Keeping Track of your Practice Sessions with Numbers

When I first started the bassoon, there wasn’t much of a need for practice sheets. It was all I could do to remember the fingerings.

Once I got to the point that I had a lot of different pieces, etudes, and excerpts to practice on, I started printing off an Excel Document so that I could keep track of what I was working on and how I was improving. Now that I have an iPad, I don’t print this sheet anymore. I also don’t use Excel anymore since I have access to Numbers. The digital version of my practice sheet is a little more festive even if I don’t get to use bright colored paper anymore. (Bright colors make me happy so…) Also, I don’t have to try and hunt a piece of paper down if I want to see the last way that I practiced something.

Numbers on the iPad in portrait.

Numbers on the iPad in portrait.

One of the nice things is that you can look back on what you’ve been working on for the last month…or year and see how much you’ve accomplished.

Data Entry in the iPad version of Numbers

Data Entry in the iPad version of Numbers

I like to break my practice up into different sections.

  • There are the basics. Double-Tonguing, tuning, note starts, etc. I work on pushing the envelope for these every time that I practice.
  • The jazz section is for fun but also something to take me out of my comfort zone.
  • Sections for études and solos.
  • If I have an audition or a recital, that will get pushed to the top since they’ll be must practice items
  • Lastly, a section at the bottom of each day for notes.

I know that there are apps specifically for tracking the time that you practiced but I think that what you concentrate on is much more important than trying to hit a specific number of minutes practiced. Some great sites for more information on music and mastery include: Musician’s Way , Bulletproof Musician , and The Talent Code. And here’s a very good article on practicing.

I don’t want to get too comfortable so I switch the way that I’m working on scales every week. This week is currently Oubradous but I also use scales studies from Kim Walker and Herzberg. I put a text box of what I want to concentrate on (You can see it off to the right side in the portrait picture above. I am currently reviewing centering.) I may add more text boxes if I’ve listened to a recording of myself and an issue really stood out to me. The reminder tab is a place to put notes on different ways to practice and general things to think about. Some I make up myself, some I get from others. (The notes on the Klickstein are there because I haven’t completely assimilated these exercises in practice yet so I know that I can refer to his book if I need it.)

iPad version of Numbers in Landscape

iPad version of Numbers in Landscape

One of the very nice things about Numbers is that you can sync through iCloud and have your information on your other devices. But be aware, actually editing on an iPhone or iPod Touch is sincerely uncomfortable. (This picture is zoomed in. I know it looks great but trust me…uncomfortable.)

Numbers on the iPhone

Numbers on the iPhone

I usually make or adjust the form on the iPad.
One last issue, I had to come up with a short hand to notate any rhythms that I used for practicing. There are no music note fonts available on iOS devices outside of notation apps. You could take a picture and insert it if you wanted to but that is a extra work and I’d rather use that time to practice.

Numbers is from Apple’s productivity suite, iWork.
It is $9.99 for the iOS version.
This is a plus version so it will work on all of your iOS devices.
Minimum requirements are iPhone 3GS, iPod touch 3rd generation. Any of the current iPads will work but you must have at least iOS 5.1.

Numbers is also available for your Mac for $19.99.
You don’t have to have the Mac version though it can make the initial spreadsheet creating easier. Please be aware that not everything from the desktop version will transfer over to the iOS version.

Keeping Yourself On Track

Or at least being honest with yourself!

Sadly, the app that I was going to write about this time is not currently available in the app store and I couldn’t be that mean.

So instead, I’m going to write about two apps that I use to make sure that I’m doing what I want to do to move forward. These are especially important for me. I’m not saying that I’m always right on top of things but these let me know if I am or not.

First up is Streaks

A rough month so far!

Did I really practice as much as I thought I did last week…or this month? You’ll know for sure with this app. It’s also a great incentive because you don’t want to break your streak. (See a good Lifehacker post on this here.) There are quite a few themes to choose from.

Just a few of the themes available.

I use this for more than practicing but I use the same themes for the same types of things. Ear Training and Bassoon both have the same theme for example. You can set days that it is ok to skip while continuing your streak. You always see your current streak to give you that incentive to continue. You can write a note if you wanted to remind yourself of something. You can also dig deeper into a calendar in the settings to look at past streaks. Or see all of the notes that you’ve written in one place. The one tiny complaint that I have is that it seems to take a little while to calculate things if you have a lot of calendars. Definitely not a deal breaker but be prepared for that if you are trying to get in and out of the app quickly.

Streaks is native for the iPhone/iPod Touch and requires iOS 4.2 or later. It is from Fanzter and is available in the App Store for $1.99.

The next app is Alarmed from Yoctoville.

Some Timers from Alarmed.
(Yeah, I love Emoji!)

It’s great to be able to set it and forget it. I don’t have to spend my practice session looking at the clock if I have some place to be right after I’m done. I turn the app on and practice until it tells me it’s time to quit. One feature I really love is that you can pause the alarm and then continue it at a later time. Very helpful for those days where you are practicing so intensely that you need to take a few more breaks. I have a timer for breaks so that I don’t get too distracted by something else.

I know, I know.
Squirrel!

You can even set a nag so that if you don’t go into the app and turn it off, it keeps reminding you. You can also set multiple alarms for various things that can repeat during the day or on a daily basis. I mostly use the timers but if you needed a good regular alarm clock, this app can definitely do that too.
With all of this functionality, this app is completely free. Go ahead and spring for the extra sounds though. It’s only $1.99 and a responsive developer like this truly deserves the money. It’s also a plus app and the iPad version is great as well. You’ll need to have at least iOS 4 to run it. Get it here.

iPad version of Alarmed showing only an active timer.

So this post is not quite as fun or sexy as the app I originally wanted to share but these two are workhorses in my studio and life and I use them on a daily basis.