Date: Mon, 16 Oct 2000 13:57:28 -0700
From: "Reaban, Derek" <>
Subject: Achieving Excellence

Achieving Excellence

At the end of July, I submitted a topic titled "Importance of Keeping a Daily Practice Log" (see attached), with the promise to maintain this log for a month, and then to report back to TPIN on my findings.  It has now been almost three months, and my findings have been very enlightening.  I thought I would share them with the group, and would encourage others who have used a Daily Log to share their experiences (Don't be shy!  This could be a really great topic).

As a reference point, I am an active player, but I do not depend on my playing for my income.  I perform in a local symphony, wind ensemble, brass quintet, and take weekly lessons to study symphonic literature.  My regular job is mentally challenging day in-day out, and I have two boys at home (one is 2 years old, the other is 8 months) that have boundless energy, so by the end of the day I am generally tired, and making time to practice has been my biggest challenge.  With that synopsis out of the way, the Daily Log has allowed me to focus on four points that I would like to discuss: Motivation, Communication, Research, and Measurement Tool.

The single most difficult part of daily practice for me is the ability to become mentally focused at the end of the day.  Since the Daily Practice Log is a written record that I plan on keeping forever, I am forced to "explain" myself when I find myself too tired to practice.  Since I have rededicated my practice efforts in the hopes of someday pursuing a performance degree, I have placed a much greater importance on my daily practice.  Knowing that I must physically write in my book, "Too tired to practice tonight" has allowed me to weigh that phrase against other "choices" that I make with my time.  After I put my boys to bed at night, I might be tempted to turn on the TV to relax for a while.  When I think about the phrase "Too tired to practice tonight" and weigh that against my performance degree goal, an episode of Law and Order on television becomes infinitely less important.  I also think about Chase Sanborn while he was going through his ordeal with Bells Palsy, and know that more than anything, he wanted to be able to practice.  Since I have no "physical" excuse, I have used my Daily Practice log to refocus myself when I start to stray from my goal.

We all have the ability to think critically.  It's hard work to think critically all the time.  Sometimes it's easier to just respond to a question by saying "I don't know".  It requires less mental thought.  I can't tell you how many times I have used the phrase, "I don't know".

When it comes to addressing elements of my playing that I have not been satisfied with, I find myself thinking, "those notes seem to fuzz out", or "it's hard to multiple tongue above the staff".  This is very similar to answering a question with "I don't know".  I have partially identified a problem area in my playing, but I have not gone to the next step of thinking critically and developing a question which will hold the answers to my problems.  The Daily Log has driven me to clearly communicate what I am experiencing when I  practice.  It's not enough to just write "it's hard to multiple tongue above the staff".  I will have to say that it's a great starting place!  If I write, "it's hard to multiple tongue about the staff" on the first day, and I also write it on the second and third days as well, I am very quickly going to realize that another question lays below the surface.  By asking another question, and writing it in the Daily Log, I am thinking critically.

The above 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 staff").

Case 1 - By identifying that I had a response problem, I began to do some research on my problem.  Using the TPIN 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, that Chase Sanborn advocates in improving response.

Case 2 - 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, it 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 Daily Log, 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), and arrive at a very tangible compromise (K tongue some of the articulation studies that I play everyday).

Without my Daily Log, I never would have asked these questions, and I would be less of a player due to the reluctance to think critically (i.e. "it's hard work to write this down and I'm tired").  The Daily Log has certainly elevated my playing level by engaging my mind in those areas of my playing that have always been weak.  Critical thinking is much more tangible for me if it is written.

