Practice Tips: Effective Practice Using The Pomodoro Technique

Utilizing the Pomodoro Technique for Effective Practice

Many musicians struggle to get the most out of their practice time. With a seemingly endless list of things to cover, it’s all too easy to end up spending a couple of hours glossing over things aimlessly without actually learning anything!

One of my favourite ways to get the most out of my practice sessions is the Pomodoro Technique. Although not specifically aimed towards musicians, it is versatile enough that it can be easily adapted to be an efficient practice tool.

Rest is crucial to efficient and productive practice, as it allows the mind and body to process what it’s just learned. Christian Lindberg devised a crazy looking practice schedule in his 20’s when he was preparing to be a soloist, but when you look closer it actually follows the same principles of alternating practice and short breaks with occasional long breaks:

I  gradually built it up from 4 hours a day divided into 12 sessions of 24 minutes when I was 20, up to 6 hour a day between 22 and 25 also 12 sessions, but 30 minutes per session.

When practicing 12 times 30 minutes you really have to spread it over the whole day. I used to do 7-7.30, 8-8.30, 9-9.30, 10-10.30, break, 13.00-13.30, 14.00-14.30, 15.00-15.30, 16.00-16.30, break, 18.00-18.30, 19.00-19.30, 20.00-20.30, 21.00-21.30… It was very heavy days, and it took hard work and build up to even be strong enough for so much practice so be careful!!! – C.L

What is the Pomodoro Technique?


The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. It is named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (you can get one here) he used as a student. Put simply, the method can be divided into six easy steps:

  1. Decide what you want to do. This could be general, such as ‘practice the trombone’ or something more specific like ‘practice my melodic minor scales’.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes – these work intervals are called pomodoros. Make a promise to yourself that you will work solidly without distractions until the timer goes off. We can all manage just 25 minutes, right?!
  3. Work until the timer goes off 25 minutes later. Immerse yourself fully in your work, and the time will fly. If you think of something else you need to do, don’t get distracted, just write it down and continue with the original task.
  4. When the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper. Well done! You’ve worked for 25 minutes on one task in a focused way. The checkmark is important, as having a visual proof of your progress can be very motivating.
  5. Take a short break. Do something else for 3-5 minutes – you deserve it! I like 5 minute breaks as it gives enough time for the lip to recover and also keeps the total work+break time to a nice round 30 minutes.
  6. When you reach 4 checkmarks, take a longer break. The original technique suggests 15-30 minutes, but since playing a brass instrument can be quite tiring, I prefer 45-60 minutes so that stamina doesn’t negatively affect productivity.

Other suggestions

When using this for practice, I like to use one of the pomodoros out of a set of 4 for something that isn’t playing. This could be composing, arranging, repertoire research, learning music theory, transcription or anything else you need to work on. Personally I find this really helps with not getting so fatigued that your practice quality is compromised.

For playing, you may find that 4 x 25 minutes before a longer break is too much. This is fine – just experiment with finding a work:rest ratio that works best for you. You could try doing 15 or 20 minute pomodoros, or maybe even up your short breaks to 10 minutes (just make sure you don’t become too engrossed in something else in that time!).

Sample Practice Schedule using Pomodoros

25Warm-up/Stretching/Long tones
5Break - make coffee!
25Fundamentals - lip flexibility, tonguing and scales
5Break - have a chat with the housemates
25Studies and Etudes
Non-playing activity - research potential new recital repertoire
5Break - make tomorrows lunch
25Practice pieces and excerpts
45Do something else - maybe read a book or watch TV!

I hope this helps, and happy practicing!

How To Play: Gentleman’s Dub Club – High Grade

My brother introduced me to this excellent UK dub band after he saw them live. Their groove is infectious and they somehow manage to be extremely heavy and chill (or stoned) at the same time! I couldn’t help myself, and had to transcribe both the horn parts and Matt Roberts’ burning trumpet solo. Have a listen here (solo starts at 2:50):

High Grade Trumpet Transcription

Click here to download: Gentleman’s Dub Club – High Grade

Penderecki – Capriccio for Solo Tuba

Yes, I know this isn’t, but bear with me…

Sometimes I just want to write about good music – and if it happens to be relevant in some way, then great!

Capriccio for Solo Tuba by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki (1933-) is one of the cornerstones of the tuba repertoire, and it’s easy to see why:

Written in 1980 and commissioned by the Warsaw Symphony Orchestra, this is a real virtuoso tour-de-force for the solo tuba. It is in a rough ABA form with a humorous “Tempo de Valse” in the centre. It encompasses a huge range and makes use of glissandi, quasi-aleatoricism (highest/lowest pitch possible) and very large interval jumps.

Mickey Wrobleski spent time working on this piece in collaboration with the composer, and his article in the Winter 2001 TUBA Journal is required reading for those seeking to seriously prepare this piece for performance. It includes corrections to the published sheet music as well as stylistic points and tips for intelligent and appropriate choice of tempi.

But what about the trombone?

Well, for the advanced player with excellent technique and pedal range, this also makes a great recital piece for bass trombonists. There are no notes outside of reasonable range, and there are no major alterations to be made apart from finding an effective way to fake some of the glissandi.

This brilliant performance by Adam D. Jones makes me wonder why it isn’t played more often by trombonists!

In conclusion

Despite the technical difficulties and contemporary language, it is an attractive and characterful piece of music that is well worth persevering with. Preparing this to performance standard will be sure to improve all aspects of your playing, but especially pitching, large intervals and the pedal range.

Suggested Recordings: Benjamin Pierce from the album “Wheels of Life”

Buy the sheet music here at Amazon