About Me

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Harrisonburg, Virginia, United States
Professor of Saxophone, James Madison University

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tracking the monster (practice log)

Keeping a practice log is an easy way of measuring the quantity, and quality, of our work.  A good journal should have just enough detail to adequately provide tools for long-term self-assessment.  An example of a single session might look like this:

Thursday May 11
15 minutes:  Long tone exercise, B-flat with drone (no tuner)
40 minutes:  Scale routine, all keys.  16ths @ quarter = 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 110, and 120
30 minutes:  Etude #34, focussing on difficult passage with trills, still under-tempo
5 minutes: break (for smashing)
20 minutes:  music for upcoming band concert
30 minutes:  Improvising eighth notes on "All The Things You Are" (Q = 80, 90, 95)

Over time, your entries can be viewed as a summary of your practice.  If you are frustrated, for instance, that your articulation is sloppy, get a reality check from your log about exactly how much, and how often, you really practice articulations.  Usually, we discover that our problems are a result of relative neglect.  However, if you are practicing something a lot and without success, it is time to try a new way of addressing the problem.

Try making an additional note in your practice log whenever you get severely frustrated.  (Maybe you could draw a little picture of Practice Monster!)  Look for patterns that cause the monster to emerge, and build strategies for keeping your cool in the shed - more on that in a future post.

I require most of my students to email me their daily practice logs.  In the recently completed school year, I collected around 1,600 individual entries . . . well over 4,000 hours of practice.  Practice Monster SMASH!!!


  1. Do you record your practice sessions?

  2. Anthony: Yes! Recordings are certainly helpful. Video is also a good idea. I don't record myself often enough, but my studio is set up for high quality audio recording, reasonably good video, and I also use a zoom H2 to record rehearsals.