Assessing Your Practice Habits

“Wherever you hope to travel on your musical journey,
practice is the only route to getting there.”

The Musician’s Way, p. 3

Although deep practice is essential to musical excellence, in my experience, only a minority of rising musicians practice optimally.

Fortunately, though, practice skills can be learned, but musicians first need benchmarks against which to gauge their habits.

How’s Your Practice?
The following assessment tool, excerpted from The Musician’s Way contains 32 true/false statements designed to help you size up your practice habits (a free pdf version is available for download from MusiciansWay.com).

It’s meant for any musician who pursues inclusive musical ability.

Bear in mind that it assesses the quality of your deliberate practice – it doesn’t pertain to casual music making, which we all enjoy but which is distinct from the goal-oriented work we do in the practice room.

To use the assessment, you might print it out, read each statement, and then circle your response.

Any statement that you can’t respond to in the affirmative points to an area that could benefit from your attention.

If you conclude that your practice habits need an upgrade, see Chapters 1-5 of The Musician’s Way for guidance.

Assessing Your Practice Habits
by Gerald Klickstein

  1.   My practice is deeply meaningful to me; I seldom feel bored.

T  or  F

  2.   I keep to a regular practice schedule.

T  or  F

  3.   My practice space is fully equipped with the things I need.

T  or  F

  4.   I set detailed goals before beginning to practice.

T  or  F

  5.   I typically feel a sense of accomplishment after practicing.

T  or  F

  6.   I’m able to maintain mental focus as I practice.

T  or  F

  7.   I commonly record portions of my practice, and then I appraise my recordings.

T  or  F

  8.   I assess my practice objectively and rarely become upset by difficulties.

T  or  F

  9.   I use a metronome in practice.

T  or  F

  10. I consistently warm up before practicing.

T  or  F

  11. I intersperse practice sessions with regular breaks.

T  or  F

  12. I can learn accessible music securely and efficiently.

T  or  F

  13. I have plenty of accessible pieces in my repertoire.

T  or  F

  14. At the outset of learning a piece, I develop a basic interpretation before making technical decisions.

T  or  F

  15. I’m able to shape dramatic musical interpretations that move listeners.

T  or  F

  16. When learning a new piece, I expressively vocalize rhythm.

T  or  F

  17. I use specific strategies to solve musical and technical problems.

T  or  F

  18. I manage repetition so that I neither repeat errors nor drill passages to the point of fatigue.

T  or  F

  19. I use mental imaging to aid my learning and memorizing of music.

T  or  F

  20. I consciously image ahead as I play or sing.

T  or  F

  21. I’m satisfied with the tactics that I use to increase the tempos of pieces.

T  or  F

  22. I’m confident of my ability to memorize music and to perform from memory.

T  or  F

  23. I have a broad-based plan to polish my technique, and I practice technique daily.

T  or  F

  24. I routinely practice sight-reading.

T  or  F

  25. I can improvise melodies over straightforward chord progressions.

T  or  F

  26. I review my favorite pieces in detail so that the expressive and technical components stay vibrant.

T  or  F

  27. I listen to a range of recorded music, and I regularly attend live music performances.

T  or  F

  28. I’m advancing my knowledge of music theory, ear training, and other general music topics.

T  or F

  29. I take deliberate steps to fuel my motivation to practice and to counter procrastination.

T  or  F

  30. When I make errors in practice, I view them as instructive and not as indicative of failure.

T  or  F

  31. I understand how to practice such that I can perform confidently and artistically.

T  or  F

  32. As I practice, I embody habits of excellence: ease, expressiveness, accuracy, rhythmic vitality, beautiful tone, focused attention, and positive attitude.

T  or  F

Preview The Musician’s Way at Amazon.com. Related posts can be found under the Music Practice category.

