Should I Use a Practice Journal?

Practicing music should be fun. Plain and simple. Any practice that you don’t at least slightly enjoy will not be as beneficial. Thus brings the question: should you use a practice journal?

Hannah B Flute | Should I Use a Practice Journal?

A practice journal allows you to track your practicing. You can use whatever method to track your practice. Choose a method that works for you. If your practice journal doesn’t fit your needs, you will be less inclined to use it.

You can track the amount of time, what you practice, or a combination of both.

This post will help you decide whether or not you need a practice journal and how to create one that suits your needs.

Why Use a Practice Journal?

If you want to track your practice for any reason, you should use a practice journal. Writing things down makes it much easier to remember them. Our minds are fascinating, but they can’t keep track of everything.

A practice journal is a specific notebook or journal you use to track your practice. It is separate from planners and other notebooks. You can keep in on your music stand or by your instrument case, so you remember to use it.

One of the biggest benefits of tracking your practice is seeing how you’ve grown. After you’ve used a practice journal for awhile, you can go back to when you first started and see how far you’ve come.

Seeing your growth, on paper or through recordings too, can be incredibly motivating to keep practicing.

Also, if you have a lot of music to work on, a practice journal can help you organize everything. Track the days you practice a certain piece, and you can use that information to plan future practice sessions.

What Do You Track?

There are two main things you can track in a practice journal: time and progress. If you work best by tracking time, then your practice journal can be a time log.

However, if you’re like me, tracking the time might make you anxious. A few years, I used a music practice app. I can’t remember the name of the app, but it allowed me to create different sections of practice, like tone, technique, etc.

Well, the main way it tracked my practice was by timing me. I basically had to set time based goals, and that didn’t work for me. In order to meet a time goal, I would usually end up fooling around for the later part of my practice.

This time around, I’m tracking what I practice each day as well as what I accomplished or learned that day. I have found that system works much better for me.

Since I’m preparing for masters auditions and have a lot to work on, I can track what I practice each day. That way, I can go back the next day and see what might need more attention (i.e. the pieces I haven’t practiced in the last few days).

My Practice Journal Setup

I use a simple notebook that I got at CVS to track my practice. Each month, I make a new “section” in the journal. The first page has all of my goals for the month. Then I have a calendar page which includes all of my rehearsals and performances that month.

Next is my practice tracker. At the top of the page, I wrote the days of the month. On the left side is all of the categories I want to track that month. The categories could be exercises, movements, excerpts, or instruments.

Watch the video of my practice journal.

The Journal

Before you start a practice journal, you need to get a notebook you can use. You can use a smaller notebook or a larger one, depending on your preferences.

There are many different styles available. You can get a notebook with lines, without lines, or even a dot grid notebook. Choose one that you like and think you will use the most.

If you’re intimidated by making your own practice journal, you can find different templates or ideas for journals online. There are plenty of videos of people showing how they use their practice journal.

Everyone works differently, so don’t be afraid to experiment until you find your perfect setup.

When You Shouldn’t Use a Practice Journal

While most musicians would benefit from a practice journal, there are a few exceptions.

First, beginners shouldn’t use a practice journal, yet. When you are completely new to an instrument, you need to focus on the basics. Learn the fundamentals of your instrument first. You can track your practice later.

Another situation where a practice journal could be a hinderance is if you don’t practice every single day. In this case, a practice journal could just cause more anxiety around practicing.

If your schedule doesn’t allow for daily practice, a practice journal could make you feel guilty for not practicing or writing in it.

The third instance where you might want to avoid a practice journal is after time away from the instrument. Whether that is because of a surgery or other reason, take things slowly at first. If you haven’t played regularly in a while, you shouldn’t overwhelm yourself at first.

In all of these cases, a practice journal can come later. As you improve on your instrument or start to practice more, you can create a practice journal.

So…

Do you use a practice journal? How do you track your practice? Leave your answer in the comments and be sure to subscribe below for freebies!

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How to Organize Your Practice Space

Whether you just have a music locker or a full room dedicated to practice, you need to keep it organized. You need to be able to find pieces and exercise books when you need them. So, I’m sharing my tips for how to organize your practice space.

Hannah B Flute | How to Organize Your Practice Space

Currently, I have a whole wall in my bedroom that is dedicated to my music stuff. And that doesn’t include a bookshelf for music and books that I’m not using at the moment.

In college, however, I only had a small music locker to store and organize my stuff.

I’ve had both ends of the spectrum in terms of space, and here are my top tips for organizing your practice space.

