The Super-Awesome, Ultra-Detailed Practice Plan: Click by Click, Part 2

Some people hesitate to use the metronome when practicing repertoire. They think it will make their playing too lifeless and robotic. Full disclosure: this can be true if you don’t practice mindfully.

However, when done correctly, practice with the metronome can open up your abilities with a piece. It can help you establish such control over the notes you’re playing that you’re free to take whatever interpretive liberties you like without difficulty. Read on to learn how!

This post is a continuation in a series on how to use the practice planner I’ve created. You can download yours for free by clicking the button below:

Make Practice Time Easier By Planning Ahead!

Hands playing piano keys with a metronome and pencil nearby

Learn how to plan exactly what you need to do each day to accomplish your goals. Then all you have to do at practice time is sit down and play!

The Piecewise Practice Planner will help you make meaningful progress every time you practice, even with as little as 5 minutes per practice session.

Best of all, it’s completely FREE–to opt in, click the button below!

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read the other articles in the series, especially Preparing to Make a Practice Plan.

Also if you’re not already on good terms with your metronome, you might like to read How to Use a Metronome to help you get the most out of the instructions below.

Step 1: Choose Your Goal Date and Tempo

Goal dates and tempo written in practice planner

I already discussed identifying your goal dates in Preparing to Make a Practice Plan, Step 3. If you missed that part, go back and read it before continuing here.

Once you’ve identified your goal dates, you need to decide on a goal tempo. Some pieces have tempo markings right on the music. That potentially makes this part really easy! However, it’s worthwhile to make sure that’s actually how fast you want to play the piece.

Often such tempo markings are chosen by the publisher, not the composer. And even if they are chosen by the composer, they might be unrealistic for you or just not the way you want to interpret the music.

You are the performer, so the final decision is yours. This is about how YOU interpret the music. If people want to hear someone else’s interpretation, they can listen to a recording!

In our example, I’ve decided you want to play your Bach C Major Prelude at quarter note = 92 bpm. You can write this goal tempo now, or wait until after you’ve done step 2.5 because you may want to change what you’ve written!

Step 2: Identify Your Starting Tempo

Practice planner with starting tempo written in

Let’s say that in our example it’s May 2nd and after completing the practice plan from the measure by measure method, you’re reassessing your progress. You’re pretty comfortable with the notes, but there are places where you tend to pause and others where mistakes are common.

First, find a metronome tempo that is so slow you are able to play along with it without struggling. Make it ridiculously slow. Let’s say sixteenth note = 92 bpm. This is 4 times slower than your goal tempo. Luckily, you have an entire month to speed it up! However, I still recommend trying for the two-weeks to performance date of May 16th.

Step 2.5: Convert Your Units

Metric conversion math

Because your goal tempo is in quarter notes, but your starting tempo is in 16th notes, there’s the potential for things to get really confusing. You do not want this confusion to happen during one of your daily practice sessions!

The whole point of figuring this all out ahead of time is so that your practice time can be focused on learning the music, and not complicated details. To make things easier during your daily practice sessions, you need to figure out how to convert your units (don’t you love math?!) so they are the same. 

In this case, since the starting tempo is in sixteenth notes, and the goal tempo is in quarter notes, we’ll split the difference and work in eighth notes.

This means we need to divide the sixteenth notes = 92 bpm by two because 92 sixteenth notes per minute = 46 eighth notes per minute.

Similarly, we need to double the quarter notes = 92 bpm because 92 quarter notes per minute = 184 eighth notes per minute.

Now that you’ve established your goal tempo in 8th notes, go ahead and write it in your practice planner by first identifying the column of the piece the goal tempo is for. Then look down at the bottom of the page and write your tempo in that same column next to the word “Tempo”.

Sometimes this math can be confusing. Just take your time to wrap your head around it; I’ll wait! 🙂

Step 3: Establish Your Daily Increase

Metronome

Now that we have a usable range set at eighth note = 46-184bpm, we need to see how many clicks per day we need to get through.

