Recording Your Practice

Data Collection: Part 1

Learning new music can be exciting and challenging, also frustrating. By learning more about what we actually do in practice, we hope to find ways to make practice more effective and less frustrating. Here, we describe tools that we have developed for studying practice. This document contains instructions on how to record and analyze your own practice. The methods can be used to answer many different kinds of questions about practice, memorization, and musical interpretation. You should feel free to adapt the tools to suit the questions that you want to ask.There are several steps to collecting data on recording your practice sessions. 1. Video tape all practice sessions from the first time you look at the score to when you perform this music from memory. 2. Keep a log of your practice sessions and of your performances. 3. As soon as you have completed your work on the music (e.g., after you have performed it) record the decisions that you made while preparing the piece. We will provide tools for you to complete each step of the process. We have designed these tools in Microsoft Excel 2007. At the end of this process you will be able to chart your own learning progress and discover things about your learning. You will be able to confirm some of the things that you already know about your practice style. You will probably also learn some new things that you never expected. This should help you to practice smarter.

Using the Excel file:

We assume that you are familiar with basic Excel operations, such as moving between work sheets, deleting, entering, and copying data. The excel file contains some sample data to help you see how it works. Make a copy of the file for your own use.The Excel file is primarily designed for studying practice but can also be used for other purposes. We encourage you to be creative. Entries required to autogenerate practice graphs are colored yellow. Entries colored green are also useful in studying practice, but are not required by the program.

Keeping a log:

Within the Excel file you received there are several spreadsheets. The first spreadsheet, Log (or Journal), contains some information you record at each practice session or performance. The sheet is designed to be printed. We suggest that you print out the sheet and keep it where you practice. You can later transcribe the information back to the excel file. The most important purpose of the Log is to assign each practice session a number and to record the date, start time, and finish time. We have also suggested some additional questions that you may find it useful to keep a record of. Feel free to change these questions to suit your own goals.

Recording your practice:

It may feel uncomfortable at first, but it is essential to record each session. Audio or video recording can be used, but video is more informative. If possible, record performances as well. (Consider them as special practice sessions). It is also a good idea to talk to recorder about what you are doing, whenever you can do so without distracting yourself from practice. If talking distracts you, then talk less.

Numbering the measures:

Usually, the measures marked in a musical score provide a natural way of dividing up the music that reflects the way that we think about the music and work with it during practice. In these cases, we will use the bars of the score as the basic unit for recording practice. Sometimes, however, some other division of the music may provide a more accurate reflection of how we actually think about it. For example, if the music is in a slow 12/8, you may think of the music in half bars. Decide what the most useful, basic division of the music is for you: bars, half bars, or something even smaller. Then, take a copy of your score and number these from beginning to end: bars, halfbars, or whatever. Make some spare copies of the score with the numbers on.