The amount of practice time we typically recommend to our students is based on their age, goals and skill levels. Daily music practice isn’t for everybody. In fact, it’s not even necessary: we watch our students make progress and have fun all the time – without having to practice a lot at home. But, there’s one added benefit to doing anything on a daily basis – music practice included.
We asked Sebastian, Modern Music School’s Education Director, to explain.
HP: Sebastian, what would you tell students who have difficulty getting into a good practice routine?
SQ: This is a two-part answer. First and foremost, you want to think about what it is you’d like to practice. As soon as you find a song you love that makes you feel great, you’ll probably really enjoy playing – so much so that it might be even impossible to stop you from practicing! Secondly, it’s about how you manage yourself and your practice routine. There’s a very easy answer to this: make it as easy as possible and stop overthinking. If you want to get things done, you have to stop thinking and start doing. Even if it’s just 2 minutes a day…think about it…it’s like sowing seeds. 2 minutes will easily turn into 5, 10 and then 15 minutes – especially if you’re having fun. But if you think too much, you open doors for an inner dialogue of excuses and self-doubt. We come up with reasons why tomorrow is better than today etc. and only hamper our productivity. By springing into action right away, we use our energy and time wisely and don’t waste it on endless discussions with ourselves.
HP: Many students may say they’re just not motivated to practice...
SQ: Well – then don’t. If you’re really not motivated, don’t practice. Music should be a source of energy and joy. We all, including young kids, have way too many obligations as it is. Don’t add to the pressure. Although, again, I would suggest trying it for just a minute or 2. If you’re still not feeling it – try again tomorrow.
There’s a common misconception about motivation. Most people think of it as a “thing” that – if they have it – makes everything great. In reality, what and how we feel depends on so many different things. So, waiting to feel motivated isn’t a good strategy for starting anything. Actually it’s the opposite. More often than not, the act of ‘starting’ will change the way we feel. Once started, we get really into it, enjoy the process and feel the rewards. By just starting, we just changed our emotional state and will most likely be more motivated the next time around.
HP: What other strategies can help students to get into a routine?
SQ: Consistency is key! Do it regularly and within the same parameters: chose a time, place and duration for your music practice and stick to it. This will, amongst other things, drown out your inner dialogue. Research has proven following through with anything is much easier if we don’t have to make any decisions. Setting clear intentions and removing all other options will greatly advance our chances of success. In his book “Willpower,” Roy Baumeister describes this concept as “bright red lines.”
Just remember – whatever we do consistently, we turn into a habit. The great thing about habits is we don’t even have to think about them. We do them automatically with our brains running on autopilot.
One important note though: always start small. Make it super easy – too easy to fail. Like I said earlier, start with 2 minutes. In the beginning, performance doesn’t really matter either, what matters is that you enjoy playing, slowly working up towards your developmental goals. Once you have established consistency you can expand your practice routine any way you like.
HP: When it comes to practicing, what are the biggest motivators?
SQ: It totally depends on the student. For some, nothing is more motivating than progress. For others, playing their instrument might be a wonderful break from a stressful day, or a way to socialize with teachers and other students in the group or band.
Whatever it is, as a musician you’ll have these times in your life where practice is the greatest thing on earth. It'll get you out of bed early just so you can practice before school. It will keep you up late at night because you just love the connection with your instrument or with your favourite music, and with all the great artists that share your passion.