It’s a challenge to practice regularly, and if you do, you might still feel like you’re not getting the most out of your practice. Students often go home from their lesson with a long list of things to work on and as soon as they sit down to play, they either can’t remember what the list contained or they don’t know how to start on it.

Enter practice journals! There are many ways to keep a practice journal, but here’s what we recommend to get started. Once you get in the journaling routine, feel free to make edits that help your practice get even smoother, and let us know how it goes in the comments or on Facebook!

1. Start with a notebook or binder that is dedicated only to your practice. In addition to your journal, you can also include sheet music, information about upcoming performances, and anything else relevant to your playing. The important piece is that you reserve the notebook only for musical purposes—no grocery lists popping up in the middle that will break the flow. This separation of your music notes from other papers will help you mirror that effect in your practice mindset by keeping your thoughts focused and present without distractions.

2. Take notes as you work through Fiddle School and during your private lessons. Musical amnesia hits hard as soon as you set down your instrument and walk away from a learning session, so set yourself up for success and write down a list of things you need to work on as they come up. This could be technique exercises, learning a new part, or fixing a trouble spot in a certain song, among other things.

3. Before you begin practicing, write out a plan. It should start with an intentional warm-up (this could be a Practice Pal, some one-note jam, or other exercises) to get you in gear for the skills you want to build that day.

Next, write down tunes and technique that you’d like to check in with. During this part of your practice, you should play slowly and do many attentive repetitions to solidify good technique. It’s also a great place in your practice to use the Practice Circle concept found in Lesson 12.

Next, plan to learn some new material if that’s in your routine that day—otherwise, it’s plenty to work on solidifying tunes you already have. Again, slow and steady wins the race here.

Lastly, write down tunes that you want to play through start to finish a few times. This last portion is important, but is only a piece of the practice (for many people, this is often all they do when they practice, so be sure to give lots of attention to the other steps as well).

When you practice, follow the agenda you’ve written out for yourself, more or less. If something unexpected comes up that you want to work on, that’s okay. Just be sure that you’re not falling for your brain’s trickery if it tries to distract you into noodling or playing repetitions in a zombie-like state of disengagement (this can reinforce bad technique and leave you feeling unaccomplished).

After you finish your practice, cross off each item that you visited on your practice agenda and write down some things you found to work on in the next day’s practice. Do this day after day, and you’ll have a great record of your progress. You’ll also get a better handle on how to improve even more efficiently in the future.

How do you organize your practice? Let us know in the comments, and happy practicing!