Structuring a Practice Routine: A Beginner's Guide
Learn how to look at your goals and build up the right practice routine to match.
by TarunCreator, tuneUPGRADE
The Four Practice Areas
Having a good tool to track your practice is great, but if you can't set up the right practice routine for yourself, you won't be able to make progress as quickly as you'd like. In this post, I'll talk about how you can break down a practice routine between different areas of focus, and assign the right amount of time to each to keep you learning - and keep you motivated!
We can start this by by looking at the four areas of focus, which break down the different areas that you'll focus on during your practice time. Once we know these, we can talk about how to allocate the right amount of time and the right order for each of these areas of focus. The four areas to focus on are:
Exercises, which should be short and give you specific focus to learn a skill or technique
Songs you're Learning, which is where you typically would spend most of your time
Repertoire Review, which keeps things you've learned fresh
Open Practice Time, which gives you time to enjoy yourself and give yourself a little fluidity in your practice session
Your routine should take into account all of these different areas of focus, and the time spent on each should depend on your current practice goals.
Determining your practice goals
In order to determine how to structure your routine, first think about your practice goals. If you are a beginner, a teacher or a guided curriculum will help most with this, but once you get past the basics, you can start setting your own goals and where you want to stretch.
Goals can be anything from learning a very specific piece, to something that pushes you in a general direction (i.e. "I want to learn how to improvise over the blues"), or best of all, working towards a certain specific goal ("I need to make my setlist performance-ready 3 weeks before I perform them.").
Setting your goal will be the guiding principal that shapes your practice routine and much time you spend on the major areas.
For instance, if you are rehearsing for a performance, chances are you'll spend a lot of time reviewing your repertoire. If you're trying to learn a new style, you balance time doing exercises in that style (i.e. blues scales) as well as learning songs (i.e. learning blues solos and rhythms, jamming along to a track).
Remember to try to set goals that are measurable and can be achieved in a reasonably short time, so that you don't get too bored or take on a task that's too large, especially for a beginner. It's no use trying to set a goal to learn an entire advanced piece in a week for a beginner, but you can certainly set a goal to learn the first few bars.
Once you have your goal set, you can start looking at the four areas of focus and start to determine how to set up your routine. Let's take a deeper look at each of the four areas of focus and see where and how they should fit into your routine.
Most of the time, you'll have a goal that lends itself well to exercises. Goals like learning more music theory, building finger dexterity, or mastering instrument basics (such as chord changing on guitar) might all be part of your exercises.
Generally, you'll want your exercises to be earlier on in your practice, as they tend to serve as a great warm-up. But, front-loading all your exercises can be a recipe for disaster, as they also can tend to be a little rote.
A great way to break this up is to start with a single warm up exercise, but then slot your exercises in throughout your routine where it makes sense. For example, if you're learning three songs, and each are in a different key, you can practice the scale for that key just before you practice the song, or if you have a difficult run or chord change in a song,
Songs You're Learning
Generally, here's where most learners are going to spend the majority of their time. Take on as many songs as you feel comfortable with, but splitting your time between too many means you might not make progress at a steady pace. Try to put the most challenging songs up front in your routine, when you'll have the most energy and focus to tackle them, or rotate them around in your routine so you get to spend that focus on different songs each time you practice.
Here's where you'll want to keep things you've learned in the past fresh! It's easy to just keep focusing on learning new songs, but when you want to go back and play something you've learned in the past, it's been too long and you've forgotten it. Repertoire review is also a great place to be able to relax and enjoy the fruits of your musical labor, or apply new learnings to old songs, try different tempos, dynamics, or accenting, and get to your best performance of the songs you love.
It's a great idea to slot in Open Practice time towards the end of your routine. This lets you end your practice without making it feel like work, especially if you're struggling through something. This is your time to decide in the moment - what do you want to do? Do you want to work on something earlier in the routine that was exciting to you? Maybe you want to just rock out a bit, or improvise and explore. Ending your practice with an open practice session will let you wander away from your practice remembering why you're learning to play in the first place.
Revising Your Routine
The last thing to remember is to do whatever it takes to keep your routine fresh! Rotate through a few common ones, tweak the timings after each playthrough, or tear it down and build it up as often as makes sense to meet your goals. Happy practicing!
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