Since starting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in September I have been trying to get the ‘perfect’ practice routine nailed. I thought it would be an easy thing to do but is has actually been quite a challenge! With my final recital around the corner, 4 weeks away, I think I have finally mastered my practice routine.
Anyone who has come near me will know that I am in love with anything to do with stationary, so it makes the planning part of my practice routine really fun and enjoyable. I also love to have a good routine, so I always structure my day down to the minute.
Here is what my typical day looks like Mon-Fri
- Wake up 5.45am
- Listen to some current repertoire and pieces that interest me while I do a simple Yoga routine before getting ready for the day and having breakfast. ( I occasionally do a bit of mental practice in this time).
- Leave my flat at 7.15am (I cycle everywhere).
- Confirm my practice room booking at around 7.25am, college technically opens at 7.30 so it depends on if it’s open! Typically I will practice for 1.5-2 hours on a morning, we can only book 3 hours of rooms a day.
- I then head to the cafe, or back to my flat dependent on how much time I have before any classes, and do some more listening, reading and mental practice.
- Usually there are classes to go to from 9-4 and then I do some more practice in the evening. If I’m lucky, during the spaces between classes I sometimes find a room to do some practice in, if not I will go home and make some tea before going back into college for another 2-3 hours of practice in the evening.
- Go to bed at around 10pm – the most important thing I have learned about sustaining a good routine is sleep and self-care!
How I run my practice sessions
- The first thing I do when I enter my practice room is look at my plan of what I want to achieve, how I might achieve it and leave space for a review. I usually write this out at the end of each session, so I can read over the review notes from the day and write out what I want to do for the next day.
- I usually put my pieces into categories: solo, ensemble, accompaniment etc. Out of these I then pick what needs the most attention, at this point in the year it is all solo repertoire. So from there I will pick which piece, movement, section and bar before I write it into my practice diary so I can create long term goals for my pieces.
- I then do a few active stretches before sitting down at the keyboard, taking long deep breaths with my arms down by my side. (It is so important to start off a practice session in a positive mindset!)
- Then I begin with some slow scales, and when I say slow I mean slow tortoise paced, before moving onto some Czerny studies. I do this for about 20-30 minutes before moving onto repertoire. I work on my technique through my pieces and scales more than technical exercises, although I don’t rule them out completely, and at certain points in the year the intensity and time I spend on my technique does increase.
I will do a full detailed blog post on how I structure my practice diary, including what materials I use as this is one key aspect in my practice routine.
What I do when there aren’t any rooms free
- Mental practice is a life saver when there aren’t any rooms available!
- Visualise myself playing the piece from beginning to end, I usually do this with my eyes shut because it requires intense attention. I try to mentally correct fingerings I keep getting wrong when physically practicing.
- See myself playing in a large concert hall, this is useful for preventing performance anxiety and helps to desensitize you to any feelings of anxiety when performing.
- Hear the pieces I’m playing in my head, this is similar to visualising but is more helpful for me as I learn aurally and in patterns (part of being a violinist I think). This is a great tool in memorisation, which is a key part of being a pianist, if I can run a piece through aurally then I know its ingrained well, it also shows up bits I need to go over in physical practice.
- Most importantly, listening to recordings of my repertoire. This not only helps with memorisation, but also keeps the inspiration fresh and can help me tell my own story through the composers eyes.
An example of something inspiring me at the moment is Andreás Schiff’s Lecture-Recital series. This one is on a Beethoven sonata I am playing for my end of year recital, and I have found it eye opening.
I think it is more important to get really good quality practice that is focused and detailed than spend 8 hours a day slaving over a piano being unfocused, in my opinion that is just as good as no practice at all. However, this is what works best for me so I hope this can help others to figure out a practice schedule that works well for them.