We all wish there were just a couple more hours in the day. Personally I often wish there was a whole extra day between Wednesday and Thursday: we could call it Musicday. Imagine how much music practice we could get done if there was a whole day dedicated just to music!
Unfortunately Musicday doesn’t exist so for those of us who want to become truly wonderful musicians we will have to make time for practice on the “unimaginary” days of the week. Fortunately we have collected these 10 top tips to help you find more time for music in the year ahead.
1. Set “Music Time”
In the spirit of Musicday, make a regular time slot for your music practice, ideally daily.
Choose a timeslot then stick a reminder note where you will see it, or set an alarm on your phone.
Pick a time that works well for you – preferably not at the end of a long day full of other activities! Try to put your music practice first, so that if other things come up later they won’t distract from your practice.
Once you have set a time: stick with it! It is too easy to put off practice because something else has come up or you’re not in the mood. You don’t skip brushing your teeth because you’re too tired, do you? If you really want to improve you should practice every day, and if you really want to practice every day you must put music practice in the same category as tooth brushing. Pretty soon that timeslot you allocated will just feel like ‘Music Time’.
2. Structure your practice
First decide on how long you would like to practice for. Don’t start by aiming for marathon length practice sessions! Start with something you know you can manage. You can always lengthen the time of your practice in the future.
If you are planning on longer practices don’t forgot to take breaks. You’ll have a much more productive practice if you take a 5-minute break rather than trying to power through when you start to feel restless or distracted.
If you want to divide up your practice into different activities, use a timer so that you don’t “accidentally” over-run on practicing your favourite song and have no time left to study music theory!
3. Reclaim lost time
Outside your ‘Music Time’ at home with your instrument, identify other times when you might usually be sat staring at your fingernails. Could you use them for music practice? Think about a commute to work, waiting rooms, long checkout lines etc. These are excellent opportunities for doing practice that doesn’t involve your instrument – for example ear training apps, revising music theory, listening to music podcasts like Song Exploder, reading tutorial articles to name just a few. Make sure your smartphone is always loaded up with music-learning resources, or even just keep a notebook with things like key signatures, chord fingerings, or song lyrics you wanted to memorise.
4. Minimise distractions
This comes under the category of “truly making use of all the time you do have”. Turn off your phone, move away from the computer, put aside anything else which is likely to cause a distraction.
If you really need to use an electronic device for your practice, disable its wifi, so that you are not interrupted by an “urgent” notification of the latest cat meme post on Facebook. Unless it’s keyboard cat.
5. Set Goals and Make a Plan
Having both short- and long-term goals will help you structure your practice so that you are always learning the things you need to in order to achieve your musical goals.
Write down your musical goals and the steps you need to take in order to achieve them. Make sure you choose goals you truly care about – not just ones you think you “should” do.
Ensure that each practice session is varied. For example don’t plan to always do an hour of music theory on a Friday afternoon. It is much better to do 10 minutes a day alongside practicing your instrument, working on sight-reading or song writing.
After each practice session write and reflect on your progress. Looking back on this progress journal will help you monitor your progress more objectively.
6. Find a Practice Partner
Surrounding yourself with people who have similar interests and musical goals as you is one of the best motivators. It means you can hold each other accountable for sticking with your music practice and making progress towards your goals.
Also music is inherently a social activity, so whether it is playing in a band, attending open mic nights, writing new material or critiquing each other’s performances, find a musical community to be a part of. If there isn’t a group in your area that matches your interests there is almost definitely one online, including right here at Musical U.
7. Give Your Music Priority
If you are finding it difficult to find time to practice you might need to think about which other activities you need to cut out of your schedule. Did you know the average American watches 9 years of TV during their lifetime? This works out as 2.8 hours per day… Imagine what musical skills you could learn just by trading in a 22-minute TV show.
8. Practice In Your Mind
We can’t always be at our instruments, so learn to audiate: imagining music in your head. This lets you practice (and actually improve!) while away from your instrument.
Many musicians use visualization to prepare and improve in the same way that athletes do: they run through their music without touching their instruments. Try bringing your sheet music along with you (either the paper copy or on your mobile device) when you know you’ll have some downtime, such as during a car or train ride. Read through the piece silently and imagine playing it in as much detail as you can.
This is also a perfect opportunity for memorising repertoire. If you can imagine yourself playing the fingering or singing the words, bar-by-bar, start-to-finish, you’ll be able to do it next time you have your instrument in hand or the chance to sing out loud.
9. Reward Yourself
It’s important for maintaining motivation that you reward yourself when you stick to your intentions. When you consistently respect your allocated “music time”, practice effectively during it, and make real progress towards achieving your goals – give yourself a treat!
Don’t wait till you have achieved your lifetime goal of being able to play Flight of the Bumblebee at 600BPM before you reward yourself with a chocolate brownie (or two).
Each of the small steps towards that goal are well worth celebrating – so treat yourself to concert tickets, a new set of guitar strings or the latest book on songwriting. You’ll find it gives you renewed enthusiasm for reaching the next milestone.
10. Have Fun!
If you have not been finding time for music it’s likely that one factor is you haven’t found your practice enjoyable recently. If you aren’t enjoying your music practice (at least a bit) then you are doing it wrong.
Start from the beginning and ask yourself:
- What are my musical goals?
- How much time can I realistically dedicate each day or week to music practice?
Once you have those answers you can work through the steps we have described here to plan and get the most out of your music practice. Make your practice sessions focused and effective and they’ll be much more enjoyable than if you meander through them. Set goals you truly care about, not just the ones you think you “should” do, and each practice session will be a joy. And then as you start to see progress and results from your efforts, that’s the most enjoyable part of all.
Hopefully these 10 ideas have inspired you to make more time for music in your life. Do you have any other tips to share that help you find time for music practice? We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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