Practice = Solitude + Regeneration


Individual practice of a musical instrument is good for one’s soul on many levels.

Those of us who have been practicing musicians for a while, and also engage in teaching music to others in some context, have likely deduced this to be fact and validated it in the context of our own work with others.

In my own words – practicing gives me time as a musical artist to be alone with myself in order to confront my art in an objective and purely unfiltered way.

Spending that time alone reorients me to genuine objectivity about myself as a performing artist, and literally puts me back in tune with the core of the vibrations that make up musical notes and sounds. Elementary stuff.

However, I found the above to be most valid if I practiced in a manner that is correct for me to get constructive results toward personal improvement as a musician.

The first image is of a Student Practice Schedule Matrix I first developed as a sophomore in high school, then further refined each time I was a professional musician student studying at the Armed Forces School of Music in Virginia.

I have found that the matrix is usually a starting point for my students, as it was for me. One of the biggest challenges anyone faces is time management. We are all busy. But, we all waste a couple of hours each day. My system utilizes time to address the areas in music that impact the practical factors of musicianship. It does so progressively and can be used by beginners and seasoned professionals alike.


The above image shows that I have since modified the original matrix for my own personal uses as a practicing musician.

The example is currently my work for March 2017 on Bb clarinet (the beast). I have a folder like this one for alto saxophone, flute and composing as well.

Practice should not sound like a concert. In fact, if you are attacking your weaknesses and not simply putting on a show, it should not sound very good at all during most of the session.

I still practice using the same parameters I did in the beginning:

  • Use a metronome (metronome app)
  • Use a tuner (tuner app)
  • Take notes during practice
  • Set goals for each session (based upon time available or issues to confront)
  • When designated or allocated practice time is over – stop!

CODA: I was encouraged by a student last week who shared what he called his “practice logs” with me. I had been trying to encourage him to organize his practice time into subject areas, rather than practice for 2-3 hours aimlessly. Well, he figured out his own way to stay on point was to keep track of what he wanted to work on in a way that worked for him. His own matrix.

Further Research

There are numerous studies about the impact of music on our brains.

As an example, the US National Library of Medicine (National Institutes of Health) publishes numerous articles on the subject of music and our brains.

1. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2007 Feb;87(2):236-47. Epub 2006 Oct 13.

Practice strategies of musicians modulate neural processing and the learning of

Seppänen M(1), Brattico E, Tervaniemi M.

Author information:
(1)Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of
Helsinki, Finland.

Previous studies suggest that pre-attentive auditory processing of musicians differs depending on the strategies used in music practicing and performance. This study aimed at systematically revealing whether there are differences in auditory processing between musicians preferring and not-preferring aural strategies such as improvising, playing by ear, and rehearsing by listening to records. Participants were assigned to aural and non-aural groups according to how much they employ aural strategies, as determined by a questionnaire. The change-related mismatch negativity (MMN) component of event-related brain potentials (ERPs) was used to probe pre-attentive neural discrimination of simple sound features and melody-like patterns. Further, the musicians’ behavioral accuracy in sound perception was tested with a discrimination task and the AMMA musicality test. The data indicate that practice strategies do not affect musicians’ pre-attentive neural discrimination of changes in simple sound features but do modulate the speed of neural discrimination of interval and contour changes within melody-like patterns. Moreover, while the aural and non-aural groups did not differ in their initial neural accuracy for discriminating melody-like patterns, they differed after a focused training session. A correlation between behavioral and neural measures was also obtained. Taken together, these results suggest that auditory processing of musicians who prefer aural practice strategies differs in melodic contour and interval processing and perceptual learning, rather than in simple sound processing, in comparison to musicians preferring other practice strategies.

DOI: 10.1016/j.nlm.2006.08.011
PMID: 17046293 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]