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Thread: Keeping a practice journal

  1. #1
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    Default Keeping a practice journal

    Anyone keeping a practice journal? Iím considering starting one to help give some focus/intentionality to my practice, keep my repertoire in good shape, and capture learnings and ideas. Curious about whether other folks have found it valuable and if you did, what sorts of things did you include in your journal and how do you keep it (in an app, paper and pen, Evernote/OneNote, etc.)
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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    I made a spreadsheet, tracking practice items daily. Isabel OT monthly. I don’t practice every identified item daily, usually practicing about 6 items daily. These are along the lines of warmup, new technique, new repertoire, old repertoire, etc, with a little more specificity as necessary. And jam time, which used to happen

    I think the value is in 2 places. It checks that I practice daily and can see if I succeed in that (I do miss days occasionally), and it’s harder to ignore difficult items because they are listed at the top of a column. I do change the items/focus as my lessons evolve.

    Hope this helps. I’ve been keeping track about 4 years, after a suggestion from Evan Marshall, who mentioned he did it.
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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    I started one when I picked the mandolin back up again in 2015 after a 4 year hiatus. I use it to track old tunes I'm re-learning and new ones, also to keep a list of sets of tunes (I play irish trad music), and to make notes about specific areas of technique I'm focusing on, such as better economy of motion in my right and left hands, speed, consistent tone etc. I find it helps to be able to then look back and contrast where I'm at now with where I was and how long it's taken to see improvement etc. I just keep it on my laptop as a Word doc, using Word's "notebook" template, so it gives me different tabs for different sections.
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    I don’t have the self-discipline to maintain a journal but I keep notes in the Notes app on my phone of songs I’ve learned and songs on my list to learn. And I have a Notes folder with screen shots of mandolin chords, Pete’s fretboard note names diagram, and the chords and lyrics for the songs I play (I screen shot the chords from guitar tabs and paste them into Notes with the title of the song). That way if I’m around a campfire with no phone service I’ll still have access to anything I’ve forgotten.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    I kept a journal, hoping it would help motivate me and track my progress. What I found is that I was wasting practice time journaling. And that I could tell if I was improving by how much better I was playing, or really the reverse, if I could not tell if I was making progress it was because I was not making progress, whatever the journal said.

    I do love journaling. Many of my blog posts are ideas that I scratched out in my journal. And I do love keeping track of stuff. (Obsessively at times.)

    But I found that, for me, it was just better to practice whenever there is time, and at least once a day.
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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    I get the .abc of a tune from thesession.org (I usually first hear it on SAW social group) then it goes to mandolintab.net then it gets printed out, then into the ‘to do’ list folder. There are three folders now of about 150 tunes.

    I practice them all daily and put signs in light pencil at the top of each page based on popularity, rhythm, ease of playing, waiting to learn new technique, max clean tempo with date etc.
    The tunes get shuffled so that there’s an A folder of tunes ready to record.

    I record a tune every now and then, one or two a week, and my practice period is a lot more intense for that time.
    Each part of the page gets notes on repeated errors, repeated phrases, unusual right hand patterns, extra techniques required... (eg. I used to mark up groups of triple notes in jigs that have the same right hand movement). -if you play slowly with a metronome then you have a lot of time to decipher these patterns. I mainly read in TAB so I see the patterns differently than reading in notation.

    As I go through these tunes I’ll stop and spend a day or so on a particular technique. Each time I record a tune I’ll see the progress I’ve made, and get more motivated.

    Finally the recorded tune goes to YouTube and it’s notation/TAB goes into the YouTube folder.
    Every four months or so I’ll go through my YouTube posted tunes book (about 160 tunes) and experience a huge improvement in playing -always with a metronome, it can take the whole day to do this. Then I’ll put notes in pencil of any tunes that pose problems. If I don’t like a tune (usually for poor finger flow) then I’ll repeat it over and over until the odd finger flow feels good and smooth. Basically I want my fingers to use muscle memory to flow together without suddenly being surprised by a mid-measure input from my conscious brain.

    So I guess my diary is a list of tunes.

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    Economandolinist Amanda Gregg's Avatar
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    I keep a tune spreadsheet, with keys and a rating of my comfort with the tune, which is handy for those jam situations where I don't remember a single tune I know. It also helps me focus my practice agenda. It's a pretty impressive spreadsheet by now!

