Reader Question: Adapting The Printable CEO for Musicians

Reader Question: Adapting The Printable CEO for Musicians

Reader Rick Fenster, a musician, sent me the following question via email with regards to how The Printable CEO could be adapted in a learning- and practice-based environment. The question is as follows (paraphrased):

A musician can procrastinate to an endless degree instead of practicing or learning new content. It can be easy to blow off practicing. Achieving a goal is somewhat different since it is learning and the task’s completion time is variable. So Dave, I’m wondering: what would be some good ideas on how to implement the Printable CEO to take the added complexities like playing speeds and all that stuff into account?

Rick gave me permission to post the question here, so we can all take a crack at it. But first, my 10-cent analysis:

Learning and The Printable CEO™

Rick’s right in that creating the point list of things is different for music; the way the point list is designed emphasizes tangible, touchable-seeable things, the theory being that showing is more powerful than telling. But in the case of practicing music, which is not tangible, what can you do?

I’m not a musician, but I’ll hypothesize what I think might be important; from this, we can construct a point scale that will incentivize these behaviors!

  • Daily Practice. I’m guessing that continuous practice is important to keeping the fingers limber and practiced. If you skip a day, that’s bad!

  • Length of Practice. I would also guess that there are a certain number of exercises that you do, maybe some kind of scale regimen or warmup. Perhaps a certain number of repetitions are involved too.

  • Practice to Completion. I would guess that playing a piece through from the beginning to the end is helpful.

  • Not Overpracticing. Maybe there’s a limit to how long one should practice at a time; don’t want people straining themselves!

  • Measurement of Progress. At some point, it’s good to step back and see how far we’ve gotten.

So from that, let’s reduce to general principles:

  1. Reward successive days of practice with points, kind of like a “combo system” in a video game fighting system.

  2. Reward hours of practice.

  3. Reward each completion through a piece.

  4. Reward comparisons in some non-thinking way; the comparison should just happen because it’s in front of you and it’s “self-evident”.

Constructing the Point Scale


p>The regular Printable CEO list assigns values between 1 and 10 points for tasks with tangible results. In the case of music, we’ll have to settle for countable results; here’s the tasks I’m thinking would be good for simple point assignment: encouraging time and repetition in practicing:

  • Every 15 minutes of practice = 1 point
  • Every piece played through to completion = 2 points
  • Every hour of continuous practice = 5 points
  • Music reading / rest break for each hour = 5 points

You’ll note that every 15 minutes of practice will get you at least one point, but you get an extra big 5 points if you play for a continuous hour ON TOP of that. Also, you get a 2 point bonus when you play something from start to end; I’m assuming playing something all the way through is a good thing (correct me if I’m wrong). I tossed in a “break” for reading music or whatever and awarded that 5 points because practicing for more than an hour straight might be bad for your fingers or something…if this isn’t a concern, then just ignore it.

The next set of rules are designed to encourage daily practice:

  • 1st Day of Practice = 1 point
  • 2nd Day Practice (no skipped days) = 2 points
  • 3rd Day Practice (no skipped days) = 5 points
  • 4th+ Day Practice (no skipped days) = 10 points

So, if you practice EVERY DAY, you should gain more and more points; you’ve got some momentum going! If you skip a day, though, you have to build up again, so to keep a high weekly point score it pays off to practice every day. I’m not defining practice as “an hour”…I figure if you practice at all, that’s simple enough to be able to get you to do it every day. It’s easy to pick up a bunch of extra points if you play through a few pieces.

The next set of rules is to encourage weekly review:

  • Play weekly evaluation piece = 10 points (redeemable only once a week)
  • Improved since last evaluation = 25 points (redeemable only once a week)

The idea behind an evaluation piece is to pick something and play it. You’ll generally know how you did because you will be listening to yourself critically. Give yourself 10 big points for evaluating yourself! Then, next week, you play the same piece again for another 10 points. If you think you have improved, that’s another 25 big points! If you’ve really been practicing every day, then it’s pretty likely you’ll have improved. I think.

Why weighted points?

The reason we’re assigning point values that go from 1 to 25 is to really encourage the habits that lead to a good practice session; the reward is higher for relatively little extra effort, so it should feel like a good deal. And the deferred payoff comes at the end of the week when you get to see where all your points went, just like the regular Printable CEO form.

