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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How to Practice, part 2: Using a Practice Record

I have experimented over the years with various practice logs and records for my students to complete during the week between lessons. For my private students I have provided them with handbooks containing monthly practice sheets. Let me include a few examples here:
Basic Practice Log, © 2011 Paula E. Bird
I got this idea from Marilyn O'Boyle, Suzuki teacher trainer extraordinaire (!), and I spent several hours designing it on my computer many years ago. This one page spans a four-week period.

Left Column: As the teacher, I make a numbered list in the left hand column of the items that I expect the student to practice.

Roman Numerals: Each Roman numeral represents a week. Note that the document spans four weeks.

Day: This row is for the 7 days in the week. Usually the first day is the lesson day. Then I note the subsequent days of the week in the other columns.

Numbers Practiced: Here the parent or student records what items in the left hand column the student actually practiced that day. The purpose of this list here is for the parent or student to keep a record of what they actually practice and to become more aware of the items that are NOT being practiced. I discourage a parent or student just placing a check mark in the box unless the parent or student has practiced everything on the list. I check periodically to be sure that the parent or student understands that that check mark is reserved for those practice days when everything is accomplished. The first column is usually the lesson day, so we note "lesson" in that box.

Time: I encourage parents to use this box and notate approximately how much time is spent in practice. Eventually parents stop completing this section, but in the beginning it is helpful to establish routine practice habits.

Listening: The purpose of this row is to remind parents of the importance of establishing a daily listening program. This practice log is at least one way to remind parents to do their listening.

The practice log is a good record of the progress that parents or students make during a month. It is also a handy tool for me as a teacher to diagnose the cause of problems later down the line. For example, when a parent complains to me about their child's apparent lack of progress, I can usually pinpoint the reason just by glancing at the log. Too much white space in the "Numbers Practiced" area or single digit numbers in the "Time" area indicates that not enough practice time is being spent. When a parent complains that a child seems to have an unusually difficult time learning a new piece, I can spot the cause of the problem in the number of white spaces in the listening row.

Practice Log #2, © 2011 Paula E. Bird
This practice log style is similar to the basic practice log except there is a more focused aspect to the left hand column. The focused areas include:
  • Main Focus Point or Goal for the Week
  • Technique Building Practice and Warmup Skills (Tonalization)
  • Working Goals or Songs
  • Review Songs for Polishing or Learning/Practicing Skills
  • Other
This practice log helps the parent (and teacher) focus on the important areas of goal setting as it relates to practice routines. Sometimes I use it, although I tend to find it distracting for my own purposes. I find I spend too much time trying to decide in what category a practice assignment belongs.

Practice Planning Worksheet, © 2011 Paula E. Bird
The Practice Planning Worksheet is a great document for parents who need something to guide their practice planning for the week in between lessons. In the beginning, I help the parent work through this document so that I can guide them to learn how to set practice goals. Periodically I check in with the parent to see how they are doing. I have found that, just like with vibrato exercises, scale books, and theory books, if I don't check in from time to time, the assignments don't get completed.

This worksheet focuses on improving the weekly focus point or goal (as identified by the teacher or during the lesson) and includes such topics as:
  • Technique, Warmup, and Tone
  • Working Goals or Songs
  • Review and Polishing
There are many different methods and books out there to help teachers, parents, and students keep track of assignments and practice items. In future posts, I will discuss what methods I use with my advanced private and university students.

I hope you are continuing to participate in the 100 Days Challenge, as I am. Be sure to leave a comment about your own preferred method of recording your practice. I look forward to hearing from you.


  1. For me, I believe I will simply mark a calendar, numbering the days as I go. For my children, they mark a daily record kept on the refrigerator that also lists other tasks they must complete on a daily basis. Here we can add numeration to keep track of the 100 days.

  2. Thank you so much for the sample. I will use it for my daugther's practise

  3. Thanks, Lynn! I'm always trying to think of new ways to do this. -- Paula