Practice log: app? Notebook? Etc.

May 22, 2018, 9:28 AM · How do you track your practice goals and results? Notebook? App? Spreadsheet? Trying to set up a system for myself and looking for ideas. Thanks!

Replies (21)

May 24, 2018, 5:42 PM · Hi Katie! I think a notebook is really great way to track your goals, practice sessions, and also notes from your lessons. You can also use your practice notebook for other things like schedules, to do lists, etc. Sometimes notebooks can be bulky so something slender and not too big that fits in your case is the best. Anyway if you're not very into notebooks I guess you could always use notes on your phone. Hope this helps!
May 24, 2018, 6:42 PM · Audio and video recordings for me. I've got notes on the music as well but it's recordings give me the real clear feedback on how I'm progressing, or not.
Edited: May 24, 2018, 9:44 PM · Usually for any kind of study/training/practice the most effective is not to write what you do after practice, but to write the plan for each day in the upcoming week/fortnight and try to stick to it and comment later on the side of each.

That's what works for me. Oh, and just use a simple small notebook that you can carry in the pocket or in the case.

May 25, 2018, 11:16 AM · I think the big question is, "What do you hope to accomplish by use of a practice journal?"

For me, the primary use of a practice journal is to log how much time I'm spending on certain things; doing this at the granularity of a piece of music or etude is good enough for me. It's mostly to ensure that I rotate between things, and it essentially serves to remind me that I should maybe come back to something that I haven't touched in a few weeks.

I generally keep the to-do list for a piece of music in my head, but sometimes practice notes get put in the margins of my music.

May 25, 2018, 12:22 PM · Thanks, guys. I'm trying to sort out what I need and what would help motivate me to be more consistent.

I have always used a notebook for documenting music lesson notes--in fact, I still have my notebooks from childhood, wherein I can remember that I've always had a weird issue with my 4th finger and a stiff right hand!--but I've never planned or logged my practice, nor did any teacher suggest that I should.

I've noticed from various discussions here that some of you do actually log practice time in various ways, which is why I asked. I can see the wisdom of using a paper journal, both to plot out my course for the day/week and to serve as a record. That said, I'm drawn to data analysis and do like to go back and see progress/quantify how I spend my time. Just as I use Strava to log my bike rides and runs (and Omada to track my weight), I thought it might be motivating to use an app to track my musical endeavors. A quick Google search reveals that I'm not alone in this regard: music practice apps seem plentiful. I was curious to know whether anyone used one of these, and if so, how.

I think Kurt Sassmanshaus has practice log templates on his violin master class website and I might also try those, maybe in spreadsheet form.

May 25, 2018, 12:36 PM · Yixi, do you make recordings with your phone?
May 25, 2018, 1:11 PM · I use an app that has unfortunately not been updated for the current iOS. I actually keep my iPad on the old iOS so that it still works:

I really need a replacement.

Edited: May 25, 2018, 3:00 PM · Katie, for audio recording, on weekly basis in my practice room as well as during lessons and performances, I use my zoom and then upload it on my PC. Occasionally, I use my cell phone to video record myself to check my movements as an alternative to a mirror, which I use daily.

My philosophy of practice log is the simpler the better. I try not to let the tracking thing become another project. I did use notebook/paper journal in the past, but I also write a lot of notes on my music. It felt to me a bit like using more than one calendars after a while. Also written words don't as accurately convey music ideas as recordings do. Since I record my lessons and my practice regularly, I feel additional written journal a bit redundant for someone like myself who has a few different projects on the go yet not super well-organised.

May 25, 2018, 4:25 PM · I use a notebook. There's this thing called The Practice Journal - I've found it a great way to set up my writing about my playing. I didn't buy it, but I got the free sample and used the same layout in the journal I use.
Edited: May 26, 2018, 3:34 AM · ‘Thanks, guys. I'm trying to sort out what I need and what would help motivate me to be more consistent.’

That’s a honorable goal, but it’s fundamentally flawed.
Sure, some ‘hacks’ might ‘motivate’ you to be more ‘consistent’, but that’s just moping the floor instead of fixing the leak.

What you are doing here is you avoid addressing the root of the problem, by distracting yourself with things that are optional, and only serve to improve practice efficiency when everything is already right.

But here everything is NOT already right.

The problem you have is not ‘I need tools to help motivate myself, so I can be more consistent in my practice’, but rather ‘I cannot be consistent in my practice without help from tools that motivate me’.

See what I’m talking about?

