Do You Need a Practice Checklist?

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Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. The subject today is about why you need a practicing checklist. What’s this all about? A lot of my students want to have a routine in their practice to do a certain number of things in a certain order on a daily basis. And while this is commendable in one sense, a routine can sometimes work against you because you want to take advantage of the discoveries in your practice. You might go off on a tangent and think you’re spending too much time on something because you need to get to other things. So you might not take advantage of an exploration that could lead to an epiphany in your playing.

Instead of a routine, a checklist offers something really valuable for you.

When you practice, you might get to a point where you’re thinking, “What am I supposed to do now?” If you don’t have a routine, you’re kind of lost. But if you have a checklist, you know you want to do certain things every day. I offered this idea to one of my students, Jancarlos, in the Dominican Republic. I asked him to come up with a practice checklist for himself. I said, “You should come up with a checklist that has things you really want to do on a daily basis and then things you do on a weekly basis, maybe not every single day, but something that you don’t want to go too long without visiting in your practice.” So this is what Jancarlos came up with. See how many of these things resonate with you! I’d love to get suggestions here in the comments on and YouTube.

Jancarlos starts his checklist with memorization of new material.

I stress this all the time. Why is it so important to memorize new material on a daily basis? Because cramming memorization doesn’t work! Let’s say you’ve gone four or five days without doing any memorization. You think you can just make up for it in a few hours, but it’s not so easy. When you first learn a phrase, it’s not that hard. You learn the second phrase, and it comes along okay. But by the third or fourth phrase, it starts to get really taxing. How much can you cram into your head in one sitting? It’s tough. So take advantage every day when your mind is fresh to learn something, even if it’s just one phrase. You’ll be rewarded! Take a look at the score of whatever music you’re working on and figure out the smallest phrase that you could learn; maybe it’s four measures, and then multiply that by seven and then deduct any measures that are the same. You’ll discover that you might get a page or a page and a half of music learned just by doing a phrase a day. So make that a priority in your practice. What else should be done every day?

Reinforce material from the previous day.

Obviously, you need to solidify what you learned the previous day. You might have to relearn it. The good news is that you’ll be able to learn it much faster. Not only that, but if you learned four measure phrases the previous day, you might be able to learn eight measure phrases when you relearn it because it’s already there.

Another thing you really should be doing on a regular basis is playing scales and arpeggios.

If you’re not up to scales and arpeggios, you should at least do simple Hanon exercises to strengthen your fingers. If you learn one new scale a week or one new arpeggio a week, you’ll have them all learned in a year. That is a good foundation for your playing. And if you already know them all, solidify them. Take them to the next level in speed, different articulations, or doing them in contrary motion or in intervals. You can keep working on scales and arpeggios your whole life. There’s always value in doing so!

Another thing you should do is review your old pieces.

Go through slowly solidifying pieces you can already play. This is a great way to keep them in shape and to check your work so things don’t degrade over time. By doing this, you always have music you can play on a high level. Also, make time for free playing. Play old repertoire or improvise, just to keep your fingers moving. You can keep pieces in shape just by playing them, and improvising develops your ear and your connection to the keyboard.

Another thing that you can do on a regular basis is sight-read.

Sight-reading is a vital aspect of strengthening your reading because you might learn more and more music and still have a beginning reading level. So make reading something you do on a regular basis. Finding sight-reading material on the right level for you is the most important part. If it’s something you struggle just to get through a line or two, it’s not going to be that valuable. It’ll be painstaking for you, and you’re not going to want to do it. And you’re not going to get the fluidity and sense of reading and maintaining a tempo. Finding easy enough music for sight-reading is a challenge for many people because many people do become somewhat accomplished, yet they still have the reading level of a beginner. I was in that category when I was a pretty advanced player in high school because I didn’t do enough sight-reading. So make that a part of your regular study.

Go through theory on a regular basis.

It can be something as simple as just going through your sharps and your flats. You don’t want to just memorize by rote. That’s not that valuable. Frankly, it’s better than nothing. But you’re better off figuring out the intervals you’re playing. Why is this so important? Imagine trying to solve quadratic equations in algebra while not being fluent with your multiplication tables. That’s not going to work very well. You have to be pretty fluent with all your tables before you can approach higher mathematics. The same thing is true with music theory. You better be really solid with your key signatures and all your major scales before doing chords, intervals, and all of that. So spend some time with that on a regular basis.

Explore other styles of music.

It can be incredibly valuable to explore other genres, whether it’s jazz, salsa, pop, blues, etc. You’ll make discoveries, and you’ll understand the structure of music better. It ties in with music theory. All of these skill sets relate to each other. That’s why the more of them you do on a regular basis, the more productive your practice is.

Make a checklist for yourself!

Make a checklist so you never get stuck in your practice. If you’re not getting anywhere, change it up and do something different. You can come back to what you were doing the next day, and maybe it will resonate more genuinely with you at that time. Have your checklist on hand, either on your phone or on a piece of paper, so you can make sure you practice all these fundamental skill sets on a regular basis. Thank you, Jancarlos, for sharing this with everybody! Share your musical checklist in the comments here at and on YouTube! Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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2 thoughts on “Do You Need a Practice Checklist?”


  1. To help my students learn how to organize their practice, I put together an Excel spreadshead that has check boxes for each item to be practiced each day of the week. This starts off fairly simple, gets more detailed and specific as they take on more material, and then becomes more general once they have become accustomed to the practice “shorthand” instructions. It has been very helpful for students, their paraents, and me to “design” a clear practice regimen that covers everything and yet remains in a doable time frame, and using Excel allows me to copy/paste to save time. I can design a single tier schedule (basically the same things each day), a two-tier schedule (some things on Mon/Weds/Fri and other things on Tues/Thurs/Sat), and a three-tier schedule (some things on Mon/Thurs, other things on Tues/Fri, and yet other things on Weds/Sat).

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