Imagine all of the illuminating insights, dormant in your mind, hiding just below the surface waiting for you to discover and take advantage of.
I strongly encourage all students to keep their own form of a practice journal.
Everyone’s practice journal will be different, and uniquely their own.
They can be simple or they can be complex, typically a reflection of the individual mind at work.
At its simplest, here’s the information your practice journal should always include:
The more you get to know me, the more this will make sense. You should sign and date anything you create. My grandfather told me that, and he was on to something.
Motivations / Goals / Frustrations
What motivates you to learn something, or get better at a specific skill?
Is it the social desire to share it with others?
From your initial desire, what goal have you set for yourself?
What is currently the biggest obstacle to achieving your goal, set in motion by your motivation?
Sometimes we can make subtle adjustments to our Motivations or Goals, that will make them more achievable, thus reducing the friction of frustrations. (Read more about SMART Goals here.)
Songs / Exercises / Topics
Make a list of everything you recall crossing your mind during your practice session, even if you didn’t spend much time on it.
This should include specific songs (and the artist or arrangement you’re drawing from).
Keep track of exercises you work on, like warmups, etudes, loops, temp inclines, etc., and what their intended outcomes are.
Sometimes topics are more general like dynamics, composition, or improvisation. If it crossed your mind, write it down.
What worked well?
This is a chance to take stock of your successes. Relish in the sense of accomplishment, and analyze what contributed to the outcome.
What needs work?
This is obviously the money spot. If something didn’t work out the way you wanted it to, make note of it here, and begin to strategize a plan of attack for next time.
When do you commit to practice again?
Speaking of next time, create that opportunity for yourself here. You will never “find” the time, you can only “make” the time. You are who you plan to be. So be bold, make a plan. Trust me, it’s much easier to make a plan, than it is to stick to one.
What should you actually use to write with/on?
After many years of trial and error, I have refined my tools to good paper, and a felt tip pen. I like the LEUCHTTURM 1917 Medium (A5) Hardcover Notebook (in black), and the Papermate Flair Medium (also black).
Why not use my phone/tablet/laptop?
You’re obviously reading this on one, so I won’t get into the finer points of digital privacy now.
It’s not the tool that matters here, it’s the craft. Keep track of you thoughts however you like.
I find it’s best to quarantine any single pursuit into its own notebook, especially if I’m keeping a chronological record to reflect back on at a later date.
What should I do once my practice journal is full?
Archive it. Make a label for the cover + spine, and place it upon your bookshelf with a sense of pride and accomplishment. And then, every few weeks, take a moment to go back and flip through it. You may even find that you were on to something a while back, and it’s taken you until now to actually make any headway on it.
And finally, if it’s useful, bring it along to your private lessons. As a teacher, I can tell you that it’s much easier to address a student’s concern if they can specifically articulate them. At which moment I would say, “Thank you for making my job easier!”