Lessons in Learning: Handling Practice Quantity

by Abby @ Quaver on April 10, 2014

in This Month in Music

We love hosting voices like Jeannine Everetts on the Quaver Music blog!

As a lifelong musician and now principal second violin in the Reston Community Orchestra; Jeannine brings a performer and a student’s perspective to the blog that we are grateful to share!

Today Jeannine is back with a follow-up to last month’s piece on Practice.


Last time I visited, I discussed the problem of finding practice time. Making time to practice is only one piece of the puzzle. Another piece is making good use of the time.


To recap, I had a rough patch where work, life, and music collided. My teacher and I set up a strategy to carve out practice time. We also crafted a plan to manage my musical workload within the time that I had available.

An interesting thing happened. I got better, faster. Clearly it wasn’t purely a matter of time—I was practicing much less. I learned that how one practices is just as important as how much.

Have a Plan

I allocate time to each musical task—5 minutes on scales, 10 minutes on etudes, 15 minutes working through orchestral passages, and so on. I rebalance the allotment based on how much time I have available. When the time comes to practice, I know exactly how I want to spend it.

The 80/20 Rule

When I was younger, I would often practice by starting at the upper left hand corner and playing through to the end. As in many tasks, 80% of the pain is in 20% of the manuscript. My teacher and I used difficult passages like etudes, and focused my efforts there. Not only did I learn the piece, I improved my technique as well.

Switch it Up

Mind and muscle respond to change. I try to touch on each major element of practice every day—scales, etudes, new works, exercises, metronome work, and stuff I just like to play. I rotate what I start with, and the order in which I practice them. That way I get a combination of day-to-day consistency and the variety within one practice session to keep my mind active.

Be Mindful/Focus on Form

Practice is about training the muscles and memory. If a smooth string crossing is the intent of the etude, I focus my attention there. I may be playing open strings, or only two notes, but I internalize the weight of the bow, the position of my elbow. To do this I have to go slow. Really slow.

Don’t Over-Practice

We get hung up on time and repetition as proof of work. Going over and over and over the same phrase “until I get it right,” is generally an exercise in frustration. It puts the focus on my mistakes, rather than my progress, and it takes more than one sitting to truly learn something new. If I play something 1,000 times, but it’s wrong 990 of them, guess which one the muscle remembers? Similarly, If I play something 1,000 times, and it’s right 990 of them, I probably should have been practicing something else for part of that time.

Even though I have more time to practice these days, I still use these strategies to make the time work for me.

Not only does the time go farther, it goes faster. I enjoy my practice more, and get far more out of it. Like study strategy, practice strategy isn’t knowledge students are born with. It’s something they need to learn. But once students do, practice can be more fun and rewarding, and who doesn’t have time for that?

What practice strategies work well for your students?

If you haven’t checked out Perry the Sheep in our free ClassPlay Preview, you’ll want to this week! It’s a great example of engaging repetition that makes it fun and accessible for students to practice the same notes – B & A – again and again and again, while the teacher is free to encourage and instruct.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Austin Otto April 10, 2014 at 7:06 pm

Jeannine Everett – This is so very inspiring! Perfect practice, makes perfect!

Thank you!


2 Jeannine Bergers Everett April 21, 2014 at 11:19 am

And even more so, joyful practice, makes joy :)


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