On a recent trip back home to NC I found an old practice journal from my first year in college. Looking back through this notebook was really kind of fun, and got me thinking about the importance of keeping a practice log, journal, blog, etc. Over the years keeping these kinds of records has helped me in a number of ways, and the college years are a great time to start. Here are some of the reasons I would strongly recommend keeping some kind of written record about your playing.
Organization/Motivation: Keeping a record of what and how long you practice, along with your personal thoughts and ideas, helps develop organization and time management skills – two factors which I believe are extremely important in succeeding in college and beyond. Getting organized should be one of the first steps in approaching any challenge – an audition, a recital, and so on. How can you practice effectively if you don’t know what you want/need to practice? At first, try to be as detailed as possible in your journal, even keeping track of things right down to the minute. Many players, me included, have the tendency to waste time during a practice session, and keeping track of how long you really practice can do wonders for your efficiency. Once the minutes, hours, and days start to add up, a journal can become a source of motivation as well. If you are trying to build up your endurance, try adding five minutes of practice time every two or three days. When you look back at your journal, you can see just how much work you’ve put in over a period of time, which helps build confidence along with the motivation to keep practicing.
Language Skills: I would wager that most teachers along the way have been faced with a situation in which they know basically what point they want to communicate, but can’t quite find the words to say it. Along with our horn playing, language is one of the most useful skills we can have as teachers. Start developing that language now. For example, how would you describe in words the sensations, technique, etc. required to play stopped horn? What words most clearly describe your concept of the ideal tone? Practice saying the same things in different ways, because one explanation doesn’t always cut it when working with diverse groups of students with varying backgrounds and skill levels. A good command of language can help you in your own playing as well. Trying to get back in shape after a vacation? Try reading back over your journal/log for inspiration or practice strategies. Stuck on a thorny technical problem? You might have worked on it before, but can’t remember exactly what worked – that’s where your journal comes in.
“Ah-hah!”/Lightbulb Moments: I rarely get them, but every once in a while something I’ve been struggling with will click and become easy. At that exact moment I try to stop for just a minute or two and really think about what I was doing, and try as best as possible to put the sensation or idea into words. I keep the best ideas on a little 3X5 inch note card, which I stick between the cover and first page of my routine. I think I got this idea from Doug Hill, but I remember reading somewhere that Philip Farkas also did the same kind of thing with ideas about the embouchure and air stream.
To close out this post I’ll include a transcription of one of the pages from that old journal, along with a list of goals I wrote out for my first semester in college. At the time I was still working on an embouchure change I’d started in high school – my low register was pretty strong, but range and endurance were a big priority for me.
Goals: 1) Be able to play a G above the staff consistently and confidently. 2) Develop internal pulse. 3) Increase volume of air intake. 4) Work on transposition. 5) Physical exercise.
Warm-up: 30 minutes
Lip trills: 5 minutes
Minor scales: 10 minutes
High range exercise (Farkas): 5 minutes
Double tonguing: 5 minutes
Long tones: 10 minutes
Maxime-Alphonse Etudes: 40 minutes
Haydn, Concerto No. 2: 30 minutes
Re warm-up (Stamp): 5 minutes
Beethoven, Symphony No. 9: 30 minutes
Beethoven, Fidelio Overture: 10 minutes
Beethoven, Symphony No. 8: 15 minutes
Low Horn Etudes (McCoy): 10 minutes