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.

Mastering Repertoire & Building Skills

For repertoire practice, I employ three zones: New Material, Developing Material, and Performance Material. 

I split skill-building work into two zones: Technique and Musicianship. 

Capable musicians balance out their practice among the five zones. In that way, they continually learn new pieces, keep older ones stage-ready, and refine their technical powers.

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

I also recommend self-recording in practice 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 we can easily execute a new piece at a slow tempo, it graduates to the Developing Material zone. Then, we increase temporefine our interpretation, and, if appropriate, memorize.

3. Performance Material.  Once a composition nears its final tempo and is performance-ready, it reaches the Performance Material zone. Here, we practice performing it, maintain our memory, and continually elevate our interpretation.

4. Technique.  In this zone, we tackle exercises and etudes, polish scales and arpeggios, and target weaknesses that limit our range or velocity. A metronome is an essential aid.

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

Allocating Time among The 5 Practice Zones

How much of our practice time should we devote to each zone? It depends.

With repertoire practice, if we aim to perform frequently, it’s best for us to have few titles in the New and Developing zones and amass large numbers of accessible, concert-ready pieces in the Performance Material zone.

As a concert date nears, we might focus mostly on Performance Material. When no concerts loom, we might allocate the bulk of our repertoire practice to new and developing pieces.

Concerning the Technique and Musicianship zones, all of us need to spend time each day maintaining and developing our skills.

Students have to devote significant amounts of time practicing in these zones to build up higher levels of proficiency. Veteran pros, on the other hand, might focus more on maintaining their existing abilities and therefore work steadily but less intensively in these zones.

Whatever our level, though, we continually have to adjust how much we practice in each zone according to our needs and the time we have available. And that pursuit of balance becomes easier as we gain facility with practice and performance skills.

*  *  *

In sum, by using this five-zone structure, we can simplify our practice organization and fuel our motivation to work, thereby growing 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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