Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

How to Practice, part 5: Snacking Your Way to Good Practice Health

Let's face it. We are all too busy and have too many demands on our time. We juggle our priorities and reassign them sometimes hourly as we work to extinguish fires or keep others under control. Unfortunately our practice plans get bumped. I believe that everything in life is interconnected in one way or another, and we can learn lessons and figure out solutions from other disciplines.

Take dieting, for example. This is January and a new year of a new decade. I'll bet there are several of us on eating plans right now. So most of us can relate to my coming analogy to dieting.

We are hungry generally when we are dieting. One solution many diet plans have is to provide allowed healthy snacks throughout the day. And for really busy folks, have meals prepared in advance and then graze on them all day long.

Sometimes I don't have a block of time that I can devote to eating a meal, I mean practicing (well, eating too). Here's how I solve the problem: practice snacks.

Orchestral musicians are accustomed to drawing an "X" mark in the margin alongside a particularly tricky passage. I also do this while I am practicing. If you look at my etude books and repertoire pieces, you will find margin notes, "x's," and bits of colored highlighting tape to call my attention to practice areas that require special attention.

The practice snacking technique works best if the instrument is handy. When I am teaching, I have the case open and the violin ready to be played. Then when I get a few minutes here and there, I take up the instrument and play one of the passages I had marked earlier. I really work the section as hard as I can, leaving no detail to escape my notice. Even if my student has entered the studio, I may continue a few more minutes on this mini-practice while my student gets their instrument and materials ready for their lesson. I figure that I am role modeling for my student, not only practicing in general, but how to practice analytically.

When I worked as an attorney, there were days when my time sheet had a lot of "point one" (.1) hour tasks written on it. In lawyer-speak, a .1 task is one that takes 6 minutes. It could be a quick file review, a brief phone call, or quick memo dictation. I noticed that I was exhausted after a "Point One Day," referring to the majority of my time sheet being filled with .1 hour tasks. It was difficult to switch from task to task after spending just a few minutes.
The practice snack idea is different in that we are spending a brief amount of time practicing in between longer sessions of something else:
  • rehearsal segment (yes, you can get some good practice sessions during a rehearsal intermission) 
  • student lessons
  • household chores
I hope that this practice technique will encourage you to use a few of your spare moments as practice times. Practice snacking can be good for your practice health!


  1. So yesterday when I was doing my own 5 minute practice, Rick began talking to me. I finished playing the piece I was playing, not responding. When I had made it through to the end, I looked up at him and asked, "Why don't you take my practicing seriously?" He had nothing to say, but chuckled and realized what he had done.

  2. That's a very interesting observation you made. I remember that my mother really did think that practicing was important, but she had an annoying habit of interrupting me to grinch at me about not completing a chore at the time she thought I should do it. One time, I was practicing the grand piano with the lid up, and she started hollering at me. I had my foot on the pedal at the time, and her loud voice started resonating the strings. I was afraid I'd get in more trouble if I let my foot up, so I kept it down on the pedal. My mother's voice rang even more strings. Soon there was a wave of sound rolling around the air, which made her even more furious. I don't recall her interrupting me much after that. 'Course, I was always ready with that foot pedal!