5 Keys for More Effect Practice
by Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.


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1. Duration:  Keep practice sessions limited to a duration that allows you to stay focused. This may be as short as 10-20 minutes for younger students, and as long as 45-60 minutes for older individuals.

2. Timing: Keep track of times during the day when you tend to have the most energy. This may be first thing in the morning, or right before lunch, etc. Try to do your practicing during these naturally productive periods as these are the times at which you will be able to focus and think most clearly.

3. Goals:  Try using a practice notebook. Keep track of your practice goals and what you discover during your practice sessions. The key to getting into the “zone” when practicing is to be constantly striving to have clarity of intention. In other words, to have a clear idea of the sound you want to produce, or particular phrasing you’d like to try, or specific articulation, intonation, etc. that you’d like to be able to execute consistently.
When you figure something out, write it down. As I practiced more mindfully, I began learning so much during practice sessions that if I didn’t write everything down, I’d forget.

4. Smarter, not harder:  Sometimes if a particular passage is not coming out the way we want it to, it just means we need to practice more. There are also times, however, when we don’t need to practice harder, but need an altogether different strategy or technique.

5. Problem-solving model:  Consider this 6-step general problem-solving model summarized below (adapted from various problem solving processes online).


  1. Define the problem (what do I want this note/phrase to sound like?)

  2. Analyze the problem (what is causing it to sound like this?)

  3. Identify potential solutions (what can I tweak to make it sound more like I want?)

  4. Test the potential solutions to select the most effective one (what tweaks seem to work best?)

  5. Implement the best solution (make these changes permanent)

  6. Monitor implementation (do these changes continue to produce the results I’m looking for?)


Or simpler yet, check out this model from Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code.


  1. Pick a target

  2. Reach for it

  3. Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach

  4. Return to step one



It doesn’t matter if we are talking about perfecting technique, or experimenting with different musical ideas. Any model which encourages smarter, more systematic, active thought, and clearly articulated goals will help cut down on wasted, ineffective practice time.

After all, who wants to spend all day in the practice room? Get in, get stuff done, and get out!