday, January 11 2015, at 08:05 PM -- FSO Music::Mahler - Symphony No. 6::Top of page 9Goal: See Practice Note for KEYS
This is pretty good, but I would like to do it again tomorrow.. It took a few repetitions before I got my fingers convinced to be ready. See previous note: Lot's of air right on the first note. Push through from there (trampoline) Fingers - Slam The Valves Have fingers in place and SET before each group of 32nds
Monday, January 12 2015, at 07:39 PM -- FSO Music::Mahler - Symphony No. 6::Top of page 9Goal: See Practice Note for KEYS
GOT IT!! YEAH!!!! Nothing more needs to be said. I'm ready for tomorrow night!! YEAH!!
As you can see, my entries can be short and sweet, or like little mini-novels. It just depends on what I feel is needed at that particular time. And yes, I believe in celebrating the small victories. :)

I hope this post gives you some good ideas for your own practice journal. Dr. Flegg's Structured Practice Method makes this kind of focused practicing so much easier by keeping your entries tied to the specific musical item they relate to ("Top of page 9" in this case). Give it a try and see if it works for you!!

Your comments and further practice tips are always welcome!!!

-Dr. Flegg

1 comment:

  1. looking forward to the Mahler stuff Saturday. I hope work allows.

    ReplyDelete