Measurement Tool:
Since I use the Eddie Lewis books, I have divided my practice week into Big, Medium, and Small practice days.  I notate this information in my Daily Log along with the starting and ending time of my practice sessions (Big Days typically go from 10PM to 1AM).  Thankfully Big days only occur on Tuesdays and Fridays!  I also describe the metronome markings that I use for all of the exercises that I play (this has been very important for K tonguing and multiple tonguing).  Another element of the Eddie Lewis books are the Tonalization studies.  I apply a different key to these studies each week, so it takes me twelve weeks to cover all the keys.  Now that I have 3 months under my belt of maintaining my Daily Log, I have also been through one cycle of the Tonalization studies.  Before the Daily Log, I would typically just play in the keys with which I was most familiar, and not stretch out into 6/7 sharps and flats.  By keeping the Daily Log, much of my practice is
already thought out for me, and I don't have to guess what I am going to do when I sit down to practice.  It's been very freeing mentally to essentially have my practice day planned out before I sit down to play.  It is also a measurement tool for charting progress (which etudes have I covered, which symphonic literature have I studied, etc.).

I would conclude by saying that I starting this dedication to keeping a daily log based on reading Chase Sanborn's daily log during his recovery from Bells Palsy.  I was also influenced by reading the review from the ITG Conference about Byran Stripling's master class.  The reviewer mentioned that Byron (instructor at Manhattan School of Music (MSM)) required all of his students to keep a Daily Practice Log and turn off the TV.  It must be an important tool if it's being required at MSM.  With my recent 3 month experimentation, I would have to say that this is the best thing that I have ever done for my playing, and I would highly recommend it to all players that are interested in making focused improvements through critical thinking!  Best of luck with your pursuits.

The Original Message Follows:

Importance of Keeping a Daily Practice Log (LONG)

        In the past I have made efforts to keep a daily log of highlights of my practice sessions.  This log usually contained comments from my instructors about current literature that I was performing, the ease or difficulties that I experienced during the practice session, ideas about areas that I wanted to focus on during the next days practice, and sometimes just a sounding board for future projects, ideas that I had read about in trumpet methods which were new or foreign to me, etc.  I have never stuck with the daily log approach, but I am dedicating myself to do this for the next month.

        My questions to the group are:  Do you keep a daily practice log? What do you record in your practice log?  Why do you think it is important to keep a log?  Do you write your ideas in a book or keep them on the computer?

        I have spoken with friends that have kept daily practice logs in the past.  Certainly it is a yardstick for improvement.  If I would have been keeping a log from last 4th of July and compared it with this 4th of July, I would certainly have noted the improved efficiency in my playing and the ease in playing Fanfare for the Common Man this year versus last year.  I would then have made some comments about the vast majority of literature that I have been reading (new trumpet methods - Eddie Lewis and Jim Thompson; and cites on the internet -, Eddie Lewis, Pops McLaughlin, and Chase Sanborn) as well as the concepts that had helped me to arrive at a different playing level than the year earlier.  I find that it is very easy to mark improvement on pieces like the Fanfare, because I generally only play this once a year.  It's a very easy snapshot to compare the remembered experience from the past year with the current playing

       On the flip side, it can also be a source of frustration.  I have a friend that literally blew his lip out, and is now in the recovery phase. He said he was reviewing his practice log (he's about a year into his recovery), and was looking at what he used to be able to do during his practice sessions.  It was a very discouraging experience for him, but he is well on the road to full recovery.  I would also think that if you were to review your logs from a year earlier and there was little to no improvement it could be discouraging (but then you would have to question why you hadn't made progress, hopefully leading you to make changes in your daily routines).

        My current return to a regular daily log has been inspired by reading Chase Sanborn's accounts of his recovery process and a review of the Byron Stripling masterclass at the ITG conference.  For me, if I have to write it down, I am forced to clearly express my thoughts, instead of just thinking "That was a really great practice session" or "I felt tired tonight".  This daily practice log will certainly give me an opportunity to measure the things that I do well, address the things that need attention, and give me tangible areas on which to focus future improvements (as well as add excitement to practice sessions - i.e. recording myself, playing symphonic literature with CDs, etc.)

        I am looking forward to reading about your daily practice log experiences (the more detailed the better)!


Derek Reaban