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Effective Practice Part II

In this installment we will talk about Developing a practice routine, and tracking your progress.

This is a highly individual thing. The available time you have to practice, and for how long you can spend in a practice session are going to depend on you, and your normal responsibilities, but setting up a regular practice schedule and following a routine in your sessions will lead to more effective practice.

Set A Practice Schedule

Practicing every day for a few minutes is far more effective than practicing once a week for 8 hours. I recommend to my beginner students that they practice 5 days a week, for 15 minutes a day. You can always practice more, but really focusing on what you are practicing every day for 15 minutes is going to get you further, faster than mindlessly practicing once a week for an hour. Over time, as your practice skills improve you can and should lengthen your schedules, but that’s for another time.

Set an end time for your sessions. What I mean by this is to set the schedule and follow it for a reasonable amount of time. Saying you are going to practice 2 hours a day 5 days a week is a great goal. Saying you are going to do that every day for the rest of your life is not realistic. Put a limit on your practice schedule, like a month, or 2 weeks. You can keep up a schedule for a few weeks, and then review the schedule and see if it still works with your life. If your life changes, then you will probably start skipping practice sessions, and ultimately that does not get you anywhere. This also lets you build in “Quality Checks” to see how much progress you are making with your practice. Building in a check allows you to reset and modify your practice schedules, and practice routines.

A sample practice schedule would be:

4 times a week, one hour per session, for 3 weeks.

You need to rest

There should be some time in between your practice sessions. This serves several purposes. One is that if you are getting frustrated because something is not working right, you may try to force it. This is going to push you into bad habits. Take a break, walk away when you get upset, and come back to the task later on with a fresh mind. When we get frustrated we can go blind to the little things that are going on. We may not see that our hand or finger position is wrong, or even that you are looking at something from the wrong angel. Give your brain and muscles an opportunity to understand and what you have been working on.

Routine your practice

It is important to know what you are going to practice, and how you are going to practice before you start your session. I recommend setting up a time breakdown that you use with your practice schedule. Let’s say you are practicing/learning a new effect, and your practice schedule is for an hour. Spend a few minutes warming up. I stretch my hands and fingers, just to get them ready. Then I begin practicing the individual moves that are used in the effect. I then tie those moves together in context of the effect. I move from the beginning to the first move a few times. Then from the first move to the second a few times. Then I will try putting everything together, trying to get through the entire effect from beginning to end.

Here is a sample time breakdown.

For A New Effect

Warmup: 5 Minutes: Stretch your hands/fingers

Techniques: 25 Minutes: Practice the individual moves required for your new effect (Double Lift, Double Under Cute, Pass, One Handed Top Palm etc…)

Connecting the pieces: 15 Minutes: Work from the beginning of the effect to the first move. Then from the first move to the second, second to third etc…

Putting it all together: 15 Minutes Work through each step from beginning to end.

Your breakdown will be different depending on what it is you are learning. If I was learning a new sleight, or practicing one I have difficulty with I would break my practice time down into each individual movement, or hand position. Use your resources (book, DVD) to check your positions, and movements. Keep an eye on the mirror and really examine each step closely. Once you know the positions or movements, try to transition from movement to movement, then try putting the pieces together at the end.

If I were practicing a set, or adding a new effect to a set I would warmup, then practice each individual effect, then tie the effects together, the rehearse the set as if it was in performance going from one effect to the next. Make sure you practice your script/patter, if you use one. This last part is really practicing the performance.

Track your Progress

Tracking your progress helps you to know where you started, and see how far you have come. This will help keep your practice interesting, and will help you focus your practice to areas where you need work. You can journal your practice sessions. Record date, and time, and the duration of your session, and record your thoughts. Tell yourself what you are doing well, and what is difficult. Reviewing your practice journal can help remind you about what you were doing in the last session, and set you up for your next one. A fun way to do this is to start a practice blog. Share it with your friends and get them in on it. Other people can read what you are doing and offer advice, or encourage you to keep going and keep you motivated.

If journaling is not your thing, try taking a video of yourself. Perform for your phone, or record your execution of a sleight so you can see how it progresses over time.

If you have built in a “Quality Check”, you can use the journal or videos to see how far you have come, and use the information to build your next schedule.

I hope this information is helpful! Leave a comment and tell me what you think. Leave a comment sharing how you practice, and what tips and techniques you find that help you along the way. I know we can all benefit from. each other’s experiences.

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