Photo of man practicing piano“There can be so much to cover in a practice session that it can seem overwhelming.”
The Musician’s Wayp. 6

Even for professional musicians, it isn’t easy to manage large numbers of practice tasks.

But whatever our level of musical development, all of our practice goals stem from two fundamental branches.

One branch involves sharpening our functional abilities by working on technical exercises, practicing sight-reading, and so forth.

The other branch deals with mastering repertoire and preparing it for performances.

To help us organize our tasks and practice efficiently, I divide each branch into distinct zones.

For repertoire practice, I use three zones: New Material, Developing Material, and Performance Material. I split functional work into two zones: Technique and Musicianship. 

Skilled musicians make steady progress by balancing out their practice among the five zones. In that way, they continually learn new pieces, keep older ones concert-ready, and maintain their technical skills.

Many of us also benefit from documenting our aims, so the Downloads page at offers free practice sheets, logs, and more.

I also recommend self-recording with devices such as the Zoom H4n (audio only) or Q4n (audio & video).

Below, I briefly summarize strategies and objectives for each practice zone.The Musician's Way book cover

The 5 Practice Zones

1. New Material.  Divide a piece into sections, establish an interpretive & technical plan, and then work deliberately in sections at slow tempos. Solve problems as they arise

2. Developing Material.  When you can easily execute at a slow tempo, increase temporefine your interpretation, and, if appropriate, memorize.

3. Performance Material.  Once a composition nears its final tempo, practice performing it, maintain your memory, and continually elevate your interpretation.

4. Technique.  Tackle exercises and etudes, polish scales and arpeggios, and target weaknesses that limit your range or velocity. Rely on a metronome.

5. Musicianship.  Incorporate sight-reading practice, rhythm drills, study of theory and ear training, improvisation practice, and the development of composition and arranging skills.

By using this five-zone structure, we can not only simplify practice organization but also fuel our motivation to work and thereby grow our creative output throughout our lives.

See Part I of The Musician’s Way for detailed guidelines to practice in each zone.

Want additional help to upgrade your practice, performance, or career skills? Contact me for coaching via Skype.

Related posts
7 Deep Practice Strategies
Assessing Your Practice Habits
The Power of Specific Goals
Starting Practice with Intention
Varied, Distributed, and Interleaved Practice

© 2017 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Africa Studio, licensed from Shutterstock

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