Keeping a practice journal can be a helpful tool to structure and analyze your practice sessions. There is no "right" way to keep a practice journal. The trick is to find a method that works for you that you can stick to consistently. Below are some ideas for what to include in your practice journal to help get you started.
1. Notebook or calendar - The first step to starting a practice journal is to find something you like to write in. I like to keep a notebook that is small and light enough to fit in my purse and carry around. However, others like heavier notebooks with hard covers or ones that are large enough to write long entries. Another option is to use a calendar or planner specifically for practice journaling. You might also like to try an organized journal such as The Practice Journal that includes questions and prompts to help structure your notes. If you don't like carrying around a notebook, you can try using a notepad on your phone or downloading a practice journal app such as Music Journal Pro.
2. Logging - Keep track of your practice sessions by writing down what you practiced and how much time you spent practicing. Timing your practice sessions keeps you honest about how long you're actually practicing, rather than how long you think you've practiced! When you write down what you practice, you know exactly where to begin without having to try to remember where you left off the previous day. You can also include notes such as how you were feeling when you practiced, what techniques you used for practicing, etc.
Sample practice log entry:
January 14th, 2016
9am-9:15: E major scale and arpeggio (4 and 8 notes per bow).
9:15-9:45: Piatti Caprese No. 4. Slow practice for intonation.
9:45-10:30: Elgar Concerto, first movement, mm. 63-83. Decided fingerings and did metronome work.
11am-12pm: Elgar Concerto, first movement, beginning-83. Almost up to tempo, but left hand was feeling clumsy. Still need to practice m. 33.
12pm-12:30: Bach Cello Suite No. 3, Prelude. Intonation is improving, but need to work on phrasing.
Total practice time: 3 hours
3. Planning - Another helpful way to use your practice journal is to plan your practice session for the next day, or even the next week. This makes it easier to have structured, scheduled practice sessions.
3. Goal Setting - You can make clear practice goals by writing them down. This could be a goal for the day, week, month, year, or even lifetime. Having goals and benchmarks can help keep you motivated when you're feeling discouraged. Your practice journal is also a way to document your accomplishments and appreciate your progress.
4. Reflection - You can learn so much about yourself as a musician by keeping a practice journal. For example, you would be able to get a sense of how long it will take you to learn something new based on your history with a similar piece. Keeping a practice journal also gives you the opportunity to look back on your previous practice sessions to evaluate what worked and what didn't. This is why it is helpful to make notes about what practice techniques you used that day.
New to practice journaling? Click here to download a FREE printable weekly practice log for music students!