Please note: this post contains affiliate links. Click here for my full disclosure policy.

How Big is Your Space?

Do you have all or part of a room? Or do you just have a small locker? The size of your space will determine how much you can store and how you can organize it all.

When all I had was a locker, I kept my older materials in my dorm or at my parents’ house. The last thing I needed was to take up space with unnecessary materials.

Now that I am living at my parents’ house, I have more space. I have a bookshelf where I can store old music textbooks and method books. My “music corner” as I call it is where I store everything else.

If you’re a pianist or vocalist and all you have is a bag, you’ll have to be even more picky about what you include. You will also probably need somewhere to store your excess music elsewhere.

Prioritize Your Music and Instruments

If you know me, you know that I am a musical instrument hoarder. I have 3 C flutes, 2 piccolos, an alto flute, 2 alto saxophones, a clarinet, 2 recorders, 2 penny whistles, 4 ocarinas, and a lot of other instruments.

I know that I don’t need all of those instruments to be in my music corner. Flute, piccolo, and alto flute are my primary instruments, so I keep (my best models of) those instruments on my desk.

The rest of my instruments are scattered throughout my room and the house.

If you only play one instrument on a regular basis, you just need to store that one instrument. You vocalists don’t have to worry about storing instruments, unless you also play another instrument.

Storing your ever increasing music library can get a bit more complex. If you’re like me, you won’t have space to store all of your music together. When that’s the case, make sure your current and standard music is as close to your practice space as possible.

Don’t Forget Accessories

Most instruments have some sort of accessory to go with them. You will also probably want to have a music stand. So don’t forget to include some space for your various music accessories.

If you’re limited on space, get a music stand that can collapse down. That way you can store the stand when it’s not in use. I’d still recommend getting a sturdy music stand. Avoid those cheap wire ones. Peak has some good music stands that fold up easily for storage and transport.

Flutists, you will want a flute stand, a cleaning cloth and rod, and a polishing cloth. If you play piccolo, you should also have a good pair of ear plugs, a piccolo stand, and cork grease (for plastic and wood piccolos).

Other instruments will require their own accessories. Reed players will need enough good reeds, cork grease, swabbing cloths, etc. Brass players will need to have valve oil. String players need rosin.

All musicians need a tuner and a metronome (could be an app on your phone). And of course, you can’t forget a pencil.

Set Up Your Space

Music stand. Unless you’re at music school or a vocalist, you will want space for your music stand. Most music school practice rooms will have at least one stand available, so students can pass on this one. For at home practice, you’ll want one.

Instrument stand. Keep your instrument safe and use a stand for it. You *can* haphazardly set it on a chair or desk, but that’s risky. Give yourself the peace of mind. You can find compact stands (meant for travel) if space is a huge concern. This flute stand is perfect, and it even fits in your footjoint.

Your instrument. The next (and most important) thing you need is your instrument(s). You can’t practice without your instrument. So be sure there’s space in your locker or room to properly store your instrument.

Sheet music. If you’re a music student or otherwise serious about music, you will want ample space to store your sheet music. You will at least want enough space to store your current music.

Your choice. How I organize my practice space is going to be different than how you want to organize yours. That’s okay. Just make sure you know where everything is. If you want to see how I organize my practice space, follow me on Instagram. This week, I’ll be sharing a tour of my practice space on IGTV.

So…

How do you organize your practice space? Do you have a dedicated room? A locker? Something in between? Let me know in the comments! And be sure to subscribe below for your free sample of my ebook Become a Musician!

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Planners: Digital vs. Paper

If you are a busy person, working a day job in addition to playing music, you need to stay organized. The way many people stay organized is with a planner. A common planner system is the paper planner.

With the advancement of technology, there has also been an increase in the number of digital planners. From Google Calendar to iCal, you can keep track of appointments on all of your devices.

Hannah B Flute | Planners: Digital vs Paper

In this post, I am going to compare and contrast these two methods of organization to help you decide which is right for you. After all, the new year is a great time to switch things up.

Digital: Pros

The biggest pro to digital planners is that they are always with you. You can sync your calendar to your phone, computer, and tablet. All you need is internet access.

Another great thing about digital planners is that you pay for them once. Or not at all. Many great calendar and list apps are free, and you can use them year after year.

Digital planners are also easier to edit. You don’t have to worry about using whiteout to erase events. You can simply hit delete and have a clean looking calendar.

The fourth benefit to digital planners and calendars is that you save on paper. There is so much waste in our landfill, and a digital planner can help cut down on that waste. Paper planners aren’t easily recycled, and they just take up space.

