Thursday, May 31, 2007

15 Ways To Add 10-minute Practice Blocks To Your Routine

The power of 10

A recent article on LifeDev about getting work done in 10-minute increments got me thinking--can we pianists utilize a quick 10-minute practice session to get things done as well? From the article:

Oh, but 10 minutes… now that’s a tasty number. Not only will ten get you started, you’ll probably be finished too, if you focus. And focus is practically required with 10 minutes. It’s a small, focused amount of time.

And if you’ve got five blocks of 10 minutes lying around in your day, that’s 50 minutes of highly-focused time. Compare that to a larger chunk of 50 minutes. That’s right, more time for procrastination. Small, focused, manageable bursts of productivity are much more effective than those flabby blocks of time.

How to make 10 minute practice blocks work

Here are some ideas I brainstormed on how it might be possible to integrate 10-minute windows into your practice and rehearsal day.

1. Warm up with technical exercises. Hanon, Dohnanyi, scales, arpeggios, chords, etc.
2. Warm up by jumping right to that passage that is making your life miserable.
3. Warm up by playing some piece or passage with the most beautiful sound you can summon. String players are known to do this. It works.
4. Sight read!
5. Review memorization for a piece or passage.
6. Review by ultra slow practicing a difficult passage.
7. Play a difficult passage in as many different ways interpretively as you can imagine.
8. Play a difficult passage with the left hand only.
9. Play a difficult passage with the right hand only.
10. Play a difficult passage in one hand with the other hand shadowing its part on your knee (a technique used by Kissin).
11. Visualize a passage, then play. Repeat.
12. Visualize a passage without doing any playing.
13. Play something in a completely different style from the rest of your repertoire. Known to restore sanity at difficult times of the year.
14. Play through repertoire related to what you're playing. For example, if you're playing Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata, play through the Andante Favori (the original second movement).
15. Do a cool-down. Slow technique, easy sight-reading, or a favorite passage are possibilities.

A few caveats

While I don't recommend practicing for only 10 minutes a day or for that matter in chunks of only 10 minutes, these types of power practice blocks can be very useful when used in conjunction with larger units, ie. 10 minutes + 1 hour + 45 minutes + 10 minutes. And do not under any circumstances use the absolute worst practice system ever, in which practice is only done during the commercials of a hockey game!


  1. Great, great post, Chris! An addendum to item #2 might be to get in the habit of compiling "practice journals", collections of the most difficult passages that you can jump to immediately if you're pressed for time. Working with tablet pc's makes this very easy (digital cut and paste), and you can see some examples of my "PJ's" here:

    Keep up the terrific work with your blog!

  2. Hey Hugh,

    I'll be writing about using practice journals (both paper and digital) in the next few weeks. Keep posted...

  3. Anonymous7:54 PM

    Hey Chris, Great post. I adapted your list on my blog for a violin player - but essentially they're all the same.
    Looking forward to your posts on practice journals. Might have to get my students to read them.

  4. This post will be great for some of my students. I've always preached "blocks" of practice time as opposed to long one-go sessions, so I'll direct my readers to this post. Thanks for all the great work here Chris!