Practice Session, part 6: Review

Review: Time to Revisit, Reflect, and Plan.

The sixth and final part of a productive practice session wraps everything up and puts a bow on it.

If you’re just starting this blog series, be sure to read the OVERVIEW and posts about the five other sections. The links are below.

  1. Warm up.
  2. Scales & Technique.
  3. Etudes.
  4. Repertoire.
  5. Improvisation.
  6. Review, warm-down, reflecting on goals and planning for the next practice session.

If we are thinking about a 30 minute practice session, the sixth part is minutes 28-30. At this point in your practicing, you are starting to get tired and your mind is ready for a break. Hold on for two more minutes… you still have some important work to do.

If we continue the analogy of the six-drawer cabinet, there are three items in this thin drawer at the bottom of the practice cabinet.

  1. review tricky “woodshedding” spots from repertoire or etudes
  2. warm down
  3. make a mental note of accomplishments and what needs attention next time

Now is the time to review any tricky spots that you were woodshedding in Part 4: Repertoire. If you are working to memorize your music, now is the time to test your memory. New advances in neuroscience are showing that interval training is critical to long term memory. Spacing out the learning in longer intervals leads to better memory storage, according to the theory of “Spaced Repetition.” Because you worked on repertoire pieces in the middle of your practice, you have had a little time in between. This is a good first interval. Simply go back to the hardest sections of your lesson materials and try them one or two more times. You’ll hit these places again in your next practice session to continue the spaced repetition.

Depending on how you are feeling, you may want to do a gentle warm-down. I feel the need to play low notes and slurs when my embouchure is tight from playing piccolo. Brass players usually need a warm-down time.

Before you end this practice session, think about what you were able to accomplish. Thank yourself for taking the time to practice. Acknowledge the good work and the progress. If you tackled something particularly hard, give yourself a mental pat on the back. Think about what you need to focus on for the next practice session. Planning for the next practice session will give you a head start on item #1 (Warm up, including goal setting).

Finally, allow for some incubation time. Several studies have shown that creative insights and new skills favor a “prepared mind.” (Link here to Seifert, Meyer, Davidson study.) Make sure you take a break every 30 minutes. That means you need to leave the practice room. Get a drink of water, take a walk, play a game. Perhaps the best thing you can do for your long term memory is get plenty of sleep. It seems that the brain is working on the music even when you are asleep. Have you ever heard the music you’ve been practicing in your dreams? I know I’m ready for a recital when my piece is playing as the background music in my dreams.

I hope this seven part series on the structure of a 30 minute practice session was helpful for you. Now, go practice!

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