© 2012 Gerald Klickstein | Table © 2009 Gerald Klickstein
Excerpted from The Musician’s Way by permission of Oxford University Press
Photo © licensed from Shutterstock.com

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9 Responses to “Assessing Your Practice Habits”

  1. PA Shorts: Practice, Perfection, & Personality « Piano Addict said:

    Feb 06, 12 at 15:31

    [...] Problem with Perfect Practice      Assessing Your Practice Habits      A Coach’s Pep [...]

  2. Links from this week « Sam Smiley-roots, jazz, country guitar said:

    Feb 07, 12 at 11:46

    [...] Way has all sorts of lists and helpful tips for being more effective.  This one can help keep you on track with practicing, [...]

  3. GuitarChallenges said:

    Apr 18, 12 at 17:38

    I try to do all of the above, but I find it extremely hard to maintain my focus on the practice areas day in and out, only because my available time varies so much.
    I have spent hours trying to create a practice routine for myself, and when it just started to go well it all burst because of a “bad week”.
    Maybe I just have to prioritise my playing higher.

  4. Gerald Klickstein said:

    Apr 18, 12 at 18:10

    Thanks for contributing. Of course, it’s helpful to prioritize practice, perhaps rising early on busy days to work for 30 minutes. But we can also make meaningful progress even when our schedules don’t allow for consistent daily practice. That is, by setting small attainable goals, we can attain meaninful things every time we practice. See http://musiciansway.com/blog/2009/11/the-power-of-specific-goals/

  5. George said:

    Jun 26, 12 at 06:29

    This is a great resource, Gerald. Thanks for putting it together.

    I am very excited to announce the release of my new 95-page eBook on How to Practice Music Effectively. It is titled “Good Music Practice – A Practice Method for All Musicians.” This book is for anyone who needs to improve their music practice method.

    It is good for absolute beginners through to professional musicians and music teachers. Get detailed tips on how to practice music effectively plus info and free samples via the GoodMusicPractice website.

    My eBook doubles up somewhat on what you already have; however, we can all learn from each other’s different approaches. So I trust that Good Music Practice will be a welcome addition to the music world.

    Kind regards,
    George Urbaszek
    Bass Player and Music Educator

  6. Andreas said:

    Sep 11, 12 at 16:02

    This is a great list but perhaps a bit too long for my taste. As a jazz musician i think too many practicing routines sometimes can get in the way of creativity and will often keep you on the same track rather than exploring new directions.

  7. Gerald Klickstein said:

    Sep 11, 12 at 17:46

    Hi Andreas – Thanks for contributing. The list is derived from The Musician’s Way book, and it functions as a review of the material covered over a span of more than 100 pages. So I can understand why it would seem long when seen here in isolation on my blog.
    Regardless, I resonate with your words about creativity: to fuel our imagination we do well to break out of routines, experiment freely, collaborate in new ways, and otherwise stretch our boundaries.

  8. Karen said:

    Sep 18, 12 at 16:59

    Hi Gerald, glad to find you challenging my musical boundaries again! reading your checklist makes me realise how often I play randomly, to be soothed, uplifted, reassured or just have fun – which is fine and dandy except that I then give myself a hard time when I don’t find myself improving much from these sessions. Oh dear. I spot a clear confusion of functions going on here. (If you can have a clear confusion). In other contexts I would call it moving the goal posts and know how to deal with it. Time to try a definite segregation of playing and practising. And definitely less of the giving myself a hard time. best wishes, Karen

  9. Gerald Klickstein said:

    Sep 18, 12 at 17:12

    Hi Karen – Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences! I think that you touch on two vital areas.
    First, although it’s important that we play for fun and freely explore creative ideas, we typically do best to engage in such activities separate from the time we devote to deliberate practice.
    Second, when we accept our musical journeys and do what we can to grow each day, we open ourselves to our experiences and learn positive things on both good days and difficult ones. For more on the subject of acceptance, please see my post “Better than Patience” http://musiciansway.com/blog/2010/12/better-than-patience/