Using A Visual Aide to Make Practice More Effective

I am a firm believer in having clear goals when it comes to music practice. Students must ALWAYS know what it is they are trying to achieve in any given practice session. Necessarily, they must first know what it is they need to work on. That is where the teacher provides the input about what it is the student needs to practice, and then helps them to implement an effective practice method. One of the methods I find the most popular for my developing music students is the Practice Routine Pie Chart.
As we get develop musically, it seems that the demands on our time and playing increase exponentially. There never seems to be enough time in the day for everything that we want/need to work on. Coming up with a method of organizing practice time helps tremendously. When students observe this “pie chart” practice methodology, they feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of a practice session, rather than not really understanding what they have actually achieved, if anything at all.
This chart  can be tailored to almost any music student who has approximately one year of lessons on their instrument.
Each segment of the pie chart represents a skill, song, scale, music theory or other component of a practice session (represented by a fraction of time) whereas the whole chart represents the entire practice session  in minutes or hours.
With school-age players, I tend to take out the number of practice areas in the pie chart, limiting it to three or four areas of focus as follows: Scales, technical skill or study, solo repertoire and orchestra music.
Then each area gets given a set amount of practice time, EACH practice session that occurs. For example, students weak in intonation (or shifting), may spend a larger amount of a 45 mins practice session (say 20 mins) on scales and shifting exercises. They may then choose to work on a solo piece that utilizes those skills (shifting and tricky intonation) in their choice of solo piece, which they work on for an additional 15 mins. The last 10 mins may be used to work on orchestral music for the week. Students who have difficulty with bow slurring may choose to spend the entire scales practice (say 10 mins) performing their scales using slurs. They may then choose to work on a passage from their orchestral music that uses slurs in order to improve that passage. Their solo work may also include a lot of slurs. It is clear that for a practice session to be effective, there MUST be a very specific skill to be worked on.
At first the teacher should initiate the dividing up of the pie chart and work with each student on how to best structure their practice session. The dividing up of the chart is done in the same manner REGARDLESS of the length of the practice session. This method encourages those students who are not good at organizing or else who tend to be less motivated to practice consistently, to have a visual aide to follow. It also helps the student to see that 10 mins of practice is NOT going to be adequate enough to cover all the areas in the pie graph!
As students get more proficient at using the pie graph, they can assume some (or all) of the responsibility for dividing up the chart themselves (but still with teacher input). Create a list of your musical obligations and place them in a pie chart such as the one above. The nice thing about a pie chart is the visual stays the same whether that chart represents a 2-hour practice session or a 20-minute session. You will always be addressing all of your obligations. If you are feeling like you are slighting or falling back in one of your obligations I encourage you to expand the overall time of the practice session so the pieces of the pie remain in proportion.
Use the pie graph model to help you implement a practice routine for this week!

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