Music, practice plan, metronome, and pencil at the piano

The Super-Awesome, Ultra-Detailed Practice Plan: Measure by Measure

Here I’m going to explain a very detailed and effective way to plan your practice measure by measure. This method is best used when you’re not very familiar with the piece you’re working on. When I’m starting a brand new piece, I always start with this method unless I can already sight-read the piece pretty easily.

I have created a practice planning worksheet to use specifically with this practice planning method, and you can download it 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!

I will be using Bach’s Prelude I in C Major from WTC Book 1 as an example in this post. If you don’t already have the score, you can download the Prelude from imslp.org so you can refer to it and know exactly what I’m talking about at all times!

One more thing before we get started: If you haven’t already read and followed the steps of my previous article in this series, Preparing to Make a Practice Plan, I recommend you do so before continuing below.

Step 1: Calculate

Measure by Measure Practice Plan, Step 1

With this practice method, we’ll be focused on reaching the Notes goal date, which is the date by which you want to have all of your notes learned well. In the example we started in Preparing to Make a Practice Plan, I have that marked as May 2nd.

Count the days between your start date and your Notes date, skipping any of the non-practice dates you crossed out. In the example I counted 17 days.

Next, check how many measures are in each piece you wish to learn by then. Our example piece, Bach’s Prelude in C, has 35 measures. Note: If the measures on your piece are not numbered, number them now. It will make things much easier later!

Divide the 35 measures by the 17 practice days. This number (2.059, or rounded to 2 or 3 measures) is how many measures you need to learn each day in order to reach your goal.

Make sure this number is realistic for you. This may take some trial and error to get to know how much you’re able to do in a day and how quickly. It’s always better to make your assignments a little easier than you think you need them to be.

If 2-3 measures is too many for you to learn in a day, you’ll have to either push back your goal date or choose an easier piece to work on. This is all up to you and what you’re comfortable with.

Step 2: Write In Your Daily Assignments

Measure by Measure Practice Plan, Step 2

Now it’s time to write in exactly which measures you will work on each day. I always start from the end of the piece. This is because that means I will know the ending better than the beginning. Then during any performance the piece will get easier and easier as I continue to play.

As calculated above, in each box you’ll write either 2 or 3 measures of the piece you’re working on. I usually decide whether it’s 2 or 3 depending on what’s going on in the piece. When starting from the end, the last measure tends to be pretty easy so I’ll usually err on the side of learning more measures for that day.

In the case of Bach’s C Major Prelude, for example, it’s just a whole note chord. So, in the box that corresponds to Bach C Major Prelude and the first Monday, October 14th (your starting date), you’ll write something like “m.33-35” or “33-end” or whatever makes sense to you so you know what measures you’re talking about.

Then for Tuesday, April 14th, you’ll write “m.30-32”. In this case I again decided on 3 measures instead of 2 because measures 30 and 31 of this piece are almost exactly the same. Therefore it wouldn’t be much additional effort to learn them both in one day.

You probably get the pattern by now. For Wednesday, April 15th, you’d write “m.28-29”. You could do 27-29 if you like, but because the previous two days had 3 measures and there was no clear reason in the music to start at measure 27, there’s no real reason to push yourself by learning more measures. With this method, less is more!

Step 3: Fill Out The Month

Measure by Measure Practice Plan, Step 3

Continue this way, filling out each box until you either run out of measures or you reach your goal date. Remember to skip any days you don’t plan to practice!

If you’ve done your calculations correctly, you should have run out of measures on or before the goal date. In this case I continued on from where we left off only putting 2 measures in each day since 2.059 is much closer to 2 than 3, then I just wrote “All” on the very last day. This way I got through all the measures in perfect timing to reach the Notes goal date.

Sometimes, depending on how you rounded the numbers in your calculations, you’ll run out of measures a day or two before reaching that date. In this case simply write “All” or “Review” in each of the remaining days. This signifies that you should review the whole thing for each remaining day.

Step 4: Practice!

Now comes the most important part of this practice method: You have to actually practice! Luckily you’ve divided the piece into such small sections that you should find it fairly easy to accomplish each day’s assignment.

You’ll know the assignment has been completed if you are able to play through the measures fairly easily, without too many pauses and without too much stopping to check the notes.

This should only take a maximum of 15-30 minutes, and sometimes much less. If you find it’s taking much longer than that, you may need to give yourself smaller daily assignments.

Note: You do NOT have to have everything perfect in order to move on, but you DO have to know the measures considerably better than you did before you started. This is another judgement call that will become easier to make through experience.

As you move on to each new day, be sure to start by reviewing the previous day’s assignment. Make sure everything you’ve worked on so far is still pretty good before adding more to it. If you stay consistent, this should not be too difficult.

I like to put a check mark over each day that I’ve practiced so I remember where I’m at. See below for a complete example of what your practice planner would look like, including a few of the days checked off. Remember you can download your own practice planner for free!

Measure by Measure Practice Plan, Final Product

Now you’re ready for the next step, which is making your practice plan with metronome markings!


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.

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