2 practice planning ideas that might reduce stress

How much time is enough time to learn this concerto? How much time do I need to master that sonata? When will this suite be ready for performance?

Knowing how much time something is going to take to learn and prepare has often been a point of insecurity for me.

There are lots of factors that effect the answer to the planning question. One aspect is the length of a piece, another is the level of difficulty. Another factor can be the performance situation. For example I’m more likely to want to practice a work a little bit extra if it is for a live radio broadcast than if it is for a local church concert at christmas in the country somewhere. Not really because I don’t consider the church to be worthy my best performance but because the concert situation (as in a live broadcast) can often be so much more pressured that I quite simply need more practice time in order to feel confident enough to cope with any nervousness that might come up.

Here are a 2 concepts that have been helping me plan recently.

Limits and questions.

If you limit the amount of pieces you work at per week or day, and limit the amount of days you will spend on something then, although rather arbitrary, you will have the reserved time rather like when an orchestra plans a certain amount of days or hours per program – so you too also limit your time for each task.

I limit myself to 2 pieces/items a day. This gives me the chance to really work in a detailed way at the main priority at the time and also to work a little at something else that I need to get to know or practice some technical things on something that is coming up.

So how do we come to the amount of days? That is where the questions come in.

I’ll often start with a basic 14 days and then I’ll adjust that amount according to these questions:

1. Have I played it before?
2. Does it have multiple movements?
3. Is it long?
4. Is it difficult?
5. From memory?
6. Is the concert a big deal for me?

Again – the initial 14 days are rather arbitrary – but they give me a starting point. Perhaps a different starting point will suit other people. The answers to the questions are also a little random. I don’t have a set amount I add or subtract for each question. My answers tend to be between 0 and 10 and depend entirely according to the piece I’m thinking about.

So here are two examples:
I’m doing a live recording of a concerto for CD production in September. It’s new to me (written by swedish composer Tommie Haglund). It is long and means lots to me! I’ll compare that with a performance I did of Dvorak’s Waldesruhe with orchestra that I did for charity a couple of months after having performed it on tour last year.

Haglund – 14
1. Have I played it before? NO: + 10 days
2. Does it have multiple movements? N0: – 1 day
3. Is it long? YES: + 6 days
4. Is it difficult? YES: + 10 days
5. From memory? NO: 0 days
6. is the concert a big deal for me? YES: + 10 days

That leaves me with 49 days for the Haglund

Waldesruhe – 14
1. Have I played it before? YES: – 2 days
2. Does it have multiple movements? NO: – 2 days
3. Is it long? NO: – 2 days
4. Is it difficult? SO SO: 0 days
5. From memory? YES: 0 days
6. Is the concert a big deal for me? SO SO: 0 days

That leaves me with 8 days for the Waldesruhe.

I’m not going to work at the Haglund for 49 days in one stretch though. There will be free weekends in between, periods where other pieces have to be prioritised etc. so sometimes the periods will stretch over surprisingly long periods of time.

Once the amount of days are decided I will check in my schedule to see what it looks like (and feels like looking at it) and then I put down the days in my practice diary so I know exactly what to work at and when!

So…. I better go and practice then…

About Ernst Simon Glaser

Ernst Simon Glaser is a cellist based in Norway. He is currently principal cellist of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra - Sweden's National Orchestra. He also teaches, writes, and plays solo and chamber music concerts. He is very fortunate to play on a Francesco Ruggeri cello from ca.1680 on loan from Dextra Musica.

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