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  • Writer's pictureT.J. Tesh, D.M.A.

The Practice Toolbox, Part 1: Plan

Above all, I wish to encourage musicians to trust their experience of their own bodies and minds, and to believe that within their struggle and confusion lie the passion and intelligence that are the keys to joyful, productive practicing and powerful performing.”

- Madeline Bruser

(Each post in this series will be accompanied by a video explanation of the concepts.)


When it comes to practice, the methods we utilize to do so effectively are many, and I would never claim to have discovered a new means of doing so. The Practice Toolbox is simply my amalgamation of all of the great methods I have learned over the years from so many great teachers and colleagues. And I think it presents a fun and effective way to explain solid practice techniques to students of all ages.

The Practice Toolbox, like any good toolbox, is a constantly evolving phenomenon. Sometimes your tools become outdated and get replaced by newer and more efficient versions. Other tools lose effectiveness as technology changes and are simply cast aside. But the tools I will present to you here are the “old standby” tools, the ones that always seem to remain in the toolbox.

The tools are:

  • Plan

  • Identify

  • Isolate

  • Slow Down

  • Simplify

  • Complicate

  • Associate

  • Record/Listen/Critique

  • Rest/Take Breaks

– Plan –

Set yourself up for maximum success in the practice room! Simply sitting down in the

practice room and hoping to be struck by inspiration is hardly a recipe for effectiveness.

Gather all of the necessary materials for your practice session.

When you’re in the middle of practicing and suddenly realize you don’t have a piece of music

you need to be practicing and have to search for it, or that your tuner/metronome is in a

case that’s still in your car, or you don’t have your recorder handy, etc… All of these issues

cause time to be wasted, time that you may not have to waste. Furthermore, all of these

distractions mean a lack of focus on the task at hand. Instead, why not prepare for the

practice session by making sure you have everything you need ready to go? Here’s a little


  • Sheet Music

  • Play-Along Tracks

  • Metronome

  • Tuner

  • Pencil

  • Recording/Playback Device

  • Mirror

  • Practice Timer

Remove all distractions!

We’ve all been guilty, at one point or another, of practicing in a space that’s filled with

distractions. Admittedly, I’ve been known to have a soccer game on the television while I’m

practicing… I mean, 85 of the 90 minutes of the game are usually just a bunch of guys

running around the pitch. But what those distractions lead to is, once again, a loss in focus

on the task at hand. If you’re energy is directed at anything other than the material you’re

practicing, you are not being as effective as you can be! Here are some culprits:

  • Television

  • Radio (surely someone still has one of those…)

  • Phone/Tablet/Computer

  • Family

  • Friends

Determine the focus of your practice session.

Practice with a purpose! Don’t allow yourself to go through the motions, just for the sake of

“maintaining” your playing. That’s equivalent to complacency and stagnation! Use your

practice time every day to improve your skill set, ever seeking to make strides toward greater

physical command of the instrument, thus allowing yourself the freedom to display your

artistry. And don’t try to make it all happen in a single practice session. You must be willing

to allow the process to guide your practice, not the results! Here are some things you can

focus on:

  • Fundamentals

  • Technique

  • Sight Reading

  • Musicality

  • Literature

  • Listening

Plan according to your day’s playing requirements.

Another key part of planning your practice day is having an awareness of your upcoming

playing obligations. If you have a concerto performance in the evening, it’s probably not the

best day to play extensive long tone studies in the upper register. If you have a limited rehearsal/performance day, you have more license to extend your practice day. Making these decisions simply requires that you ask yourself a few questions:

  • What does the rest of your playing day require?

  • What does your time actually allow for?

  • What music needs the most work?

  • What’s on my next performance?


Stay tuned for the next tool in The Practice Toolbox, the “Identify” tool…

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