Our 30 Days of Practice Challenge

As I mentioned in my post about this year’s Maestro’s 2018/19 Studio Challenges, my students and I are are doing a new practice challenge this year. Last month, we started a 30 Days of Practice Challenge. The practice challenge was inspired by concert violinist Hilary Hahn and her 100 Days of Practice Challenge on Instagram:

I felt that my students need to build up their chops a bit before they are ready to tackle the 100 Day Challenge. Enter Stage 1: the 30 Day Practice Challenge.

The premise is that students commit to practising 30 days in a row. Healthy days, that is. Sick days won’t count against them. I told my students that I didn’t want them anywhere near their instrument if they had a fever or felt like puking. It would be a wasted effort. Better to concentrate on getting well. They’ll earn $200 Maestro Bucks once they complete the challenge. If they miss a day, then they must restart the count.

Some of my students are close to wrapping up their 30 Day Challenge, so I think it’s a good time to share some of our discoveries, observations, and lessons.

The Challenges of Practice Tracking

My students have to maintain a practice diary or log of some form. Most opted for the paper diary, although some are using it in conjunction with the Practice Buddy app.

Initially, most started by using the Practice Buddy app, but some students experienced glitches which resulted in lost practice log entries, and some practice sessions do take place when students are separated from the mobile device that had the app. Then, there were cases when students forgot to start the timer on the app or forgot to keep up with their paper log entries. The conclusion was that a paper log was still required.

Practice Makes Consistent

The Practice Buddy app has been useful in giving students a relatively easy method to send me practice clips for feedback during the week. It’s been fun on my end listening to the clips, hearing my students’ progress, and giving them cute stickers in addition to feedback.

A handful of my junior intermediate students are very close to completing their 30 Days of Practice Challenge. They should be wrapping it up within the next week or so. They are pretty excited about their bonus.

They do a combination of practising at the piano as well as theory and using some music apps such as Note Rush, Note Works, Music Reading Essentials, Perfect Ear, and Tenuto. Their progress has been steady in their repertoire, theory, and technical exercises. I hope that they are as pleased with their progress as I am.

My upper intermediate and advanced students are having a tougher time at practising every day. They get a roll but then something comes up and they miss a day or two. I’ve suggested that they install one of the abovementioned apps and to visit the Student Repertoire Playlist I created on YouTube.

Having said that, they are still maintaining a good practice frequency for the most part, so it’s still a winning scenario as far as I’m concerned. A couple of students thought of a way to do some scorestudy on the go, which I thought was pretty brilliant.

Walking the Talk: My #30daysofpractice Challenge

Oftentimes, it seems like there’s never enough time for music teachers to dedicate to work on something new or hone their skills. I think we wind up looking for ways to push ourselves into preparing something to perform: like joining a music teacher performance group, playing in a church choir, accompanying other musicians, deciding to prepare for a concert/workshop/piano camp, and joining an ensemble. After all, it doesn’t matter if it’s the teacher or student, we need a goal to work towards.

It is in this spirit that I decided to take up the challenge along with my students. Then, I needed to find a way to make my practice log accessible to them so that they could see that yes, I’m working through trouble spots and scales, just like they rest of them. I decided follow Hilary Hahn’s example by posting every day to the studio’s Instagram account:

I still used the Practice Buddy app as a timer but maintained my Practice Tracker in my Bullet Journal so that I could keep track of what I practiced each day.

 The paper form of my practice tracker lives in my Bullet Journal. Photo by R-M Arca.

The paper form of my practice tracker lives in my Bullet Journal. Photo by R-M Arca.

I completed my 30 Days of Practice Challenge yesterday. At breakfast, I was discussing with my brother the takeaways from my journey. Here they are:

Practice makes consistent: This isn’t anything new. This is something that my brother and I both learned as we worked towards our ARCT in Piano Performance through the Royal Conservatory. It’s something that we learned through years of budo. Anyone who practices an art or is an athlete know this lesson well.

All areas improved: With the challenge, I practised my other instruments more regularly. In fact, two of my most popular posts in my 30 day challenge was for the ukulele (Day 10) and cajón (Day 27).

My technical chops are nearly back to where they were when I was taking jazz piano lessons. Ear training, rhythm, sight-reading, chording and improvisation skills improved too. That’s all well and good, as I need to have my chops up to snuff this year.

Learning and sharing with musicians: Partway through my challenge, I started to follow posts with the #100daysofpractice, #30daysofpractice, #cajon, and #ukulele hashtags. The result is that I got neat practice drills, grooves, and ideas from other musicians. Abigail Raber (@passionate_harpist) inspired me to break out the metronome more regularly. Karina Mandock (@theoperaticcatholic) made me feel normal as her practice sessions are similar to mine. And I just love listening to Minoustics clips.

On the flipside, each time I post a practice clip of the Game of Thrones Medley arranged by Jarrod Radnich, people ask where I got the music from. Maybe I should ask for a commission on sales as a result of my practice posts.

It really wasn’t that hard - once I made the commitment: It didn’t help that I injured my lower back last month, which affected my practice length. However, I used my “light practice day routine” as I was healing. This is comprised of any combination of scorestudy, listening to either my students’ repertoire or my own, ear training, or rhythm work. It is a bit of a bonus that I also work at concerts through my side jobs, so I get to listen to fantastic music performed live and call it practice.

When I was just using my Bullet Journal to track practices, I still wasn’t practising daily. Nor was I tracking on a regular basis. Somedays just got away from me. Other days, I talked myself out of it, saying I was too tired or needed to get something else done instead. However, once I made the commitment to my students and to those who followed my 30 Days of Practice online, I couldn’t skip. I mean, it would look really bad if me the teacher, reneged on the challenge, right?

The Next Practice Challenge

Tomorrow, I’ll treat myself to some calamari from Opa for completing my 30 Days of Practice. I was planning to give myself a few days off before beginning my next practice challenge, but since I’m playing piano at church this weekend, I can’t. Well I could but I want to play the parts to the Mass of Glory better than I did last time, so I better carry on.

Stage 2 in Maestro’s Practice Challenge is a 60 Days of Practice Challenge. I decided a couple of days ago that I’m actually going to jump to Stage 3: the 100 Days of Practice Challenge.

It will be interesting to see if any of my students opt to do the same. Should they decide to proceed to Stage 2, they will get $500 Maestro Bucks upon completion. Although some may need to restart, they should be able to complete the challenge by Christmas Break and enjoy a break before their first attempt at the 100 Days of Practice Challenge.

After completing Stage 3, they will receive $1,000 Maestro Bucks to spend at Maestro’s Market. Jumping to Stage 3 now means they can potentially earn more Maestro Bucks by the end of the year, completing two Stage 3 rounds and possibly a Stage 2 Round. However, jumping to Stage 3 now means that they’ll be in the same boat as me - practising over the break. If they are doing a piano exam, it would be wise for them to maintain a practice regime over the break.

As for me, there’s no point in doing the 60 Day Practice Challenge. Between studio recording projects, piano parties, a Christmas recital, and Christmas Masses, I have plenty to work on from now until past New Year’s. Making the #100daysofpractice challenge should be doable.