Jennie Khan

Freelance Cellist and Teacher

Jennie Khan is an Auckland based cellist and cello teacher. She has a variety of experience performing both here and in Europe and has been teaching students of all ages for many years.

New Year's Resolution: A Practice Plan

Last January I wrote about giving the practice routine a shake up and how simply going through the motions is simply not enough to see real progress. And I feel that despite periods of extreme time constraints, I have managed to keep up a level of focus, efficiency and precision with the way I practice.

Now, it seems any new years resolutions that get made in the relaxed and festive 'bubble' of the holiday season, inevitably get forgotten, are too hard or become totally impractical once the all the parties are over and the reality of life returns. 
The antidote to this might be to not make a resolution as such,  those idealist and far fetched notions; make an actual plan - something to work towards and a way to get there. And what better than a plan for practice?

Over the break, it's a great time to reflect on what you want to achieve in the year. I have had some time to do this and so far ... so good (albeit only 5 days in...)

So here we go (and actually write it down... you'll be able to refer back to it through the year and give yourself a big pat on the back when you've smashed them out at the other end of it)

1. Work out the top 3 things you want to work on, or rather think you need to improve.

If this plan is going to last a whole year it is better to be generalised things that you can work on in may different ways and apply to different things.
A year might seem a long time to work on something, but in the scheme of things, we spend many years trying to perfect our playing, so focusing on certain aspects of technique for one year is not so outrageous.

2. Brainstorm all the specific elements of that technique that are causing difficulties.

Try and be as specific as possible here, this will help focus the work to be done in the right places. Remember to think about physiological and psychological elements as well as the physical or musical elements of the technique itself.
Considering as many 'causes' or issues as possible to do with the technique can help dig down to the root of the issue, and to address the fundamental aspects making this technique difficult. we can also find links between the physiological, metal and physical elements.

3. Note down some ideas on which excersizes can be used to target these techniques.

This can be a small list to start with and can develop over time as the technique develops and improves.
REMEMBER - Scales can address a multitude of sins.

4. Consider what repertoire you can work on that will compliment your work on each specific technique.

Often we choose repertoire we want to play and then work on the appropriate technique according to those works. By turning it round we can search out new repertoire and find works that we might not normally approach, putting into practice the techniques we are working on.

This is a great exercise to plan and improve our own work, but also to do for/with students.
Often we get stuck into nutting out exam pieces, orchestral and school ensemble repertoire, and sometimes certain techniques can get neglected if they don't often arise often enough.

For new students, have these technical goals be a mixture of things the student struggles with and techniques that they really enjoy or come somewhat naturally. That way, the years work can include addressing difficult or challenging areas as well as advancing the mastery of others.

You can see here a list I made for my own practice regime, other areas to look at could include things like, sound/tone production, vibrato, rhythm and pulse, shifting, physical tensions, coordination, musical interpretation etc.

When considering a plan for more established students it would be helpful to look at all their strengths and weaknesses and shortlist what needs the most attention and is most relevant to what they are currently working towards.

We all know that making a plan to reach our goals is a great way to keep ourselves on track. All we need is for once to just stick with it!!

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