It’s Not You, It’s Me. Or Maybe It’s You. I Can’t Tell.

Making my routines and programs for my practice hasn’t always been an easy process. Oftentimes, what seems like a good idea in theory turns out to be far less effective in practice. I know many of you are trying your hand at making practice programs for yourselves, so I’d like to share my own experience of realizing your plan was bad, and how to adjust.

I wanted to make a 4 week etude companion program to my 4 week routine/fundamentals program that I’ve enjoyed using. I set it up so that I could choose 3 etudes, split them into sections, and it would organize them at 3 different tempos throughout the week. On paper, it looked well thought out, but in reality, it didn’t pan out that way.

Each time I design a new program, I try to see if I can find great musicians to test them out. I was able to send this 4 week etude program to a friend who has shown support for my ideas and had some success of her own on other programs. I was curious how this program would work for someone that didn’t receive any guidance from me. She agreed to test it out, and got to work.

I was running the etude program at the same time, and found myself enjoying it for the most part. It required me to practice the same 3 etudes for a full month, and while that was a bit of a drag, I didn’t mind the monotony if it would unlock my highest level of performance. My first completed run of the program proved to be mostly successful.

My friend sent feedback to me a few weeks after finishing her run at the etude program. Her comments showed that there was still plenty of room for improvement. Here were some of her thoughts:

  • The program was too long. She started getting a little tired of the same material around week 3.
  • There wasn’t a lot of flexibility in terms of extra work. No guidance on how to add in additional practice techniques to aid in learning. The program was simply running each section a predetermined amount of times.
  • Ultimately, it felt a little sterile. While this approach works well for fundamentals, she didn’t feel it translated well.

This news was hard to swallow. I was certainly thankful to receive her feedback, but I didn’t really like the idea of having to go back to the drawing board. I’m the kind of person that regularly gets into the mindset of “This might be the thing”. That mindset keeps me motivated to continue searching and experimenting, but setbacks can be tough to handle.

I decided to do a second run of the program. I wanted to see if this program could work, and maybe it just didn’t work for her. My second run I programmed Charlier 27, Longinotti 6, and Bitsch 4. This is where everything went wrong.

The way that program was structured, I was playing 85% tempos in week 1. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play MOST of Charlier 27 at 85% tempo, so a great deal of that work felt wasted. I knew I wasn’t learning anything, and I definitely wasn’t playing my best. Longinotti and Bitsch were coming along decently, but nothing felt great.

At that point, I was working from my 4 week fundamentals routine, my 4 week etude routine, and working on a short solo. I began noticing that my face would become tired near the beginning of my practice session. I could keep going without fear of injury, but it didn’t seem right. Something wasn’t working.

I finally figured out that the etude program was the problem. First and foremost, I was simply trying to learn too much music. Even though I am a strong player, I am still very human and have limits. Pushing these limits once in a while can be helpful, but constantly playing near my limits was causing me to accumulate fatigue. I believe this is why I was getting so tired so quickly in my practice sessions. I was never really fully recovering.

The other reason I knew the program was at fault was the large group of wasted repetitions. Ideally speaking, our practice sessions would only be ingraining what we want. If we aren’t able to ingrain things the way we want in our practice, our repetitions need to teach us what we need to do TO ingrain things we way we want. If we miss notes in a phrase, but we find that our ear training needs to improve, we learned something valuable. If we miss notes in a phrase and simply play it again, hoping for things to be different, progress isn’t as likely. Hoping for a better outcome is not a strategy.

Armed with this information, I did what many people get shamed for doing: I quit. I stopped that program. There was no reason to continue. I felt a better option was to come up with a better plan, and begin refining that one. My new plan had to address the weaknesses of my old plan, so here’s the changes I made:

  • I chose one etude to work on – Charlier 27
  • I started at 50% tempo

I resolved to learn less repertoire and to go slower. In effect, I was realistic about 

 my current capabilities. The first plan I made overestimated what I would be capable of. From time to time, we all need to take a step back and ask the question: “Is this working? Is the problem me or is it my program?” Do you have a great program but struggle to focus? Are you unclear of the goals you set for your exercises? Or is the program not set up for you to succeed, no matter how much you want it to?

I’ve been writing practice programs for a long time, and I’m still perfecting it. I’ve realized that progress is the goal, not perfection. My pursuit of better organization has helped me to understand how to make long term progress. I hope this blog post has helped you gain some understanding towards making adjustments in your practice plans.

If you want help getting started, or you want to know more about my practice methodology, we should talk! I’ve set aside some time each week for 30 minute calls to be available to help people find answers to their questions. My end goal is to help people develop practice independence so they can design their own plans to reach their goals!

If you want to talk, click here to schedule a free, 30 minute meeting with me so we can talk about your own practice organization, how to make a solid plan for you, how to adjust plans that aren’t working, or anything else you’d like to talk about!


Until next time,

Ryan


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