An Introduction to Maintaining a Practice Log and Recording Practice
1.0 What's a Practice Log?
You're probably thinking to yourself,
"Me? Keep a diary? Never!"
1.1 Two Distinct Components
The simple truth of this statement had
kept me from even considering using a Practice Log in the past. I really
didn't think of myself as a diary kind of person. As I have just recently
reached my 34th birthday and been keeping a Practice Log for
the past five months, my opinions of "diaries" have obviously changed.
Referring to my daily written thoughts as a Practice Log has also helped
me to overcome the "diary" word! This overview will give you some idea
of what a Practice Log is and how it is used to allow you to reach your
Certainly a written set of daily playing
observations and recording of pertinent practice details can be kept in
a number of different ways: on the computer, loose leaf binder, bound book
of blank pages, etc. This is a personal decision and shouldn't affect the
actual process of using this concept. I have chosen to use a small bound
book of blank pages for my Practice Log book. These can be purchased in
most bookstores. Since I will be keeping this written log forever [for
future review and amusement], I personally believe that seeing these notes
in my own hand writing gives me a very strong feeling of ownership. I recently
got a mechanical pencil to avoid the problem of having to sharpen my pencil
in the middle of notating my thoughts. You have to make it as easy as possible
to capture your thoughts, and if you have to find a pencil sharpener or
another sharp pencil late at night after a practice session, you might
be discouraged to put your comments in your book. The mechanical pencil
has helped me to overcome that occasional frustration. The bottom line
is to choose the best method that will work for you, and stick to it.
The Practice Log has two distinct components.
1) Recording practice details and 2) Formulating ideas and questions to
overcome plateaus limiting your advancement on the instrument. After 5
months of keeping a practice log, I am ready to separate these two aspects
of the log in order to more easily record the data concerning practice
details, which will allow me to focus on just concepts and ideas in the
actual log book. This "Recording of Practice Details" will most likely
take on the form of a Practice Sheet where I will record the details of
my practice day.
1.2 The Practice Sheet
The Practice Sheet will include the exercises
that I play (Author, Page Number, Exercise Number, etc.) along with the
metronome markings for the day. It might also include additional comments
about how I play a particular exercise. For instance, I might choose to
play H. L. Clarke Technical Studies No. 2 using slur, single tongue, k
tongue, or multiple tongue. Or possibly slur/tongue combinations (i.e.
slur two/tongue two, tongue one/slur three, etc.). A sample of a practice
sheet is shown for use with the Eddie Lewis Daily Routine book. This can
be modified to fit your needs. The important item to consider is that you
want a snapshot of the previous week, so you can assure you are making
incremental improvement in your playing, or assuring that you are not becoming
stagnant in your playing by repeating the same material over and over.
1.3 The Practice Log
The Practice Log is an opportunity for
you to formulate ideas and think critically about your playing. By writing
these ideas in your Practice Log after every practice session, you are
assuring that your practice has a specific direction and focus. You are
able to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. By
identifying what you are doing well as well as what needs improvement,
you can design your practice days more effectively. If you find you are
having the same problems day after day, this will allow you to see a pattern
and seek an answer to resolve the problem.
1.3.1 Examples of Practice Log Entries
As an example, the following two phrases
were written in my Daily Practice Log in July and August (Case 1 - "notes
seem to fuzz out" and Case 2 - "it's hard to multiple tongue above the
126.96.36.199 Case One
By identifying that I had a response problem,
I began to do some research on this topic. Using the Trumpet Players International
Network (TPIN) Internet resource, I discovered that my embouchure was based
on a more open set. Using a closed set, and focusing on this with each
attack that I made for the last two months, I have greatly improved my
ability to have all of my notes speak more clearly at a very soft dynamic
level and at the bottom register of the instrument. I have also been introduced
to a technique called Whisper Tones, which David Hickman and Chase Sanborn
advocate in improving response.
188.8.131.52 Case Two
Given discussions on TPIN about using
the H.L. Clarke Technical Studies book as prescribed by Claude Gordon,
I noticed that Claude's students mentioned "K" tonguing these exercises,
in addition to single tonguing and multiple tonguing. With my limited daily
practice, I knew that I would not be able to add K tonguing a complete
set of the Clarke studies. I opted to try K tonguing some of the studies
in the Eddie Lewis Daily Practice Routines, which I use regularly. I was
shocked that I was not able to K tongue large intervals. This was something
that I had never tried, and based on questioning my ability to multiple
tongue easily above the staff, I decided to try some experimentation with
one of the elements of multiple tonguing, that being focused K tonguing.
By identifying this weakness, I have incorporated some K tonguing into
my daily routine, with marked improvements in just several weeks. This
approach of critical thinking allowed me to form my ideas in my Practice
Log and throw out those things that didn't make sense for me (i.e. try
to play a complete series of the Clarke studies using K tongue at the end
of my practice day). I was able to arrive at a very tangible compromise
(K tongue some of the articulation studies that I play everyday).
2.0 Who Should Use a Practice Log/Practice
If you are a serious student of the instrument,
this tool is for you. If you are interested in becoming more proficient
on your instrument, this tool is for you. If you have reached a plateau
in your current technical abilities, this tool is for you.
3.0 Where & When Should I Use the
Practice Log/Practice Sheet?
The Practice Log is currently in use at
the Manhattan School of Music. Byron Stripling requires each of his students
to maintain a Practice Log. Many professional level players that I have
talked with have used a Practice Log sometime during their careers. While
I have not taken an official survey, I can assure you that very few Amateur
or Semi-Professional players spend the required mental energy to maintain
a Practice Log (this is based on the fact that no one on the TPIN list
responded to this topic when it was presented). One professional player
wrote to me sometime after the original message was released, and after
a series of correspondence, I discovered that he also maintained a detailed
You must determine your own playing goals
and ask yourself if the Practice Log is for you. It is a time commitment
that will allow you to make significant improvements very quickly if you
adopt this tool into your regular practice routine.
3.1 The Practice Sheet
The Practice Sheet is probably best kept
by your music stand. A well-conceived practice sheet will allow you to
jot down brief comments about each exercise after you have played it. If
you have it close at hand you can make comments (i.e. metronome markings)
while you are resting between exercises. If you keep it close to your stand,
you can also review your progress from past days and weeks on the exercises
that you are currently working on.
3.2 The Practice Log
The Practice Log is best kept with you
(depending on where you practice). Since you are going to honestly evaluate
your strengths and weaknesses in this log, this activity would best be
done in a quiet environment by yourself. I typically do my practicing late
at night, so I just sit in the living room after my session to notate my
thoughts. The important thing to consider is capturing the ideas right
after you practice so they are fresh in your mind. If you write down your
concerns immediately, you are more apt to remember them, and consequently
get answers for them.
4.0 Why Should I Use a Practice Log?
When you are investigating questions that
you have posed after your practice sessions, spend some time noting the
sources that you are reading or the people that you are talking with to
get your answers. Ask yourself how these answers might be incorporated
into your current playing to solve your playing concerns.
Derek Reaban, December 14, 2000