Intentional Practice

Too many instrumentalists begin their daily practice session without knowing specifically what they wish to accomplish that day. If they think about their practice goals at all, they do so in a cursory, vague and last minute manner. Even worse, some serious students think the goal of practice is simply to “put in the time.” They may spend several hours a day at their instrument, without maximizing their efforts. Although merely playing everyday stands to increase one’s skill level over time, it is certainly not the most efficient path. If we are serious about improvement we need to be intentional about our practicing.

Rather than “flying by the seat of your pants” in the practice room, put some thought into your practice session before you pick up your instrument. Create a schedule for your practice session beforehand. Include time for warmup, technique, repertory review and new material. Be specific about your scheduling and put it in writing.

Your own general desires should be taken in to account, of course, when structuring your sessions. For example: Are you content with your technical advancement and wish only to maintain your current level of skill? Or are their techniques you need to improve upon? Do you have an upcoming concert or audition that requires your attention? Perhaps you must learn a stack of new material? Maybe your sight-reading needs work.

Whatever your goals, I suggest – at a minimum, scheduling time in your session for: Warmup, Technique, repertory review and new material. Within each of these broad categories, I would be specific about the tasks you will complete in each section. Make each task measurable.

A basic short session might look something like this:


  1. Open string exercises – play until bow arm is loose while playing full bows, true legato
  2. Vibrato exercises – play exercises once for each finger at 60 bpm
  3. Shifting exercises – play twice on each string, all finger combinations


  1. Harmonic minor scales – play scale and diatonic triads around the circle of 5ths 3x, Play 10 beats faster each cycle, focus on velocity and clarity
  2. Diminished scales – root movement by steps, 3x focus on fingering

Repertory Review

Review the following tunes (Melody, walking and solo)

  1. Green Dolphin Street
  2. Falling in Love with Love
  3. Skylark

New Material

(Melody, In 2, walking, arpeggios, scales, improvise melody, solo)

  1. Star Eyes
  2. Sight Reading
  3. Free improvisation

The example session above presents a fairly balanced division of labor. You, of course, should structure your session to meet your goals and any upcoming deadlines. Your session will be based on your individual needs and desires. A college performance major will likely spend more time on technique than a seasoned professional, for example. However you focus your session, be specific about your tasks under each subheading. The process is flexible, but you should be specific in your scheduling.

If progress is important to you, then you should be intentional with your practice sessions. Aimless time at the instrument can serve a rejuvenating purpose now and again, but it generally leads to wasted time and slow, or nonexistent, progress.

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at and check out the Bass Coalition at

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Share your thoughts

  1. Jean-Christophe Brotel


  2. good advice… now just making myself do it regularly…

  3. What a great schedule plan for practice, thank you!

  4. Thanks, D….even with the realistic limits I own, I need helpful advise like that, very “Good Lesson!