Emotion wins over logic everytime. And here, your logical goal of being more consistent in practice is losing to the emotion of not wanting to practice.

Sure you can tell yourself you need to be more consistent and practice more, but that won’t ever amount to much unless you actually decide EMOTIONALLY that’s it’s what you want and need.

For instance, let’s say we have two violin players of the same level.
The first one believes deep down that violin is his purpose in life, it’s what he love doing most of all things and he knows he can also help improve the life of millions by sharing his playing with the world.
The second just plays violin because he kinda wants to play like that funny Perlman guy, or because his parents made him start, but he thinks it’s hard, practice is boring, and it’s not something he LOVES anyway.

How much do you think each of them will have improved after one year?

What changed? THE MINDSET. And that, in turn, affected everything else.

I’m not trying to be patronizing or anything here, it’s just some food for thought.
I for one know that I used to have exactly the same problems as you. Because Violin was never actually something I wanted to do.
I tried to get myself to practice more by trying every motivational hack possible out there. But it never worked, not for long anyway.
Now, I’m doing something I actually love doing, and WANT to do, and I never have any issue with getting myself to practice, in fact it’s the opposite, I have trouble stopping!
And I’ve never been happier.

So just make your objectives clear to yourself.
What do you want to achieve? Why? And are you willing to go through the pain and hard work that goal requires?

If not, then don’t worry about trying to force yourself ‘to be more consistent and motivated in practice’, and find something where you won’t need any forcing instead.


Edited: May 26, 2018, 6:44 AM · Roman that's an interesting viewpoint and I'm glad you took the time to articulate it. I think for a lot of folks, motivation ebbs and flows, and the "motivational tools" (practice charts and such) help rectify the low points. I have to say, personally, that if one needs a chart to keep track of what one is practicing, at least for me this would be a sign that I am working on too many things in parallel. Then again, some people just like to feel ultra-organized about everything, tracking every different area of their lives with a different iPhone app, so organizing their violin practice in that way is just part of what makes life enjoyable for them. Finally there is the significant issue of wanting to measure progress when progress is slow and the error in measurement large. For this I recommend periodically (say, every couple of weeks) taking out a piece that you "finished" a year or two ago and playing through it ... if you're making progress you'll find you can play it better (or with less effort or stress) than you could before. That's extremely motivating for me because that's where I can see real change, even if the gradient is measured in months or years rather than days or weeks. And use a different piece every time because why not review and maintain your prior repertoire anyway.
May 26, 2018, 6:49 AM · Roman, that's an interesting perspective, and it's probably reasonable for youngsters like yourself who are figuring out whether or not you want to make violin a profession.

But for busy adults like Katie, for whom violin is a sideline in a life filled with a demanding profession and myriad other life obligations, tools that help structure a limited amount of practice time can be immensely useful. (And research indicates gamification turns out to motivate mature adults, however silly it might seem.)

I agree with Paul's perspective. I would also add for students who have, say, 30 minutes or 60 minutes a day to practice, and not four hours to practice, being highly organized and efficient actually grows in importance, because you want to make sure that every single minute is well-used.

May 26, 2018, 7:58 AM · Motivation... That's a millenial thing, isn't it?

I am from from a different generation and geography. I learn out of discipline. You do your job, you do your homework. It's not a conditional statement. And you get most of that discipline planning ahead and following the path. No buts or ifs.

May 26, 2018, 8:07 AM · I don't think motivation is a "millenial thing." Practice charts certainly aren't. But struggles with motivation is exactly the kind of thing that people would have kept to themselves in previous generations whereas millenial are more apt to wear it on their sleeves (or their facebook pages or their twitter feeds).
May 26, 2018, 11:34 AM · Motivation might be a new thing and a cultural thing too. When I grew up in China during the 60s, we never talked about motivation or what we wanted. It was all about what the family, the country needed and what we should do. And it worked to a large degree to cultivate grit among other things in people from such cultures. Don't laugh if I tell you the truth about that it took me a long time after I immigrated to Canada to get used to the idea that what "I want" was important. I believed that wanting or expecting was something counter-factual because the world was not built to fit our desires but the other way around. Of course, now I'm all about doing what I want.

Roman's point is interesting, but it fails to address the fact that what and the intensity of want and love can change over time and/or under different circumstances. I would argue that it is habit, including our habits of behavior and a certain way of thinking, is much more reliable for consistency over a long run. As a creature of habits, whatever tools can be used to hack us into a certain behavior pattern, then that's a great tool. While motivation has its limits, it is a pretty good tool to make us keep doing "the right things" until we've built the desired habits.