Digital: Cons

One problem you run into with a digital planner is that it’s digital. You need internet and a working device to use it. If you don’t have an internet connection, or your phone dies, you can’t check your calendar.

Another con to digital planners is that they can be limiting. You have to stick to how the planner or calendar is laid out. Paper planners offer more customization than digital.

A huge con, for some, is also the fact that you might need multiple apps and programs to do your planning. You will need a calendar and probably a to do list. Most digital calendars don’t have a to do list as part of the program.

The last big con is that all these calendars and apps take up space on your devices. If you backup your information to your device, all of those appointments and to do lists can really eat up space.

Paper: Pros

The best thing about a paper planner is that you don’t have to rely on wifi or a charged device to access it. You can check your planner even in a power outage.

Another awesome thing about paper planners is that they have become customizable. You can request certain layouts, depending on the planner. You can also use whatever colors and pens you want. It’s up to you.

Using a paper planner also allows you to use your phone and computer for other things. You can store more photos and apps on your phone. That space won’t be taken up by a calendar.

If you are a shopper like me, you will also really like the tradition of buying a new planner each year. The cost can add up, but it’s fun to go and pick the color scheme and layout of your next planner.

Paper: Cons

Possibly the biggest con to a paper planner is that it takes up physical space. In your bag. On your desk. It takes up space. Depending on your planner, it may not even fit in some bags or places.

Next is the cost. You have to buy a new planner each year. That cost can add up over time. If you buy a twenty dollar planner each year, that’s $100 after five years. It may seem small, but those purchases can affect your finances after awhile.

Paper planners can also be difficult to edit. If an event gets canceled or you realize you don’t need to do something on your to do list, you have to erase it. That’s no problem when you use pencil, but pen is hard to get rid of.

Another downfall of paper planners is that they create extra waste. Depending on the binding, paper planners can be hard to dispose of. You may not be able to recycle them. If you keep them, they will just take up even more space than when you were using them.

So…

Do you use a digital or paper planner? Are you still deciding? Let me know in the comments! And be sure to subscribe so you can access an infographic comparing digital and paper planners!

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How to Practice without Your Instrument

After coming down with a cold recently, I thought it would be the perfect time to write about practicing flute without your flute. There are multiple reasons why you might need to do this.

If you’re sick, if your flute is in the shop, or even if a roommate or family member needs quiet, you may need to find other ways to “practice” than simply picking up your instrument.

Hannah B Flute | Practicing without Your Instrument

These ideas are not the same as playing your instrument, but they can help you improve your skills. At the very least, you can learn a little bit more about your instrument.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. Click here for my full disclosure policy.

Listen to recordings

I have mentioned this before, but you can learn a lot about music from listening to some recordings. If you are learning a new piece of music, recordings will give you a sense of the tempo and the feel of the piece.

You can also listen to recordings after you have learned a piece. This will help you figure out how others interpret the music. You can then create your own unique version of the piece.

If you are playing an arrangement (i.e. a piece not written originally for your instrument), you can listen to recordings on the original instrument. This will give you a good idea as to how the composer wanted the piece to sound. Each instrument does have its own quirks after all.

Related: The Importance of Listening

Watch videos/read blogs

If you can’t practice your instrument, you can learn about it. Get on YouTube or social media and watch videos or read blogs. The internet is a great place to learn about music.

A lot of videos and blogs are free to use, and there are some premium sites where you can spend a bit of money for more specialized content. I am working on premium content, and I hope to release some of it early next year.

However, there are tons of great websites where you can learn about music and the flute. This blog is, of course, one of those resources. I also have a ton of other favorites that I wrote about awhile back.

Related: Online Resources & Websites for Music

Study the scores

Whether you are working on a solo piece or an ensemble work, you can study the score. I wrote a whole post on how to get started with score study, so use those tips to help.

Studying a music score allows you to know what other players are doing. You can compare the different parts to your own. This means you can change how you play a certain phrase based on what else is happening.

I don’t study scores as much as I should, but when I do, I am able to make more educated decisions for tempo, articulation, and dynamics. Score study also tells me where I am in a chord. Am I the root? The third? The fifth?

Related: The What & Why of Score Study

Brush up on theory

If you are fairly new to your instrument, or even if you have been playing for years, you can always study up on music theory. Music theory (and ear training) is at the core of music.

You need to have a working knowledge of music theory to know how music works. Solid ear training also helps you “hear” a phrase or piece before playing.

You can check out music theory books or download an ear training app to your phone. With a book or app, you can practice in the comfort of your own bed, even when you’re super sick.

