Practicing is hard for me when I don’t have a specific goal.  I don’t have lessons every couple weeks anymore, and thus no deadlines for learning etudes or pieces.  I’ve had a few gigs here and there, nothing too exciting, and also nothing difficult enough to require any practice time beyond warming up.  Despite this, I’ve have been practicing consistently, and doing more than just my long tones and scales out of guilt.  One thing, is that I’ve given myself long-term goals.  There is a competition I want to send a tape to this winter.  The audition rep isn’t particularly difficult, but it is a rather prestigious competition so I need to be playing it at an extremely high level.  This isn’t something I can cram for, it’s something I have to do and work towards everyday, like the musician version of running a marathon.  Another thing that has helped me is this article:

I found it recently on facebook and it cleared some things up for me.  One major point is having specific goals, something I knew helped success, but is easily forgotten.  When I’m being lazy, or don’t want to practice that day, I don’t make a goal, or make a very general goal, (i.e. work on the beginning).  I end up skimming over my warm-ups and then simply playing my piece or a section of it over and over.  There’s no real progress, I never figure what needs to happen for it to get better, I simply do it until I get bored or am satisfied with one of the version I played that day.  No longer.  Recently I sit and plan a little before each practice session; what I’m going to do, what does it focus on, and what is my specific focus.  My long tones are no longer day dream time, but I’m consciously checking my body; am I as tall as I can be, did I just tighten my shoulders, is my neck tense, or my chin jutted forward?  Then I choose different, highly specialized exercises like working on staccato articulation in the low register.  Not just working on articulation, but staccato, in a small part of my range.  The second point of this article is figuring out why something went wrong.  Did that passage sound terrible because I don’t know it well enough?  Did I forget to breath properly?  Did my articulation get tangled?  Working on a specific issue with a passage is easier and more productive than playing it over and over again hoping you figure it out.  These points make a big difference, and save time, especially important for busy new yorkers with limited practice time.  I improve faster, with fewer hours on the flute.

I’ve also used things in this article to help me focus my time, especially in practice:

Some of the tips I completely disregard, like getting up an hour earlier, and getting a house cleaner, (I get up too early now, and um, money??!), but some of them are really helpful.  I like the advice about portioning your work time into half hour chunks with breaks, very important for physical and mental health, keeping an idea book so that they don’t distract you until you can deal with them, and just planning your day so that the most important stuff happens first.  I know for a fact that I’m more likely to practice more, (more stuff, longer) and better, when I do it in the morning.  I also know that once I start watching Netflix, nothing else productive will happen that day, so earlier is better.  

This is how I’ve figured it out, and somehow I feel like I should have done this earlier in my life, but anyway I hope you can glean some useful tips from this.  Happy practicing!