Monday, August 19, 2013

Practific in Review

Since returning home a few weeks ago I decided that it was time to catch up on my practicing. By the beginning of the month I had tracked 253 hours of individual practice time in 2013 - far less than I had this time last year. Therefore I made a vow to practice a minimum of 2.5 hours a day everyday that I was't on tour until the end of the year in order to beat 2012's record of 480 hours. How have I been keeping track of all this, anyway?

For two years now I've been using an app called Practific. The app keeps track of how long you practice per instrument and offers five different 'methods' of practice: Timer, Replay, Perform, Custom, and Metronome. The methods of practice are quoted below courtesy of iOSnoops:
Timer: Organize your practice by focusing on small spots for focused units of time. Use the handy hour glass interface to quickly judge how much time you have left. Works like a real hour glass, flip it over to start, or flip again the time adjusts.

Replay: Quickly record and evaluate spots of practice. Slow them down and loop them. Compare one time playing the spot to the last two times. Practice on improving the spot, then record again.

Perform: Almost ready for the big day? Record a video of your piece that you can email or share to websites like YouTube. It also easily imports through the “Camera Roll” on your device to any other video editing tools like iMovie.

Custom: Easily flip between a customized list of practice methods that don’t require as much use of the app. This way Practific can help you keep track of all of your practice, even when there is no matching practice method for the activity.

Metronome: A simple, no frills metronome to help you keep time. Set it to any time signature you would like.
Though I mainly use Metronome as my proper one is coming to the end of its lifetime, I've found the Replay method quite useful. The ability to slow down the replay while keeping it on pitch has helped me better evaluate fast passages. Unfortunately, you've got to be careful not to use another application while hoping to keep an accurate time of your practice. Many times I've switched out to look at a pdf in iBooks to come back and see that, instead of 80 minutes, the clock is counting only 30 minutes. When there is one, it always seems to be an error of reduction, too. Curious...

The reporting control screen
The app awards points for the amount one practices using the various methods. I wish I could cash them in like Air Miles because I'd be able to get a Jaguar by now. I'm not sure who this app was originally targeted for, but if I were 14 I'm not sure the points business would be any more of an incentive to practice than it is for me now.

More interesting to me is the reporting system. With Practific, you can generate weekly reports of your progress with extra details like what instrument you were using as well as with which method of practice. There is also a general record, basically a ledger, of all practice conducted which contains any notes you may have made during the session. This system has been incredibly helpful to me as I had never before kept a proper log of my practice time.

The ledger
Unfortunately there are some issues with the reporting system. The reporting control panel isn't able to report daily amounts further back than seven days, nor is it able to report on a previous year's total practice time. Moreover, getting these details from the general record isn't very practical as they are listed chronologically by practice session but are not grouped or categorized any further than that. For example, if I had practiced 4 times in one day, I would have to open the record entry for each session and add up the lengths of each to find how much practice I had done.

A record entry for a particular
practice session.
I've probably used this app more than anyone else and it is safe to say that Practific is useful enough, even with a few minor issues, to warrant continued use. From what I understand Apptifica LLC, who produced Practific, has discontinued work on the project, so there may not be any further updates in the works. Overall the app works well, but it's these minor reporting bugs which could put this well over the bar. Still, there isn't another app out there that which has the same kind of functionality or reporting capability.

So if you're looking to get serious about practicing, take a look at Practific.

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