The benefits of a practice journal.
One stand-out detail I remember from Nancy Fako’s book about Philip Farkas – Philip Farkas & His Horn: A Happy Worthwhile Life – was that he was a compulsive list maker. A large majority of his life in fact, was chronicled in one form or another – even on the occasional cocktail napkin.
So it is no surprise then that Farkas writes in The Art of French Horn Playing about keeping practice records. However, why practice records are important and how they are beneficial is not abundantly clear.
In the broader scope, advanced students have skewed memories of “practice records” required for semester grades. In most cases this is simply a numbers game — if a student practices ‘X’ amount of hours per week, they get a good mark and a pat on the head.
Beyond this, there is little or no reflection or learning.
Keeping a more detailed practice journal is part of what educational scholars call reflective learning methods. Journaling is a process to chronicle what a student learns about their personal learning. According to an article in the Journal of Management Education, it has four dimensions:
- describing experience,
- analysis of experience,
- creation of new meanings,
- and action for change.
Key to this reflective process is to awaken a ‘personal recognition of learning’ by students. This is critical because what students learn in the private lesson studio and practice room for example, is not always apparent.
The goal of reflective learning practice is to take home the hidden lessons of these teaching-learning moments. Concepts can be more objectively understood at a time and space away from the preoccupation of playing the instrument.
These refllective lessons can in turn then, help students to ultimately teach themselves.
Example methods for record-keeping would include audio recording devices, which are tremendously helpful. Tapes I have from old private lessons still provide ‘aha moments’ when I go back and listen to them.
To see an online example for yourself, take a look at Julia Rose’s Masterclass Notes. Her notes showcase the tremendous value in detailed journaling.
If pursued diligently over time, this method can turn into a deep resource — much like a gift that keeps on giving.