Setting Up a Practice Plan

In my previous post, we talked about Why we need to practice (reinforce skills learned in a lesson), this week we’ll explore more of What it is and How to do it.

When a private teacher or band teacher tells a student to go home and practice, most of the time there is no direction as to what and how to practice.  Many students just take out their instrument and noodle around on notes they can already play. They may make one or two attempts to play the assignment, but then get frustrated when they can’t perform it well right away.

In today’s society where there’s instant gratification, students need to be taught how to work towards a goal and have patience during each step in the process.

The first step is to establish your overall goal, and then identify the little steps you can take every day to achieve this ultimate goal. For example, if the assignment is to work on page 6 in a method book and be evaluated on the final example (let’s call it #13) on the page, here are the steps:

  1. The overall goal is to perform #13 at quarter note = 88, with steadiness of rhythms (big and small beats), with good tone quality, good breath support, proper hand positioning and posture.
  2. The secondary goal is to play all the examples on the assigned page with steadiness of rhythms, good tone quality, etc.
  3. Identify the small steps to achieve each goal. That could be to play the first 3 examples on the first day of practice, play the next 3 examples the next day, then work on the test example for the rest of the week.
  4. Break down each small step even further by following this procedure:
    1. Review the first example. First identify the rhythms for the 1st 2 measures and chant or tap them aloud. Next identify the different pitches and their fingerings. The next step is to FINGER THE NOTES WITH THE WRITTEN RHYTHMS USING A STEADY, SLOW TEMPO. The next step is to play those two measures. Then proceed to the next 2 measures using the same process. (This all seems painfully slow, and at first it will be, but if you go through the process this way in the beginning, you will progress much faster with performing and reading.)Next, play through the first 4 measures of the example. When you have successfully played each set of two measures, 4 measures, 6 measures etc., play through the entire example.
    2. Do the same process for all the examples on the page.
  5. At the start of each practice day (after you have warmed up with patterns and long tones), review the examples you worked on the previous day. Then work on new material for a majority of your practice time. Always end your practice session by playing some fun songs or noodling around and experimenting with different rhythms on the notes you know.


Action Steps:

  1. Take a blank sheet of paper, and write down your overall goal, and then your next more important goal.
  2. Figure out the smaller steps needed to achieve your big goal.
  3. Follow the above process for working on an assignment.
  4. Let me know how you did in the Comments section below.
  5. If you enjoyed this article, please Like it and share it on your social networks.
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Practicing can be fun as well as educational. You learn a lot about yourself when you break down big goals into smaller pieces and identify what YOU need to work on. Everyone is different; we all have different faces, teeth, lips, lung size, hand size, etc. So, we have to work through concepts to make it work for us, and the best place to do that is in the practice room!

Next week, we’ll talk about the best mindset for practicing, what should be in your practice room or space and some of the accessories that can help make practice even more fun.




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  1. Interestingly, I write a practice assignment every week for my elementary school orchestra in very much the same way that you described. I post it on a class website offered by Shutterfly. Parents were told the importance of regular practice at a meeting during recruitment. They were even asked not to sign their child up if the child was to have more than 2 or 3 activities including orchestra. The only thing parents were asked to do was to print out the step by step practice instructions and to encourage their child to follow the instructions 5 separate days a week. I am finding that the students struggling with practice at home are the ones whose parents don’t print out the instructions, and who believe (despite being told otherwise at orientation) that lack of practice without being told is a sign of lack of interest.


  1. […] Want some ideas for setting up a practice plan? Read this: Setting Up a Practice Plan […]

  2. […] Finally, he really was prepared with his material. Nothing can replace a solid practice plan with achievable goals. (For further insight into Practice Plans, read this.) […]

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