Recently, inspired by reading the book “The Practice Revolution” by Philip Johnston, I have started to use this idea of goal-setting more in my piano practice. Now, I have always considered myself to be a good practicer. (I even wrote about how I teach my students to practice here!) I try to make sure I am truly practicing a piece and working on trouble spots, as opposed to absent-mindedly playing a piece over and over again. I have a large “toolbox” of practice techniques that I can apply to whatever problem might arise.
However, my new approach is to make every practice session have a purpose. Before I play a note, I decide what I want to accomplish that day. Do I want to play a section note-perfect, with no mistakes? Do I want to focus on playing up to tempo? Do I want to do a run-through performance, to see if this piece is truly recital-ready? Knowing exactly what I hope to accomplish at my practice session helps me to decide which of my “practice tools” will be best for the task at hand.
I have started to use this goal setting approach with my students as well. As we write down their assignments, I ask—“What is our goal for this piece this week?” For a new piece, the goal might be to play the entire piece hands together at a slow steady speed. Other goals might include listening for large contrasts in dynamics, or adding the pedal, or focusing on story-telling elements of a piece. The goal we set for the week should influence each practice session, and help students choose the right tools from their practice toolbox.
Do you set practice goals for yourself or your students? Please chime in!