“We first make our habits and then our habits make us.”
–John Dryden, poet
The Musician’s Way, p. 20
When you practice, are you consistently focused and productive?
If not, the reason may be due to chronic habits that undermine your attention and creativity.
Here are 7 ways to replace unwanted practice habits with those that foster deeper learning and higher creativity.
Seven Ways to Upgrade Music Practice Habits
1. Reinforce Positive Thoughts and Actions
To acquire effective habits, we have to cease repeating unwanted actions and steadfastly employ desirable ones.
A classic example would be when we want to undo habits of excess physical tension: we need to remind ourselves to stop forcing and, at the same time, take pleasure in releasing. Similarly, we nurture our creativity when we cultivate positive habits of thought.
Overall, we need to practice joyfully yet deliberately, emphasizing habits of excellence.
2. Work On Accessible Material
Choosing accessible material permits us to learn music quickly while allowing for the mental space we need to be spontaneous, monitor ourselves, and improve essential skills.
Conversely, overly difficult music floods our capacity, making it impossible for us to be creative and evaluate how we’re doing.
3. Set Specific Practice Goals
When we identify small goals and attain them one after another, we boost our productivity and fuel our motivation.
The guidelines in The Musician’s Way equip us to pinpoint and accomplish short and long-term goals.
4. Employ a Deep Learning Process
Given that our brains and bodies imprint, it’s crucial that we’re organized, accurate, and expressive from the start of the learning process. Conversely, if we practice haphazardly and ingrain wrong notes and rhythms, then we’re burdened with undoing faulty habits.
The Musician’s Way spells out deep practice methods that empower performers to be both precise and artistic.
5. Alter Your Practice Environment
We can support fresh habits by adjusting our practice spaces, even if we merely point a chair and music stand in a new direction or modify practice room lighting or decor.
6. Keep to a Schedule
Consistent practice sessions are far more productive than scattershot ones.
Moreover, to stay optimally focused and imaginative, we do well to work in 20-25 minute episodes with breaks in between. Ideally, we’d practice multiple times per day.
It also helps to mentally review our objectives before we sleep and then act on them soon after we rise.
7. Enlist a Teacher or Coach
Like athletes, we musicians benefit from the feedback of teachers and coaches.
But beyond mere advice, skilled teachers help us stay motivated and, over time, achieve our dreams.
See Part I of The Musician’s Way for comprehensive practice tips and guidelines.
Assessing Your Practice Habits
Better than Patience
A Different Kind of Slow Practice
Optimizing Practice Time
© 2012 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © VILevi, licensed from Shutterstock.com
Thanks for the supportive words, Sue, and for contributing such valuable examples! We all benefit when you share such insights.
For more info about how positivity affects learning, check out my post summarizing the research of Barbara Fredrickson: http://musiciansway.com/blog/2010/09/positivity/
You have made 7 brilliant points here.
I love your first point. A healthy, positive mindset makes all the difference.
I find that having a specific sequential practice instructions is vitally important when helping a young child to practice. As a teacher, I used to be guilty of giving very sketchy instructions. Students don’t need to hear, “Practice this bit and make it better.” They need to hear something more like, “Play the section in the green box, 10 times, on open strings only, making sure that that the bow stops between each note. Then add the fingers, listening for the ringing tone on A and D.”
Instead of continually nagging to play more slowly, I tell my students to play at Practice Tempo, the speed at which you can’t get it wrong.