Keeping Your Own Piano Journal

Supporting Your Piano Playing Journey

In my book How to Practise Music, I wrote the following to suggest adult learners keep a piano journal:

“Older learners often like to keep their own journal in which they write a more reflective account of their practice journey, which may or may not be shared with a teacher. These can be excellent tools for structuring practice sessions, probing for solutions, or looking back on previous work.”

It is a suggestion I unpack a little in the book, but in this post I want to explain the concept and potential benefits in more depth, as well as offering some practical tips to help you get started…

What is a Piano Journal?

At its most basic, a Piano Journal is a simple writing book in which one keeps a private record of day-to-day piano progress and reflections, much the same as a personal diary in which people write about their daily life, goals and events. The journal can be written, drawn, recorded or typed, gathering together your innermost thoughts, feelings, insights, and more. 

And as Brad Paisley memorably puts it,

“Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one.”

In recent years, ‘Journalling’ has again established itself as a fashionable activity for people across all walks of life, with people using journals to chart their diet, mood, work or hobby projects, or simply to reflect mindfully on their day. And as we will see in a moment, there are huge benefits to this.

Applying this to our piano playing, a journal might include:

  • a record of time spent practising, including how the time was spent, progress made, frustrations encountered, strategies to explore more…
  • notes taken during lessons, masterclasses and personal learning
  • thoughts about recordings listened to and concerts attended
  • goals and ideas for repertoire to be learnt
  • reflections on general progress, engagement and aims

The journal itself could be a simple notebook, more structured diary or bespoke journal; it could equally be created as a computer Word document, or as a iPhone note. Those choosing to go digital might want to go further and set up a folder that also includes video recordings, photos… a complete digital dossier.

Generally, those who keep a journal set aside a few minutes each day to update it. ‘Bullet journalling’ is a variation on this theme, used to jot down succinct notes that track the past, organise the present and plan for the future. Here, the aim is to keep a journal that is simple enough to not get in the way, or take up too much time.

Similarly, you might find that it helps to keep your piano journal as simple as possible, “in the moment” without a schedule, avoiding lengthy prose. On the other hand, you might choose to write more freely at the end of each practice session, whether that is more than once a day, or only a couple of times a week.

You may also find it useful to turn to your journal even when not practising, for example to make a note of the title of a piece of music you have just heard, and perhaps to reflect on why you liked it.

What are the Benefits of Journaling?

Journaling has been shown to reduce stress, and offers us the mental space we need in which to organise our thoughts, find clarity, process and regulate emotions. As we reflect on our goals, progress, and review our most productive and enjoyable strategies, we can learn to build healthier, more effective routines and embrace a more positive approach.

Journaling actually brings us success. According to a recent study published by the Harvard Business School, participants who kept a journal demonstrated a 25% increase in their performance compared to a control group who did not keep a journal. The researchers concluded, 

“Our results reveal reflection to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey: ‘We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience’.”

Ultimately, journaling can become a rewarding creative process in itself. And with so many powerful benefits, it can undoubtedly bring a new level of happiness, success and fulfilment to our piano journey.

Questions for Reflection

To make the most of these benefits, it helps to become consistent in using the journal as an honest, reflective tool, and on a regular basis. But aside from writing a few basic facts about time spent practising, how can we use our journals to reflect on our experiences?

The following questions are suggestions for self-examination, and hopefully provide a useful starting point:

  • What did I enjoy playing most today?
  • What did I learn in this practice session?
  • What was I most happy about in my practice today?
  • Did I feel frustrated, and if so what was the cause of that?
  • Did I warm up before practising?
  • Did I work on scales, studies or specific technique at all?
  • Did I play an Active Repertoire piece today?
  • Did I spend any time improvising, composing, or experimenting?
  • Did anything surprise me in my playing?
  • The easiest part of my practice was…
  • The most challenging part of my practice was…
  • What challenges am I particularly enjoying?
  • What did I most improve at today?
  • What might I include in my next practice session?
  • What do I need to work on more?
  • Am I doubting my ability to progress, and if so why?
  • What is my present motivation for playing piano?
  • Did my energy feel drained at any point in my practice? Why?
  • Did I experience any physical discomfort when playing?
  • What questions do I have for my teacher/mentor/friends?
  • Are there any pieces or exercises I would like to leave behind?
  • What can I research about the repertoire I am playing?
  • When could I spend some time listening to recordings?
  • How long did I practise for? When/why did the session end?
  • Was this a good time of day to practise?
  • Was I distracted when practising, and if so, by what?
  • Am I grateful for this practice session?
  • Is there anything I need to do to improve the logistics and organisation of my practice sessions?

These are all important questions, which we too rarely consider.

But as you use these questions for self-evaluation and reflection, remember to be kind to yourself and avoid harsh judgment. Whatever difficulties may present themselves, the fact that you are committed to your piano journey is a strong indication that you are on the right path, and that you can succeed.

Keeping a journal, and using it with honesty and a commitment to progress, can help us unblock any problems we encounter or are struggling with, celebrate our ongoing progress, and chart a better, happier piano journey.

More Tips for Successful Journaling

Getting started includes identifying the materials you will need. As mentioned, a notepad and pencil are the basics, but you might prefer to purchase a special moleskin-bound diary, coloured pens and highlighters, stickers, manuscript paper and more. Have a think about your own creative personality, and decide how you want to present your journal, and the best way for you to keep it secure but easily to hand.

Start your journal with a reflection (however short… or long!) on what positive progress you have already made as a piano player. Jot down a few goals for the journal itself: how do you plan to use it, and what do you personally hope to gain?

Although you will most likely choose to keep your journal private, you may want to tell your teacher you are using one. It’s also worth telling those you live with, so that they can support you while also respecting the privacy of the journal.

It is also worth bearing in mind that keeping a journal can occasionally bring deep and intense emotions to the surface; be sure to have a support network to advise if you begin to notice this.

Be realistic in your expectations. A journal won’t solve all your problems or turn you into a virtuoso performer overnight. Nor should the journal replace a teacher, mentor or personal counsellor; you will still need to draw on the support and expertise of others. But keeping a journal can help you learn more about yourself, your approach, and your pathway forward.

As well as including your own ideas and reflections, use your journal to jot down advice you receive from teachers, masterclasses, the media and your friends. Include quotes that inspire you and suggestions you want to ponder over time.

Keeping a journal can be difficult at times, especially in the earliest stages, but once you establish a rhythm it gets easier. Try to figure out how to make keeping a journal as easy as possible!

Don’t worry about spelling mistakes, keeping everything neat, or crossing out ideas as you later reject them. Your journal is a “work-in-progress” document. Feel free to correct whatever you want to, and always remember that one benefit of keeping a journal is to help you change your mind!

Try not to rehash the same thoughts and feelings on a regular basis, as this can simply feed a spiral of negativity. Once you have committed an entry to your journal, consider how the insights you have gained can help you move forward, trying different creative approaches. If necessary, ask your teacher or a piano friend.

At some point, you will probably miss out your journal for a few days or even weeks. Most of us regularly miss our own targets! Don’t let this discourage or worry you: when you are ready, simply write a short reflection or a few words to bring it back to the present, then resume your journal in the here-and-now.

Closing Summary

Keeping you own Piano Journal is an idea that is so simple it seems obvious, yet so powerful that it could transform your piano journey in the months and years ahead.

And it is just one of the many compelling ideas and practical tips which make up my little handbook, How to Practise Music… why not give it a try?

For more information on the book:

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.