    But the idea of a practice journal or just some written-down goal-setting for practice sessions has always been as aspiration. Maybe this thread will be the inspiration to get me going.
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    I do journal daily and track tunes there and in a couple of different ways. (Yes, it does help to have a plan and stay organized.) I set a daily music goal checklist in the journal I keep in Apple Notes, which is a lot more versatile than it may seen, has the capability to add folders, etc. (I used Evernote for years but they severely broke it for a while on the last upgrade, and I became dissatisfied and defected.)

    I put a PDF of everything I'm working on in a DropBox lead sheet folder so I can access it forever from any device. (I also have used Google docs folders in the past, for collaborating with other musicians.)

    On my iPad (I'm on an IOS jag, trying to do as much as possible with an iPad due to the portability) I'm using forScore, which is for managing scores and lead sheets. I have a couple of different lists within forScore. One is tunes I'm working on, so I can just play through a dozen or so songs daily. They're all there and waiting for me, my coffee and my mandolin in the morning. I have another list of songs I've learned and want to keep playing. It's pretty easy to go through that a couple of times a week, play what I feel like/need to play, with the music handy if I have questions or there's a rough spot. There's a home folder in forScore that contains all the tunes and songs I've needed in the past but don't really need/want to look at daily, including Christmas music and church stuff. It's there when I need it.

    But everything goes online in the DropBox folder for safekeeping, future use, emailing to people, etc. I can upload files to forScore as needed.
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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    Quote Originally Posted by Amanda Gregg View Post
    I keep a tune spreadsheet, with keys and a rating of my comfort with the tune, which is handy for those jam situations where I don't remember a single tune I know. It also helps me focus my practice agenda. It's a pretty impressive spreadsheet by now!

    But the idea of a practice journal or just some written-down goal-setting for practice sessions has always been as aspiration. Maybe this thread will be the inspiration to get me going.
    Amanda, I love the spreadsheet idea. I have sheet music in several books. I can see making a spreadsheet for each one, printing a copy as a table of contents. Thanks for the idea.

  13. #10
    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    Wow, you folks are very impressive! I am lucky to actually practice although I have been doing it more regularly in the last few months. I never kept a journal, just tune lists and occasional diving into method books for specific techniques but many of those are for my violin practice. I am a fiddler but want to learn some violin to improve my fiddling, like intonation and position-shifts and double stops. All that applies to a lot of my mandolin playing too. Anyway, I am more in the camp with JeffD—time is limited even these days and I have my self-assignments in my mind as I play/practice.
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    It sounds like an interesting idea. Maybe I should try it.

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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    I'm not organized at all. I've played guitar for over 50 years and never kept any kind of practice journal. Been back at the mandolin the last couple of years and jump from one thing to the next. I play by ear so if I like it and can hum it I can normally find it. I practice all the time but don't keep a journal. I like learning melodies in open and closed note positions as in learning a tune in D and then Eb, Gsharp etc but then I just play now for me and my pups, birds, bees and trees...
    Last edited by CBFrench; Jan-08-2021 at 11:30pm. Reason: spelling

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    Just wanted to add that I've frequently encountered folks who make remarks like "Huh, I'm too busy actually playing to keep a practice journal...." when they hear I keep one, the implication being that I'm some trainspotter who spends more time writing about playing than actually playing. I manage to squeeze in 2-3 hours of playing time every day. I don't have a telly and only occasionally watch things online so in the evenings when I've finished playing I'll add stuff to the playing journal, it's not particularly time consuming and doesn't seem to have hurt or stunted my playing abilities. Every learner should do what works best for them.
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    Registered User Sherry Cadenhead's Avatar
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    Wow, Jill! It's great you can play 2 or 3 hours each day. My husband tolerates my 1 hour - 0 on lesson days. Anyway, would you mind sharing your Excel column headings? Fortunately, I can squeeze in this sort of thing outside my practice time.

  18. #15
    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    Quote Originally Posted by Sherry Cadenhead View Post
    Wow, Jill! It's great you can play 2 or 3 hours each day. My husband tolerates my 1 hour - 0 on lesson days. Anyway, would you mind sharing your Excel column headings? Fortunately, I can squeeze in this sort of thing outside my practice time.
    Yeah, I'm lucky that I live rurally and my other half has good ear plugs!

