Review of Practiceopedia: The Music Student’s Illustrated Guide to Practicing

Practiceopedia The moment it arrived, I was captivated by this full-color mammoth guide to practicing – Practiceopedia:The Music Student’s Illustrated Guide to Practicing. The 376 pages are chock-full of creative ideas to help students learn to practice effectively and conquer those tough spots in their pieces. I found myself reading through page after page, unable to resist the urge to read “just one more” idea. 🙂

Although it has the potential to be overwhelming, the book is very well organized and the layout is clean and attractive with a variety of clever illustrations that enhance the text without cluttering the pages. The “Exploring the Book” overview at the beginning of the book shows you how to find the practice help you need by starting with a problem, using cross-references or previewing each chapter. A handy “Chapter Guide” summarizes and directs you to each of the 61 chapters. The “Usher” pages direct you to specific practice suggestions based on the problem you are trying to solve. These are broken down into eight categories:

1. Not wanting to practice
2. Learning new pieces
3. Preparing for performance
4. Getting your piece up to tempo
5. Staying focused
6. Saving time
7. Managing deadlines
8. Dealing with problem passages

I’ve found it useful already in my studio – from giving it to a student after a lesson and telling her to come up with several ways to practice her piece that week to exploring it with a student to find ideas to deal with a problem we were trying to solve when none of our initial ideas were working.

There are so many great ideas and I haven’t even begun to implement them all, but here are a few of my favorites:

Blinkers – a page the size of the sheet music is placed over top of the page the student is supposed to practice with “windows” cut in the cover page to reveal only the measures the student is supposed to spot practice.

Defining Your Prototype – walks the student through identifying and listing specific qualities they want to be true of their performance and then how to work on developing those through their practicing.

Horizontal vs. Vertical – a discussion of the difference between practicing a piece in sections vs. practicing it as a whole and which approach is better.

Philip Johnston, author of Practiceopedia and also founder of the popular website, has put a lot of thought into producing this creative guide that should be in the hands of every dedicated musician. Mr. Johnston writes, “If you want to progress twice as rapidly, you don’t have to figure out how to do twice as much practice. Instead, practice twice as effectively.

That reminds me of a parallel principle I learned from a physical fitness trainer – if you learn how to work out properly and intensely you can achieve much better results than if you work out for long periods of time with no clear plan or with a poorly designed plan.

We all get in the habit of doing things a certain way and have a tendency to keep doing them that way regardless of whether they are effective or not. Practiceopedia will help students “Get rid of practice habits that don’t work – so they stop wasting their time – and replace them with a brand new set of carefully chosen practice techniques that do work.

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