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The Super Efficient Practice Hour

The Sensible Flutist: The Super Efficient Practice Hour

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Super Efficient Practice Hour

I feel like I haven't been getting a whole heck of a lot of work done lately. In the midst of a job search for my husband, we are also moving. We don't know where this will take us, but we're forging ahead. Being the administrative whiz of the family, that means I'm doing a lot of the grunt work on the computer. Given we've done this type of thing several times already, roles are established and defined.

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With all the stress that looking for a job and moving brings, my constants are running and music. At the present moment, I have about two hours a day to myself. That leaves one hour for running and one for flute. Not wanting to lose the progress made during my week at Summerflute, I have jumped in with my available time. I have no prominent deadlines coming up, so I can simply explore and enjoy.

How much do you think can be done in just an hour a day? In two weeks with a day off here and there due to life, I've managed to learn 80 percent of the 1st movement of the Copland Duo, I'm ready to finish recording the 4th movement of twtrsymphony's Symphony No 2 by Chip Clark, I'm continuing to solidify my interpretation of the Allemande from the Bach Partita and I am rotating through a satisfactory tone and technique practice schedule using Fiona Wilkinson's The Physical Flute, Walfrid Kujala's Vade Mecum and Marcel Moyse's Tone Development through Interpretation.

How do I do it? I've returned to using the Pomodoro Technique for my sessions and using the Focus Booster desktop app to keep track of time. In short, this technique breaks a half hour into 25 minutes spent working on a task with a 5 minute break. I have been using Session 1 for tone and tech and Session 2 for repertoire. My 5 minute breaks are used for constructive rest.

What I have noticed over these past two weeks has been that the focus I devote to this one hour carries itself through the rest of my day. For one, it's hard to work from home which I have been doing since February. All the distractions are sometimes too tempting, but adding a dose of super focus to my day helps me stay on task for the rest of my to do list, especially those I would rather not do.

When I get my super efficient practice hour done, I feel at peace with myself. I know I've broken my work down into manageable tasks, and I accept that the work I've done is worthwhile. It's taken me a long time to get to the point where I am able to accept who I am as a musician, and find a path that suits me (see my Manifesto for more details about this). My practice goal at this moment in time is to give myself time to begin integrating the next wave of changes into my musicianship. 

The super efficient practice hour is the gift I can give to myself everyday in order to preserve my sanity. We each have our own problems to contend with. Even if you play for a living, do you approach your instrument with joy and curiosity or with dread? It's times like these that make me grateful that I have music in my life to give me a release valve when I begin to internalize my daily stress too much. These life experiences also deepen my appreciation of music, and the range of human emotions that music can express.

My simply advice is this: take the time you have and accept it no matter how little time you may have available. Choose one goal to work towards, and base your work on that goal. Whether you have an hour or you have more, deliberately ensure everything you do in your time works towards that goal. You'll thank yourself.

Note: The foundation of my practice goes back to what I call, "Holistic Practice." I'll be presenting a workshop on it at the upcoming convention for the National Flute Association on Friday, August 10, 8 AM in Octavius 21-23 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The type of focus that we need to achieve real results in the practice room applies so well to the rest of our lives, that "holistic" really describes a way of practicing for our whole selves that we can carry through our day. If you're interested in approaching your practicing in a way that maximizes your time and minimizes stress, this is the workshop for you!

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At July 16, 2012 at 7:59 PM , Blogger Patrick Smith said...

Well said Alexis. Having a full time job I found a long time ago that regular focused sessions of relatively short durations can be quite powerful. Some nights I can get 2 plus hours in, but it is the quality and regularity that is key.

Best wishes for your workshop, sounds wonderful.

At July 17, 2012 at 9:11 AM , Blogger The Sensible Flutist said...

Thanks for commenting, Patrick! It's always great to get confirmation of these strategies from others. I'm looking forward to when life slows down again to afford me some more time to practice but as long as I stay consistent with this hour, it'll probably do more good in the long run.

At July 18, 2012 at 11:10 AM , Anonymous Betty Widerski said...

Yes - I've been doing Pomodoro practicing lately too. I'm using the iOS app PomodoroPro, which lets me choose my own durations for active and rest periods. For me I find 15 and 5 works best, so if I have an hour I get in warmup/scales, exercise related to repertoire, and the rep.

At July 18, 2012 at 11:28 AM , Blogger The Sensible Flutist said...

Excellent, Betty! I will check out the app. Thanks for commenting !


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