Creating a Practice Folder for High Intensity Interval Practice

5 Tips for Quickly Organizing Your Practice!

  1. Use a durable folder. Your practice folder is a critical tool for your High Intensity Interval Practice. The first step is to find a high-quality practice folder. Personally, I use a 2” three-ring binder with plastic sheets for papers. You may want to use tabs to divide 5-week sessions.
  2. Print out a 5-week schedule. Because you will be working in 5-week sessions, it’s important to track your goals and progress. Figure out a calendar format with information for each practice day. Be sure to list your practice goal somewhere on your schedule. If you’re working on an 8-, 10-, or 12- week practice schedule, adjust your calendar format.
  3. Print out leadsheets for each tune. Even if you aren’t working on the melody in your practice, it’s important to have leadsheets for each tune. If you’re only practicing one tune, file the leadsheet after your schedule (see above). If you’re practicing more than one tune, place leadsheets in the order that you will practice (or perform) them. As you learn more repertoire, you should include a list of tunes you’ve learned at the front or back of your practice folder.
  4. Write out your practice etudes. While we’ll go more into this in Week 3, for now, it’s important to know that you need to create practice materials. An etude is any piece of music used for learning purposes. In addition to the melody (which is written on the leadsheet), other types of etudes include basslines, arpeggios (of each chord), chord-scales, and written or transcribed solos. If you’re new to practice, you should consult with an instructor for etude ideas.
  5. Make technical notes. To optimize your practice, write out any notes about technique. This could include rhythmic subdivisions, fingering numbers, and bowing patterns. As with practice etudes, you may want to consult with an instructor for help with this step. Once you have your practice folder ready, you’re ready to move onto HIIP workouts – which will cover in next week’s posts!

Choosing Tune(s) for High Intensity Interval Practice

5 Tips for Quickly Selecting Repertoire!

  1. Pick no more than 5 tunes at a time. In jazz, there’s constant pressure to learn and memorize dozens, if not hundreds of tunes. Instead, focus on learning 1-5 tunes at a time (over a 5-week period). This will help you stay focused and avoid getting overwhelmed. Even if you only memorize one tune at a time, you’ll learn 10 tunes a year!
  2. Pick a theme for your tunes. When you pick your 1-5 tunes, have them all be part of theme that fits your practice goal. If you’re preparing for a performance, they should all be concert repertoire. If you’re trying to learn a particular genre, the tunes should all be representative of that style (or arranged in that style). As your practice goals change, so will your repertoire themes.
  3. Listen to as much music as possible. The best way to select repertoire is to listen to as much music as possible. YouTube, Pandora, and high-quality radio stations are all great sources of tune ideas. Be sure to schedule time for listening as you would practice – workday commutes are an especially good time. Be sure to have a way to jot down the names of tunes that you like.
  4. Listen to as many versions of a tune as possible. Once you’ve figured out a tune that you would like to learn, research it and track down as many versions as you can find. As you listen, make sure it is level-appropriate – that it will be challenging to learn, but not completely overwhelming. If possible, follow along with a leadsheet (see below) to really learn the tune. The more deeply you know the tune, the easier it will be to practice.
  5. Track down a high-quality leadsheet for the tune. If you’ve selected a jazz tune, you’ll want to procure a leadsheet (a simplified chart with melody and chord changes) for it. Leadsheets are available in “Fakebooks” (which you can purchase in music stores) or for individual online download. Make sure the leadsheet is legible and has the correct chord changes (some tunes have multiple variations, so you’ll need to pick the one that works best for you). Once you have tune(s) and leadsheet(s), you’re ready to create a practice folder – which we’ll cover in tomorrow’s post!

Choosing a Goal for High Intensity Interval Practice

Having a single focus will turbocharge your practice!

To get the “Intensity” in High Intensity Interval Practice, you need to be hyper-focused. A good way to do this is to identify a primary goal. In a later post, we’ll talk about recording your goals in your practice folder. Today’s post is about what to think about when selecting your practice goal. I’ll share my goals, then give you some ideas for figuring out your own.

The simplest goal is preparing for a specific concert. If you’re a beginner, you can organize informal jams or house concerts to gain performance experiences. As soon as you’re able to, try to get plugged in with a college or community group that performs regularly. When preparing for a performance, be sure to budget adequate time to learn repertoire. As a bonus, your repertoire will be picked for you (we’ll cover tune selection in tomorrow’s post).

Another effective goal is to learn more about a specific domain of a certain genre. Maybe you want to learn Latin drum grooves or other timekeeping goals. Maybe you want to memorize several jazz standards in all 12 keys or other melodic goals. Maybe you want to solo in odd time signatures or other soloistic goals. As you gain more experience with HIIP, you’ll get better at crafting these types of goals.