Ok, Your Turn!

So that’s my take on it…the general idea is to again have very easy thresholds that work together to build accomplishment from smaller concrete actions. It’s easy to tell if you’ve done them or not. The one subjective rule is the “did you improve” 25 pointer, but it is really more of a focusing mechanism to allow you to recognize your achievement.

I’m sure there are tons of real musicians and music teachers who are now itching to jump in. I’m sure Rick would love to hear how you would set up the rules to create the ideal practicing regimen. If we get enough response, I’ll make a custom form based on user input and see what happens.


  1. Rick Fenster 14 years ago

    Wow, Dave.

    Thanks for posting the question



  2. Ben 14 years ago

    Great idea for an application!

    Here are some needs I have in my own practicing.  Most of these are more content-oriented than purely structural.  Just trying to articulate the need without suggesting a solution:

    <li>For a given piece or exercise, one of the most difficult things to keep track of is whether and how you may have played the required variations.  For example, for some pieces or exercises, you’re supposed to play them in all 12 keys.  I can never remember which keys I’ve played and which I haven’t.</li>
    <li>It’s also difficult to keep track of which exercises or pieces you’ve done.  Especially if you have exercises that you’re supposed to revisit periodically.  For example, if I did Min7 Drop 2 voicings some time ago, and I need to revisit them again, it’d be nice to have a reminder to revisit them, and to know how much time has passed.  Same is true for songs.</li>
    <li>Another thing to keep track of is speed.  I might begin an exercise at 60 bpm, and by one week later, I want to be at 220 bpm.  It’d be nice to be able to</li>

  3. Daniel 14 years ago

    This is perfect for any kind of practice, and being a student, I immediately think of exam revision. Keeping the timings the same but switching weekly evaluation pieces for self-testing and it’s instantly applicable!

  4. Bill Busen 14 years ago

    Interesting because I am in the middle of a project concerrning musicians’ injuries, and so am revisiting practice paradigms.

    Rather than rewarding continuing hour after hour, I would have mandated 10 minute breaks every hour.

    Here’s how I have broken down piano practice in the past:


    Never did this when I was young.  I expect that is why there is a spike in injuries among orchestral musicians in their 30s.  You no longer have a body that will let you blow off warming up.


    Key and mode
    Dynamics envelope
    In other words, you use scales to practice other things, like singers use a neutral syllable to practice technique.


    Optional depending on whether there is some technique item you are currently working on.

    Passage work:

    Isolating preidentified difficult passages, and playing them at progressively faster tempos for a defined time period.  I speed up the passage every time I play it perfectly for the first three minutes, and then spend three minutes playing it (hopefully) perfectly at a tempo just under the best attained tempo.  You might alternate technical challenges, not doing for example two florid right-hand passages in a row, if possible.

    This is usually the bulk of my practicing.


    Running through the piece or a large section of the piece as perfectly as possible at a slow tempo.

    Tempo runs:

    Running through the piece or section at tempo.

    Now don’t design a form just for this, but I thought you might be interested.

    When I had a piano student, one source of practice variety was

    Thanks for all your good work!


  5. Ryan Smith 14 years ago

    This is great, because as a creative writer, there was always an element missing from the Printable CEO.  I latched onto the Emergent Task Timer because I could keep a record of actual time spent in the chair being productive, which was important since writing a script can take months and months.  Maybe there is an even broader need for a creative arts version of the PCEO.

    Great website.  Thanks,


  6. Stahn 14 years ago

    This should work with 1st and 2nd years, it’s worth the while.

  7. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    All: Wow, thanks for all the great feedback! So iis it worthwhile to pursue the adaptation of this form? I guess it wouldn’t hurt to try :-)

    Ben, Bill, those were very useful insights, thanks very much for posting them!

    Ryan: A Broader Creative Printable CEO…that’s a great idea!!! Coincidentally, I have been working through Thyla Twarp’s “The Creative Habit” and taking notes recently for unblock my own creative process, so this is a great example of synchronicity! How might one express the question?

  8. Michael 14 years ago

    I would love to see an IT related adaptation of the PCEO. I think that it has reaches across most profession.