Recommended: Guide to Music Theory

Rest. A lot…

This tip doesn’t exactly relate to flute playing or to practicing without your flute. It does, however, help you get back to flute playing sooner rather than later.

Winter is approaching, and that means so is cold and flu season. If at all possible, don’t be afraid to take a few days off from the flute. If you’re really sick, you want to recover. Playing while sick isn’t productive.

Heck, sometimes music study isn’t even productive when you’re sick. So listen to your body and know when you should take a break. Sometimes it is more important to sleep than to prepare for you next performance.

I have had to perform while sick…twice. And it wasn’t fun. I got through it, but I didn’t push myself. As soon as the performance was over, I left. I went to sleep. I rested. Your health is important. Don’t let a performance or practice session impede your recovery.

So…

Have you played flute while sick? Were you able to take time off to get better? Let me know in the comments!

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How to Balance Music & Life

Whether you are an amateur, student, or professional musician, you probably have other responsibilities outside of music. So, it is important to know how to balance music and life.

Like anything else, you need to make time for practicing and performing, but you can’t neglect your other commitments. I have recently accepted a full time job outside of the music and blogging fields, and so I have had to figure out how to keep up with everything.

Killer Harmony | How to Balance Music and Life | Grey background with text "How to Balance music & life" (maroon) "for musicians" (teal)

It takes time to figure out how you what you need to do to balance your time. But if music is something you love, you will make time for it, no matter your professional or personal life.

Here are a few tips and tricks to help you balance music and life.

1. Know your priorities.

While it would be great to play music all of the time, that’s just not feasible. Even professional musicians need a break to focus on other tasks, like scheduling and emailing.

If you have a job or classes outside of music, those things should take priority over music. It may be hard to focus on other things, especially for music majors, but it’s necessary. You can’t ignore your general education classes.

The same goes for anyone working outside of music. You have to show up to work on time and do your job. That’s not something you can get out of. So keep up with your instrument when you can.

2. Make a schedule.

If you can’t seem to practice as much as you would like, set a practice schedule. Work it into your routine. While it may be tempting to go watch TV after dinner, practicing first can help keep your love of music alive.

If your schedule will be changing soon, try and create a practice routine to fit that new schedule. You don’t have to practice for hours (even you pros out there…). Just practice as much as you need to accomplish what you need.

Time based goals can be great, but two hours of mindless practice don’t do you any good. It’s better to practice with and end goal for thirty minutes. Then you can actually evaluate what you did.

3. Find your stride.

When do you practice best? Are you an early bird? Do you work best in the evening? Can you practice during a lunch break? Figure out what time of day works best for you.

Doing this will allow you to get more done in less time. Even with a goal, if you are not fully awake, your practice session won’t be worth it. If you are a professional, you may need to practice more, but you don’t need to spend hours playing.

Practicing too much can cause you to develop a repetitive stress injury. You can ruin your vocal cords, develop tendonitis, or worse. You could hurt yourself to the point of having to stop playing. So don’t over do it.

4. Find music that you can play but will still challenge you.

If music is not your profession, you probably don’t have a ton of time to dedicate to it. If that is the case, find music that is only slightly difficult. You should still challenge yourself, but you don’t need to take on the most difficult work for your instrument.

Choose pieces that give you a small challenge, and be realistic about how fast you can learn them. If you are playing for fun, do just that. Don’t stress yourself out over learning a Hindemith sonata or a Mozart concerto.

A small challenge will allow you to improve quickly so you can take on more advanced music later on. You don’t want to rush into anything too hard before you are ready.

5. Join a community group.

Seek out community music groups and other playing opportunities to keep you motivated. If you are not in school and don’t have any professional groups to join, community groups are a great way to play with others.

You can meet all different types of people, and you can come together to do something you love. Groups can also be a nice change from solo repertoire. You can expose yourself to more music. It also gives you an excuse to perform in front of people.

There are tons of different groups, from choirs to bands to orchestras. You can also find instrument specific groups, such as a flute choir. The camaraderie you get from playing in a group can’t be matched by just playing solos.

6. Don’t stress about it.

Having an off day and don’t feel like playing? That’s okay. While you might not want to make a habit out of it, everyone has those days where they just want to get under a blanket and watch Netflix.

If you have a day where music just can’t fit, don’t stress too much. Music is supposed to be fun. If it doesn’t feel fun one day, then take a break. A small break from playing could help revive your passion the following day or week.

So…

How do you juggle music and life? Leave your tips and tricks down in the comments!

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