For the next five weeks, my goal is to prepare for an upcoming Gypsy jazz concert. Because my time is limited (5 minutes a day, plus time for setup and tuning), I need to stick to the timekeeping domain. This will involve practicing basslines in the upper and lower registers of the bass (something that is technically challenging). In the future, I want to practice melodies in the upper register (melodic domain) and solo material – such as scales, arpeggios, etc. (soloistic domain). It’s important for me to stay focused and address each of these one at a time.

Today, take 5 minutes to answer the following questions and craft your own, single-sentence goal:

  • Is there a specific performance that I can prepare for?
  • What genre(s) am I interested in learning?
  • Which domain – timekeeping, melodic, or soloistic – do I wish to focus on?

Tomorrow, you’ll pick tune(s) to help support your primary practice goal!

Choosing Instrument(s) for High Intensity Interval Practice

Effective practice begins with selecting the right gear!

While High Intensity Interval Practice (HIIP) can be adapted for all instruments and levels, you still need to be strategic about your choice of instruments. In this post, we’ll discuss how to pick an instrument if you’re just starting out. I’ll also explain how multi-instrumentalists can make use off HIIP. As you’ll see, your choice of instrument(s) affects how much time you must budget for setup, tuning, and warmups. From there, you can complete the action item of getting your practice space set up!

If you’re just starting out and/or pressed for time, you should stick to practicing just one instrument. Make sure that your instrument is in playing shape – repairing or replacing parts as needed. If you want to play a certain instrument but can’t afford it, consider renting one from a music store. For those on a budget, voice or melodica (which run for $100 or less) are good options. Whatever you choose, make sure you’re excited and passionate about playing your one instrument.

If you play multiple instruments, HIIP is your friend! For woodwind players who double (on flute, clarinet, etc.), you can divide time between your primary and secondary instruments. Either way, limit yourself to no more than five instruments at a time. If you stick to the minimum of five minutes per day, you can practice five instruments in less than half an hour. But that said, multiple instruments mean more setup time (see below).

With each instrument, you’ll need to consider how much time you need to budget for the following:

  1. Setup (even if your instrument is out of its case and on a stand, you still may need to put things together)
  2. Tuning (if applicable, tune your instrument before every practice session)
  3. Warmups (this is crucial for vocalists, brass players, etc. and may take more than five minutes itself)

Over time, you’ll get a better feel for how many instruments you can practice and how much time to devote to each.

Today, take 5 minutes to set up your practice space, including the following:

  • Your instrument(s), out of the case and on an instrument stand (if applicable)
  • A music stand with pencil, metronome, tuner, tablet with iRealPro, etc.
  • Assessment tools, such as a mirror and recording device

Tomorrow, we’ll move from selecting gear to choosing a goal!

What is HIIP? (Introduction to High Intensity Interval Practice)

Get practice results in as little as 5 minutes a day!

Recently, I started working a full-time job outside of music and struggled to find time and energy to practice bass. Then, I read (in this book) about a teacher who successfully taught a time-starved medical student to practice in just two minutes a day! Inspired, I set a goal to practice over twice as much – five minutes a day… I borrowed techniques from my Tabata-style workouts (a type of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)). I dubbed my resulting method High Intensity Interval Practice, with the appropriate acronym HIIP.

Like HIIT, HIIP uses short bursts of intense effort punctuated by brief periods of rest. It is designed to produced maximal results in minimal time. If you’re like me – extremely busy with other time commitments – then this system is for you. What’s more, the it’s completely customizable for different instruments, schedules, levels, and interests. I’m writing this series of blog posts to hone my method and share it with others experiencing similar struggles.

To get the most out of your HIIP, you need to commit to practice five minutes a day, five days a week, for five weeks in a row. At just over two hours, this is manageable for even the most time-starved people. Each 5-minute “workout” will target 1-4 bars of music. Even with the minimal commitment, it’s still possible to learn a 32-bar tune in that time! Over the next five weeks, I’ll take you step-by-step through the process of creating a HIIP routine that works for you.

In Week 1 (this week), we’ll cover basics of and preparation for HIIP. Next week (Week 2), we’ll start learning how to construct practice “workouts” and use looping techniques. After that (Week 3), we’ll delve into the process of developing musicianship – such as timekeeping, playing melodies, and soloing. For Week 4, we’ll learn how to apply principles of HIIP into musical learning. Finally, during Week 5 we’ll explore applications of this method in rehearsal and performance.

While you won’t start practicing until next week, you can still set a timer for five minutes today and write out answers to the following questions:

  • Which instrument(s) do I want to (re)learn or get better at playing?
  • What are my primary goals – what kinds of things do I want to be able to do musically?
  • Which tunes do I want to learn to help me achieve my goals?

Tomorrow, we’ll start our HIIP journey by discussing instruments and other gear.