Keeping a Practice Journal
At each lesson, I give my students a “Practice Chart,” a list of things that we are currently working on in lessons. This includes tone studies, technique, scales, pieces to polish, new pieces, etudes and duets. I include a few comments on specific concepts to concentrate on during the week. There are also boxes to check off for each day of the week and for time practiced.
I am sure that many flute students the world over are used to getting this kind of “prescription” assignment from their teacher. However, as you advance as a flutist, it is important to think about taking ownership of one’s development as a musician. As one of my favorite teachers said, it is “the goal to make myself obsolete - so you no longer need a teacher.” One of the best ways to begin the process of becoming your own best teacher is to keep a practice journal.
Over the years, I have kept a variety of practice journals - graphs and charts, lists with dates, or simply notes scribbled in the margins of a piece. I have found that my favorite way to keep a journal is to treat my flute practice as if it were a diary entry - “what did I play today, and what was I thinking about during the practice?”(And that does not include things like “what will I eat for dinner?”)
After practicing, as I write my entry, I often find that there is a recurring theme in the practice - that although I played through a study, a piece, scales and excerpts, the main focus was_________. (Insert double tonguing, or posture, or a myriad of other options.)
Additionally, I find that it is helpful to set goals for the next day’s practice - perhaps a certain section of a piece to start with, focusing on a specific technique, or a recording that should be studied. I also include long term goals in the back of my journal - repertoire I am interested in learning, a specific technique to master (circular breathing is on my list currently!), goals for future performances and learning opportunities, such as competitions and masterclasses.
Journaling your practice sessions can help you to listen to your playing with a more critical ear - to write a comment on what to improve requires thinking like your teacher -listening to your own playing and finding room for growth. One of the easiest ways to keep a practice journal is to audio record a practice session. When you are in the moment of doing/execution, you may not be able to attend with the same focus as a teacher, so it is always helpful to listen back to your playing and then write an entry. If you are working on a postural or technical problem it may also be helpful to video record your practice. This is especially easy since most laptops and cell phones have high quality cameras built-in. You may be surprised at what you see/hear! Reviewing our playing with the help of media can affirm the many things we are doing right, and can also show us where perception and reality have parted ways.
Finally, there is the feeling of accomplishment when you complete a practice journal. Not only is it a testament of many hours and days spent practicing, but is a great way to look back and see your development as a flute player, and as your own best teacher!