May 26, 2018, 11:59 AM · Ha! Motivation is for everyone. And the older one gets, the harder can be to have a "growth mindset" or to believe that one can change/improve. I'm hardly a millennial. But I do have a fairly complicated life with a lot of different commitments that I'm juggling. Violin, like exercise, is a commitment to myself--the easiest kind to forego, especially if I'm tired after a long day. I also have a political appointment in our local government that requires late night meetings and a lot of due diligence, a job, a child with special needs and activities of his own, a house, a husband, a church choir, and other hobbies. I've never been good at focusing on one thing and, left to my own devices, "practice" can quickly devolve in one of two directions: messing around with music that I'll never perform, or fretting over some extremely micro element of my technique that I'm convinced is holding me back, and then abandoning my instrument in frustration. When I was a bike racer, I had a training plan: 2 hour easy ride one day, intervals the next, endurance ride or weights after that. And I had a coach that checked in with me weekly, looked at my training data (miles, speed, heart rate, time up benchmark climbs) and advised and adjusted accordingly. It worked. And more importantly, I gained a confidence in my ability to systematically improve at something that I was already good at, and to see the results. I crave that experience with violin as well, but I stopped taking regular lessons when I graduated from high school 25 years ago. And I'm at a point in life where I'm ready for guidance and routine. The sheer number of decisions I have to make in a given day about how to spend my time is frankly exhausting. you know more about me than you did before. ;-) (and yes, I'm also looking for a teacher. It hasn't been an easy quest.)
Edited: May 26, 2018, 12:37 PM · Yixi, of course it’s a matter of habit. And of course there are highs and lows but I’m talking about a larger picture kind of commitment, one that goes beyond motivation.

I personally do not believe in motivation either. Motivation gets you started, and enables you to set the right habits. Then it’s all about following the plan and consistency.
Which is easier to do when you are committed to something long-term, no matter the highs and lows.

And Katie, even if hard, do find a teacher, it might solve your problem!

Edited: May 26, 2018, 2:21 PM · The idea that feeling motivated to do something is novel or restricted to a certain geography is odd. So is the idea that motivation and discipline are in a somewhat contradictory, rather than complementary, relation.

Yixi, I would put habit with discipline. But motivation I think is essential. Personal example:. I'm trying to sort out my bowing...I rely on my teacher to a large extent and I practice daily, but I also bought books that I dig into to find some more kernels of wisdom. I watch videos of people talking about the basics of detaché (there are some excellent and some not so excellent). I've seen another teacher for a more analytical viewpoint. I've come to see that not everyone does the same thing...and I see that they still manage to come up with a good result (keeping the bow on the same sound point). This research owes itself to motivation, it goes beyond habit or discipline. I desire to improve and to understand...and I try as I am able to, to apply.

I assume that the younger students feel this motivation, the more likely they will develop to be excellent at what they do. Discipline to a degree is of course necessary too. But discipline by itself leaves out so much.

Just to add, I'm not giving this example because I think so highly of myself. Rather because as a child, I didn't know motivation if it hit me in the face. To some extent because I didn't get to discover what I tended towards as a person.

Edited: May 29, 2018, 7:17 PM · I use the paid version of MyTractice app for Android. It's not specifically designed for violin so a bit clunky because you have to re-enter instrument, excersizes etc for each section of practice time. But as i got used to it, I've actually found the forced pause and thought in the selection helpful to create a short break between the specific things I'm working on and think through the best progression. It includes a timer, saved tagging (scales, key, specific songs etc.), A section for notes and allows you to record in app for later playback.

I totally get the data analytics thing, I use Endomondo for running and I love analyzing performance both immediately and over time. The music app is not as good for it but you can track time spent on each portion of your practice and compare notes and recording over time. The only negative is the metronome is a bit buggy so I just use a different app for that.

Edited: June 1, 2018, 2:05 PM · I found Trello useful

June 1, 2018, 2:42 PM · I feel so old school; I use a notebook and a pen. I always have, since I was a kid. Though my notes to myself have gotten briefer over the years. I have so much stuff on my music stand (I actually have two stands, side by side) that it's easy for me to forget what I'm working on unless I write it down. I make notes on my music, of course, but if I'm working up nine bars in the middle of a development passage, practicing a tricky bit in rhythms or whatever, I don't want to note that in the music but I do want a note somewhere.

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