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Think Quality not Quantity

As I chat with my students about their daily practice and preparation, one of the main themes that I hear is the challenge that there is not enough time to get everything they need to get done in the practice room.  Though I find that the largest obstacle to this idea is often poor time management or a lack of planning, I'm not going to address that at this time.  Yes, that is very important to address, but sometimes I hear this challenge from my most organized and diligent of students.  I myself battle this as I teach a large studio, balance performances and university service commitments, and juggle the excitement of home life with two young boys (2years old and 9wks old) at home.  I am both highly motivated, diligent, and disciplined, yet there are times when scheduling practice time is challenging.    

The thought I'd like to share is this:  Focus on the quality of your practice rather than the quantity of it.  Sure, that's a pretty wide and sweeping generalization, but let me tell you more specifically what I mean by that.  Think about the core objectives that you must achieve within any given day, week, or month and distill your practice session into the focus on quality.  Rather than thinking, "I need to get through all of my Stamp studies this morning" or "I need to do X number of Clarke studies or X number of Schlossberg exercises", focus on the quality of sound, musicianship, articulation, flexibility, or whatever other objective on which you are working.  In my own practice, I tend to schedule smaller sessions.  When I am at my busiest, I may only schedule 3 or 4 20-minute sessions in a day.   

If I only have time to do the odd numbered exercises of a given Clarke study in a practice session I'm okay with that.  I'll catch the even numbered exercises tomorrow.  When I play those studies though, I'm really focusing on the objective at hand.  I would argue that a small amount of repertoire done really well is better than a large number of repertoire done on auto-pilot.  My primary focus when addressing technique tends to be on the keys or specifics that give me the biggest challenge.  When we focus on improving the quality of that which we produce, it bleeds into every other aspect of our playing.  A focus on quality is a wonderful habit to both create and reinforce on a daily basis.