Practice Smart: a 10 minute Musical Workout

“If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days the critics know it. If I don’t practice for three days the audience knows it!”  — Louis Armstrong 


Whether it is Louis Armstrong or any of us who are just learning to play an instrument the agony and the outcome is the same if we are unable to practice smart every day. Even if our critics happen to be our close friends and our dedicated audience is our immediate family! 

Of course we all would devote enough time to practice if only we have it. But given our schedule, our professional commitments and social encumbrances, we barely have10 minutes to practice anything. What can we do?  Well, in this blog post we share some tips on how to get the most out of 10 minutes. We know it is not the quantity but the quality of time we put into our endeavors that matters, right?

One of the biggest mistakes we make when we sit down to practice is that we end up spending the time playing something we already have practiced for a long time. The same warm-ups, exercises, rudiments and perhaps a favorite song or two.  If we only had 10 minutes and all we did was to play what we know already we are not going to make much progress. We need something new each day. But it takes a long time to work on the new stuff; how do we solve this? The answer is we have to do what the bodybuilders do: isolate and rotate!

1. What to Practice  (Isolate) 

There are 3 areas that we need to isolate to make significant improvement in our skills: 

  • Musicality: every note should be pitch perfect and sound as soft or as loud as it should. Every sequence of notes should be evenly spaced and each note must get the value it deserves.
  • Physicality: the slower we can play without mistakes, the faster we can play without mistakes. 
  • Dexterity: keeping our fingers, arms, legs or vocal chords strong and moving freely as we go up/down the tempo and dynamics (loud or soft)

Most of us are familiar with these aspects. But how can we incorporate all of these areas in just 10 minutes though? The answer lies in how we utilize those minutes.

2. How to Practice (Rotate)

Like a bodybuilder on a circuit training equipment we need to be able to rotate through the focus areas quickly, yet effectively.  The secret is to work on a practice set with a popular song! Let us see how this might work with an example. Say we have learnt only a couple of scales so far:  A-minor  and its cousin C-major. Both are very popular with a number of compositions in all genres.  This is enough to burn some serious workout. Let us pick a simple song say Greensleeves ( that is based on the melodic A-minor (A – B – C – D – E – F# – G# – A). Here is the first couple of lines of the melody:


GREENSLEEVES Piano Transcription

You can see the full transcription here:

Now for the rotation:

a. In a normal tempo first we practice our scale: up/down, down/up several times. Both hands need exercise: so if you are practicing with a piano, do both clefs, one after the other.

b. Next we play the first 8 bars of the melody 10X at the same tempo. Make sure the notes sound correct and are evenly spaced. Again both clefs one after another.

c. Then play the rest of the melody. Next play from start to finish several times using both hands at once. 

d. Next increase tempo and repeat (c). Speed up one more time. One more time. Make sure the notes are still evenly spaced.  This is where our head rests.

e. Next slow down tempo and repeat (c). Slow down one more time. Two more times. Make sure the notes are still evenly spaced. This is where our tail rests.

f. We should now have 3 minutes left on our clock! We repeat (a) thru (c) now for the C-major scale. Same notes without the flats. Does it sound the same, better or worse than the original? What do we think?

g. If we still have time (or if we lost track of time by now) we can try to improvise! Try to make up a new melody by dropping/repeating a note or two here and there!

And this is how we workout. We pick a scale (or two) each time. We pick a popular melody based on that scale. And then rotate through tonality/speed/dexterity aspects.  

In this video tutorial we can watch (and listen) how to go through this short but effective workout on a piano.

There are a number of resources such as the National Association for Music Education ( or that we can find on the internet to choose melodies based on what we know.  The Manoke App ( also has a number of lessons and tracks for beginners to practice. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get to workout! It only takes 10 minutes!!




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