One must find a way to prioritize practice time, and be very efficient with its use. Make that time your first priority and everything else fits around it. Every time you practice, you should have a specific goal in mind, and focus on that until you have achieved it.
Playing through a piece is not practicing. At the same time, it is wasteful to stop every time there is a problem. The most efficient way to practice is to divide up the piece you are working on into sections. The most productive goals to maintain are those you establish when you sit down to practice, every time. You should never play anything in practice without a specific goal. With each repetition, you need a specific purpose, indeed, you should not repeat anything without one.
Work with a metronome. As you work through a section, remember what issues you had the first time you went through it. Stop and consider what happened and what you need to do to correct it. If you cannot fix it the second time, slow the tempo down. If you still can’t fix it at the slower tempo, isolate each problem and slow it down further. Once you have solved a problem and can play it correctly 3 times in a row, then expand the isolated section back to the full section in the same tempo. Play it right 3 times in a row and then speed the tempo up. When you have the section in good shape at the tempo you want to achieve that day, move on to the next section. Make notes of the tempos you achieve each day and start the next session a couple of tempo markings slower than you reached the time before and proceed as before.
Longer term goals and timelines tend to be somewhat squishy, they are nice to have, but the timeframe often needs adjustment, either you meet the goal earlier than expected, or for various reasons, it takes longer than assumed. Say you have a recital/audition/competition scheduled, and that is a goal. Preparing for it takes planning and strategy to achieve a successful outcome. Aside from such goals, from week to week, you just want to get better. If you never play anything in practice without a specific goal in mind, every week you will be better. Goals achieved!
Recent brain research indicates that the most productive learning takes place if you stop your activity (in this case, practicing) after 25 minutes and take a five minute break. The brain can effectively process and store information best in this size segment. So, set a timer for your practice, set your goal for that time, get to work, and when the timer goes off, set it for 5 minutes. I started doing this after reading a couple of pieces on the research, and it really seems to work. It is also good for your body to break up the work this way, especially if you go back and work on something with a different set of physical challenges for the next segment.
tips for learning:
six principles of good practice
Dorothy Delay’s practicing mind map
Courtesy of my colleague J. Peter Clos, here is Miss Delay?s lesson chart:
Her lessons were usually on a particular work or piece. She wrote the date by hand in the upper right hand corner. There are seven columns and 23 rows. Columns 1 and 2 have no heading. Column 1 is the list. The others are all blank. She filled in the month/day in the boxes where the criteria were met and put an x in boxes for what was discussed in the lesson. Columns 3 – 7 are headed with roman numerals for movements of the work. The 23 rows are separated by a double line in four sub rows with four groups of criteria. First group: 1. Notes, 2. Rhythms, 3. Fingerings, 4. Bowings, 5. Memory, 6. Intonation. Second group: 1. History, 2. Score, 3. Structure/Character, 4. Dynamics/Balance, 5. Pacing/Ensemble. Third: 1. Strokes, 2. Vibrato, 3. Shifting, 4. Articulation, 5. Coordination, 6. Violin Sound. Fourth: 1. Stance, 2. Violin position, 3. Bow Grip and Arm, 4. Left Hand position, 5. Head, 6. Face and Breathing
Heifetz on practicing