There may be a more efficient method than this, but what I do is literally click my metronome from the lowest tempo to the highest, and count how many it takes. In this case, it’s 32 clicks.

FYI: This part is based on an actual metronome, which doesn’t have every single number on it.

If you’re using the kind of metronome that has every number on it such as an electronic device of some sort (keyboard, app, etc.), this part is easy for you because you just subtract 46 from 184 which gives you 138. But because I’m old school, I’ll be continuing as if you have the same metronome as me!

Now you need to calculate practice days.

Since in the example we established previously you want to reach your goal tempo by May 16th and you’re taking Saturdays off as well as May 10th, counting backwards to May 3rd gives you 12 practice days (only 6 of which will be visible on your Practice Planner).

Divide the 32 clicks by the 12 days and you come up with 2.67. We’ll round it up to 3 clicks per day.

Note: If you have a metronome with every number on it, you would divide 138 by 12 days. This would give you 11.5, rounding up to 12 bpm per day. You will have pretty different daily goal tempos this way at first. As you get closer to your final goal tempo it evens out. This is because the old school metronome marks get farther apart as the numbers go up.

Step 4: Fill It Out

Practice planner filled out with metronome markings

Now that you know roughly how many clicks per day you should increase to reach your goal, simply write them in for each day.

In our example, your first practice day with this method will be Sunday, May 3rd (the previous days on the calendar were used for the example in the Measure by Measure method). Write your starting tempo there, which is eighth note = 46 bpm.

Next, move your metronome up 3 clicks and write that tempo in Monday, May 4th: eighth note = 52 bpm.

Continue in this way until you complete the page. It doesn’t matter that you ran out of spaces before you got to your goal tempo. If you did your math correctly you know you’ll reach it in time.

Creating a new planner page is another opportunity to assess whether everything is going well. At that time you can either continue with this pattern or alter it in some way.

Step 5: Practice

The reason this method is so powerful is because first it forces you to play very slowly, and always with very accurate tempo and rhythm. Then the increase in tempo is so gradual that you can stay relaxed, both mentally and physically. 

This allows you to reach higher speeds without the all-too-common side effect of getting sloppy.

When practicing in this way it’s important to do your best to incorporate every detail of the piece, including all dynamics and articulations. Everything, except tempo changes of course!

This way these aspects of the piece will also become easier to control.

Once you reach your goal tempo, you’ll have two more weeks to polish the piece. Use this time to get used to playing the piece without the metronome, and notice how much control and freedom you have from learning in such a systematic way!

Don’t forget to download the free practice planner to make this method even easier to apply right away! Then let me know in the comments whether practicing like this has worked for you!

Heidi has been involved in music in one way or another for most of her life. She studied music composition in college, has taught piano, voice, composition, ear training, and guitar, and has worked as a piano tuner and technician. Before the pandemic she loved playing concerts at retirement communities, bringing the joy of music to those populations. She is currently working on learning more about the connection between music and healing.

Related Articles:

Preparing to Make a Practice Plan
How to Use A Metronome: The MVP of Music Practice
The Super-Awesome, Ultra-Detailed Practice Plan: Measure by Measure
The Super-Awesome, Ultra-Detailed Practice Plan: Click by Click, Part 1

2 thoughts on “The Super-Awesome, Ultra-Detailed Practice Plan: Click by Click, Part 2”

  1. When I first looked at your practice planner my initial impression was that although it made sense, it was a lot of work. However after purchasing several of the ready made repertoire plans, listened to your Piano Reset lectures and read these articles I’m starting to see that this is what I need. Your experience, insights and teaching abilities make you an extraordinary teacher. And your succinct descriptions of piano practicing problems and issues makes me feel as if you know me. It’s clear that you’ve put in an enormous amount of effort in developing your teaching and motivational materials.

    1. Hi Steve, thanks so much for sharing your experience and for your kind words! I’m so glad that you’ve found my teachings and practice method to be helpful. You’re totally right that it feels like a lot of work at first, but as it sounds like you’re experiencing, it’s totally worth it! 🙂 Feel free to keep me updated on how things are going!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *