Music professor’s love-hate relationship with practicing inspires guided practice journal

Susanna Klein wants to help fellow musicians reinvigorate their practice and enjoy the journey of being a musician.

VCU's Susanna Klein pictured on the right. A book cover is pictured on the left,  “Practizma Prac...
To help fellow musicians who are also driven to practice — including professionals, students and recreational players — VCU's Susanna Klein created the “Practizma Practice Journal: 16 weeks of Efficiency, Empowerment & Joy for Musicians.”

There’s help for musicians who need a little positive jolt in their practice routine. A Virginia Commonwealth University music professor has written a guided practice journal to help ignite their passion for practicing and help take them to the next level of playing.

“Many musicians feel they have no choice in the matter, they must make music,” said Susanna Klein, assistant professor of violin and coordinator of strings at the VCU School of the Arts. “For us, practicing has become a way of life.”

To help fellow musicians who are also driven to practice — which, she said, includes professionals, students and recreational players — Klein created the “Practizma Practice Journal: 16 weeks of Efficiency, Empowerment & Joy for Musicians.” 

The book is a journey in creativity, discipline, courage and grit. It includes prompts for reflections, action challenges and goal-setting exercises. The reflections slow down the process and help connect musicians to what is important. For instance, one prompt asks you to write what makes practicing easy and what makes it difficult. Another asks you to recount your most meaningful experiences in music.

Action challenges include new ways of learning and performance practice, prompting musicians to get outside their comfort zone and push themselves. One week’s action asks you to pick a flaw that you have and exaggerate it a couple of times in practice before then playing it the correct way. Another asks you to record yourself five days in a row and look for themes at the end of the week.

A professor teaching a lesson while playing a violin.
VCU assistant professor of violin Susanna Klein wants to help fellow musicians reinvigorate their practice and enjoy the journey of being a musician. Photo by Terralynn Mikell.

Klein has held positions in the Colorado and Memphis symphonies, and served for eight years as principal second violin in the Richmond Symphony. She has been researching and writing about technology-assisted practice for years, focusing on efficiency in practice, or in musical terms, getting better more quickly.

“As time went on, I began to understand that efficiency alone was not enough, and that positive practice psychology needed to be a part of my efforts,” she said. 

Klein coined the term “practizma” to describe the feeling of empowerment, efficiency and joy associated with practicing music, and a healthy state of being for practicing musicians, both physically and psychologically. 

“I would love to make musical practice more joyful and more powerful,” Klein said. “Many musicians become obsessed with how much they practice instead of what they actually get done or how they feel about their work. This can lead to injury, inefficiency, and what I call the ‘practice blues.’”

Klein has been using some version of “Practizma” with her students for the better part of 10 years. Students accomplish more when they define their own goals, and the journal helps them turn their goals into actionable steps.

The journal includes tips, strategies and inspirational quotes such as violinist Maud Powell’s “Love your instrument as yourself. But love your art more than either. Keep the fires of enthusiasm burning.  Nothing was ever accomplished without faith and enthusiasm.” 

Klein writes, blogs and presents nationally on technology-assisted practice, musician injury prevention, and positive practice psychology. She thinks the journal can help musicians take their creativity to the next level.

“I’m hoping it will allow musicians to reinvigorate their practice and, above all, enjoy the journey of being a musician,” she said.

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 217 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Thirty-eight of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, MCV Physicians and Virginia Premier Health Plan. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.