Everyone knows that practice equals progress, but making the time for regular practice can be hard! When it comes to habits, consistency is key so developing a daily music practice habit is a better goal than a three-days-a-week music practice habit. The expectation of daily practice means there’s no excuses for putting it off until tomorrow.
But how can you improve your practice habits?
Let’s look at five ways you can make sure that music practice happens every day. Included are some tips for parents and teachers to help their young musicians stay excited and motivated to learn.
1. Be Prepared
Take inspiration from the Boy Scouts and have everything you need ready to go at all times. This way, whenever you have a few spare minutes, you’ll be able to get straight into your practice. So what do you need to be prepared? Here are some bare necessities:
- Have your instrument ready to play at a moment’s notice. It should be set up, in tune, plugged in, and good to go.
- Know exactly what needs attention – not just the piece, but the exact section – so you waste no time sifting through material and can dive right in. Have your sheet music already open at the page you need.
Set some practice goals each week, then break them down into daily tasks. You’ll then have a plan of what to work on next.
Parents: take some time before each practice session to help your child read through the practice notes from their teacher, and work out what pieces, exercises, and activities to focus on.
Teachers: make sure your students know what they need to focus on during their practice time. Check out some tips for writing effective practice notes.
2. Create Practice Triggers
In theory, practicing at the same time everyday sounds like a good plan, but in reality it can be difficult to implement. People are busy, schedules vary, and some of us are not morning people!
So instead of trying to set a regular time for practice, use an activity that you already do everyday (like brushing your teeth or watching a favourite TV show) as a prompt for practice.
Before long, your brain will automatically know that after you’ve finished breakfast, or walked the dog, or read a chapter of your book, you’ll be starting your music practice right away.
Think about your normal morning and evening routines, and look at what you can tweak, shuffle, and rearrange to make time for music practice. It will work best if you piggyback your practice onto something that you actually do every day (not something you wish you would do every day!).
Parents: we all know that kids thrive on routine, so chances are you’ve already got some well-established routines at your house. Where can music practice fit in? If you know that some days are so hectic there’s no way you can squeeze in anything else, remember that there are plenty of musical activities your child can do without an instrument! Have them use the time to brush up on some music theory, or sing along or tap along to music they love to improve their sense of rhythm and pitch, or practice solfège.
Teachers: if there are parents in your studio who don’t have a musical background, then give them all the information and tools they need to help their child plan their music practice schedule and activities.
3. Hold Yourself Accountable
Share your daily practice goal with at least one person who will be interested to hear your progress. The positive pressure of having someone counting on you to achieve results means you’re more likely to do the work!
Connect with someone else who’s also learning an instrument, or if you can’t find another musician, then team up with a friend who’s also trying to commit to a daily goal. Check in with each other for daily updates and progress reports.
Parents: become your child’s accountability buddy, and encourage them to keep up with their daily practice. Or you could enlist the help of a grandparent or other family member to fill this role instead.
Teachers: give your students a practice partner (either in your studio or connect with other teachers), divide your students into practice groups, or work on a studio-wide “buddy system” project – with students working together to achieve a common goal that requires daily practice from everyone.
4. Challenge Yourself
Working towards goals can give your music practice some direction and keep you motivated. Find (or create!) a goal, project or challenge that interests you. There are so many options, from the more serious (preparing for an exam) to the fun (taking part in a flash mob). It’s much easier to dive enthusiastically into your practice when you have something to work towards.
Adult Students: think about what type of goals are motivating for you. Do you need a deadline (like a performance or exam), or an ongoing challenge (like the 100 Day Project or a #musicpracticestreak)? Try a few different challenges and see what works best.
Parents: sometimes the feeling of mastering a skill is enough motivation to keep a child practicing music. But do you know something that’s more effective? Rewards! Use charts (like the ones included here), and think of a reward your child would love to get once they’ve finished it.
Teachers: find a new incentive program or challenge for your students. Here’s one of my favourites, or you can check out this post for more ideas.
5. Stay Inspired
What motivated you to take music lessons in the first place? Was it as a form of creative expression, to master a new skill, or just to have fun and do something you love? If you’ve forgotten your why, or just need a new burst of creativity, there is so much inspiration to be found!
Nothing compares to going to a live performance, where you can see the fruits of a hardworking, passionate musician’s labour firsthand! Check upcoming event listings for your city or town, invite some friends, and get inspired! Don’t be afraid to branch out and try something in a totally different genre than you usually like, and remember to look out for free community events too.
Parents: help your child find some inspiration via the magic of the internet. Search YouTube for covers of their favourite songs, talented street performers, or animated classical music:
Teachers: there are so many creative musical games and activities you can do with your students. If you want to start doing more improvising, ear training, composing, or theory with your students, start browsing Pinterest and reading music blogs for inspiration (and check out these free resources while you’re at it!)
Most importantly, remember that you always have the opportunity to recommit to daily music practice. Having a bad week (or a bad month!) happens to everyone at some point, but the good news is you can always try to get back into good practice habits!
Developing Healthy Practice Habits
With all these tips for improving your practice habits, the key is consistency. Always be on the lookout for continuous, long-term ways to keep yourself engaged, challenged, and inspired to practice. Make sure you always have someone following up on your progress with you to help hold you accountable. And don’t overlook the importance of preparation – something as simple as having your instrument tuned and ready to go can motivate you to sit down and practice when you have a bit of time to kill.
Though it’s easy to want to skip a day – resist the temptation! Studies have shown that it’s better to practice every day for shorter lengths of time than only a couple of times a week for long stretches. So strive for consistency over bursts of practice – your fingers, brain, and instrument will all thank you!
Extra challenge: keep a journal of your daily practice sessions, detailing what you accomplished and what needs more work. When you return to your instrument the next day, you’ll have a great starting point.