Something I discuss on a regular basis with my students is splitting up their practise time to help them get better results. After a while of playing and maybe getting invloved with different bands, school music projects, or studying for grade exams (or maybe doing all those things at the same time), the list of things that you need to work on can seem overwhelming. It could also be that you’ve got personal goals you’d like to meet with your playing, but feel at a loss with where to get started when you have the time to practise.
Don’t cram everything into one session
Variety is a good thing for your practise routine, but when i’m speaking to my students some of them will have fallen into the trap of cramming as many things into the short time they have, because they feel they have to be working on everything all of the time. It might seem like an hour is long enough to fit everything in, but if you’ve got a shopping list of things to practise, you’ll probably be spreading yourself a bit thin by the end of it. By the time you have got into one thing on your to do list, you’re moving onto something else. It doesn’t have to be that way, however!
A way to work your available time is with what I call time “units”. A unit is a fixed amount of time that you set for yourself. This could be 15 minutes, 20 or maybe 30 minutes. When you’ve set a suitable length of time for your unit, look at how much time you have to play with and simply divide. If I set a unit at 15 minutes, and I have 30 minutes to play, I have two units to work with.
It’s a bit like setting yourself a timetable, like you’d have at school. Think of units as topics. If you have two units available, you cover two topics that day, and no more. I personally set my unit to 20 minutes as i’ve found this is a long enough time to spend on something where I feel i’ve gotten something out of it, while at the same time not long enough for me to get bored of doing it.
So, if I have an hour to play and I split my time up with units, I have three units to work with. I might rehearse a song for 20 minutes, play scales for the next 20 minutes, then spend some time improvising for the last 20 minutes. For each of the units i’ll give that topic 100% of my concentration, and i’ll be strict with the timing of each unit, normally using a kitchen timer to prompt me to move onto the next one.
Plan your week out in advance
If this sounds like something that might work for you, the key to it then will be to make sure you’re getting a good variety throughout the space of a week. This is where I would recommend planning your available time for the upcoming week, and choosing which topics you’ll cover each day beforehand based on how many units you’ll have each day. It would be a good idea to get a cheap diary or a notebook to keep track of what you plan to do.
Of course, if you find you have some extra time one day and you’d like to spend it playing your instrument, you could always give yourself a wildcard to play whatever you like in that time. You might also plan some of your units as free time, or leave those ones to the day to decide.
This might sound a rigid way of doing things, but if you’ve got goals you want to work toward, or a list of things you need to practise, it should help to level out imbalances; especially if you’re finding you’ll spend only a few minutes a day on your scales and then spend the rest of your time jamming songs you like to play. When you’re planning your practise times out for the upcoming week with units, you can be content knowing that you’ll be covering all the bases you need before that next lesson, band rehearsal or gig, and will have spent enough time on each topic.
This is the method i’ve used for a number of years, and it’s one that I still use. The planning beforehand gives me the peace of mind that i’ll have all my pieces rehearsed, and if there are certain exercises or scales i’ll need to do before playing a particular piece, I can schedule around that too. Because i’m using a fixed time unit for each task, it stops me getting carried away on one thing, and then wondering where all the time has gone at the end of the day!
I hope this gives you some ideas how you could structure your available practise time. It really boils down to planning. If you can make a plan of what you want to do before you start practising, you’ll spend less time having to think about it when you pick up your instrument, and hopefully be able to concentrate on your playing more in the time you have.