    I'm using a Word Doc "notebook" template - and the tabs for each section are:

    - A list of tunes I'm re-learning (I have about 100 tunes that have slipped off my radar that I'm trying to get back).
    - A list of new tunes I want to learn with links to audio/video for them sourced online
    - A list of sets of tunes that I know
    - A section for each of my technique goals of the moment: stuff like focusing on economy of motion in both hands when playing, increasing speed, more consistent tone. I record brief baseline video and then record brief check-in clips every 1-2 weeks to compare and include links to the clips in this section.
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  20. #16
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    Amanda - While I don't keep a regular journal, I also make spread sheets of tunes I am working on or want to work on, or simply those I have in the bag, I found playing with a group you instantly forget all the tunes you know the minute you come up short on a set.
    I was going to add here, I just realized this, although I'm sure I already knew it, mandolin practice is a place of peace.
    I was intently practicing today, purposeful, attentive, focused.
    I was not worried about what is behind at work or the shouting in the media, who was born today, who died. I was only concerned with making the instrument sound right.
    Practicing mandolin is practicing peace.
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  21. #17

    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    I log my practice on an app called “Sessions”
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  22. #18

    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    Not to hijack the OP's post but I am just a beginner with the mandolin and although I am using Mel Bay's Method book I would still like to have a practice routine written down that I can look at. I find that if I see it then I can use it daily to accomplish each goal on the list. Does anyone have any ideas or a routine that they currently use as a beginner or used when starting out that might be of benefit to me? I would greatly appreciate it.
    Last edited by Scott Salyers; Jan-31-2021 at 2:49pm.

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    Registered User Brian560's Avatar
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    Dave Benedict just posted a You Tube on the subject !

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9EaAl_5TBQ&t=4s

  24. #20
    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    Quote Originally Posted by Mavicboss View Post
    Not to hijack the OP's post but I am just a beginner with the mandolin and although I am using Mel Bay's Method book I would still like to have a practice routine written down that I can look at. I find that if I see it then I can use it daily to accomplish each goal on the list. Does anyone have any ideas or a routine that they currently use as a beginner or used when starting out that might be of benefit to me? I would greatly appreciate it.
    Divide your time into 4 groups. 5-10% warmup, 30% for the rest. All approximate of course.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    Quote Originally Posted by Jill McAuley View Post
    Every learner should do what works best for them.
    There it is. If it helps it helps. If it gets one motivated to practice more, its a good thing.

    Here is something I have found valuable. I keep an appointment book. One appointment book, for work and for home. Everything I gotta do goes in there. So as a way of protecting my practice time I have marked off that time. Of course sometimes practice time gets "re-allocated", depending on what is going on in work or life. But... I consciously make that decision in my date book, and I know doing it that I am giving up practice time.

    Before I did this I found that practice time was just fitting in where I has spare time - and too often I would just run out of time, being busy. Much better that I zealously guard and protect my practice time, and give it away only grudgingly.
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  27. #22

    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    The only record I've maintained with any regularity is a tunebook https://thesession.org/members/40188/tunebook at thesession.org. I'm usually quite consistent in only adding tunes to it that I feel I've learned properly, although more recently I might add tunes that I'm still in the process of learning, or even just intending to learn, but only if I'm pretty sure I will learn them soon.

    The tunebook can be sorted alphabetically or by date added, so every so often I'll do a sort or just pick tunes at random to check how rusty they might have become. But I've never bothered to record how often or how recently I've practised each tune.

    Looking at some of the other posts here it seems I have a lazier approach than many! I think it works for me though, as my main goal is to build a big enough repertoire to be able to join in more often at the local pub's Irish session. Being able to attend a session fairly regularly (making a mental note of a couple of new-to-me tunes each time, and trying to learn them before the next meet) has been enough to keep me focussed without a more elaborate journal. I also think if I was just beginning, or if I had more complex goals (like a desire to play solo performances, or play jazz), I'd be more likely to need a more detailed plan/record of different things to practise.
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  28. #23

    Default Re: Keeping a practice journal

    Quote Originally Posted by Brian560 View Post
    Dave Benedict just posted a You Tube on the subject !

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9EaAl_5TBQ&t=4s
    I created this practice log sheet based on his video and the book he recommends. I find itís helpful to keep me on track and log progress and questions between lessons or workshops.

    For the next version Iím going to delete the warm up row and coming the notes and questions columns into one.

    Click image for larger version. 

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