Approaching your music practice with the best goals, intentions, and instructions unfortunately isn’t enough. If you want your practice to pay off, it’s important to develop good practice habits and stick to them. On this episode of The Musicality Podcast, we start you off with four simple habits you can work into your routine!
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Did you know that often what holds musicians back isn’t a lack of good instruction or a lack of effort – it’s that their practice isn’t part of a consistent music habit that gives their brain, body and ears a chance to learn what they need to.
In our recent interview with David Andrew Wiebe of MusicEntrepreneurHQ.com and the New Music Industry Podcast we talked about the importance of a strong habit for supporting the creative process, and this is a topic that cuts broadly across all of music learning and musicality training.
There are lots of habits that can help you in music. Things like remembering to warm up before you play, going through a pre-performance ritual to get your mind in the right state, bothering to introduce yourself to the venue manager when you play a gig.
But today we’re talking about practice habits: What do you do on a consistent basis to help you improve in music?
Inside Musical U we have a training module called “The Music Habit” which walks you through creating a suitable practice habit for yourself and is packed with tips and strategies to make it really effective. I’m going to be sharing four ideas and tips from that module in this episode.
How is your music habit at the moment? Do you practice on a regular basis, or just when you happen to find time? Are you 100% clear on how music fits in to the rest of your life? Are you confident that your music habit is providing the maximum results from the time and effort you put in?
Wherever you’re at with your music habit I hope this episode will give you some new ideas to improve it.
1. Your habit must serve your goals
The first tip is: Your habit must serve your goals.
Goal-setting and planning is a huge and important topic, one we go into in great detail in Musical U, because it underpins the effectiveness of everything else you do. We won’t dive into it now, but if you’re not yet clear on your musical goals and how the time you spend on music is leading you towards them then I recommend checking out the episode of the Learn Jazz Standards podcast where I was a guest and we talked all about effective goal-setting for musicians. We’ll have a link to that in the shownotes.
If you are clear on your goals it’s going to be much easier to form an effective practice habit. You’re going to have a better sense of how much work is required to follow your plan and hit that goal, and what kind of practice habit will best serve you.
Some types of music learning are best done in short sessions a few times a day, such as ear training. Others, such as mastering repertoire or perfecting instrument technique, can benefit more from longer daily sessions. And if it’s a more creative task like song writing that you’re working on then you might find your music habit needs to fit around the times in the week when you’re in the right physical and mental state for creating.
So the first tip is to make sure that your music habit is serving your musical goals.
2. Be realistic and start small
The second tip is: Be realistic and start small.
The research results on habit formation vary in how long they say it takes to form a new habit, whether it’s the oft-mentioned “21 days” or longer. Some people, myself included, say it almost doesn’t matter – because you start getting the benefits of your habit from day one, and it becomes more and more habitual the longer you do it.
What all the experts do agree on is that for forming a new habit consistency is the most important thing.
That means it’s better to establish a daily 5 minute habit than a 10 minute one you do randomly every few days. That goes doubly for the kind of listening skills we often talk about on this podcast – your brain really needs that regular input to develop the new neural pathways to recognise what you’re training it to.
So start small.
Maybe for now just listening to this podcast at the same time each week is the foundation of your habit. Maybe it’s singing through solfa exercises every day in your car on the way to work, or listening to ear training MP3s while you walk the dog – both things I’ve personally recommended to members inside Musical U to help them fit more training into a busy schedule!
Don’t trip yourself up by being too ambitious too soon.
It’s like dieting to lose weight: there’s so many diets out there, some extreme, some more toned-down. Some work great for some people, others can’t handle them at all – and they say that ultimately the most effective diet for you is going to be the one you can stick to. It’s the same for music habits. It doesn’t do you any favours to try to force an unrealistic practice habit into a busy life.
Start with something you’re certain you can stick to, get into the habit, and then you can always increase the time or frequency from there.
So that’s tip number two: Be realistic and start small.
3. Commit to “Music Time”
The third tip is to embrace the concept of “Music Time”.
As you move towards your goals, reach them and establish new ones you’ll be going through a variety of training plans and your practice details will change over time. But your music habit doesn’t need to!
One thing that’s been really useful to our members from the Music Habit module is the concept of “Music Time”.
Music Time is just the time on your calendar that’s marked out for music practice.
Now you might be thinking “what difference does that make? I know when I practice music.” but giving it the label “Music Time” and marking it very clearly on your calendar alongside your other commitments reframes things.
It helps you see Music Time as something that gets priority. You start to treat it like a doctor’s appointment or a commitment to pick the kids up from school. Something you don’t miss.
That’s very different from having a vague intention to slot in some music practice if you can, once you’ve taken care of all the things on your calendar.
So start marking out your Music Time and giving it priority. That reframe alone can make it far easier to form a consistent habit.
So that’s tip number three: commit to “Music Time”.
4. Get support
The fourth tip is: get support.
Musicians are funny creatures… Although we love to play and perform together, a lot of us are very solitary when it comes to practicing.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly always felt a big mental burden around music practice – I was so keenly aware of all my shortcomings, I didn’t want to share that practice process with anyone else, I just wanted to fix it all myself before anyone else heard me playing.
But if you try to go it alone like this you’re doing yourself a big disservice.
At Musical U we put a big emphasis on community, and that’s not because we all have plenty of time to sit around chit-chatting on social media. It’s because having support in your training can transform the results you get. So we really encourage our members to share their journey along the way, with other members and with the team. As a result they’re able to stick to their plan better, overcome obstacles better, and reach their goals faster and more reliably.
When setting up your new music habit, give some thought to where you can get support. Is there a friend or family member who could act as an “accountability buddy” for you? That means they don’t need to listen to you practice or get involved necessarily – they can just check in with you regularly and ask if you’re keeping to your intended music habit. Knowing someone’s going to be asking you about that can go a long way to helping you keep the habit.
This is something we discuss in my upcoming interview with Matthew Scott Phillips and Jeremy Burns of the Music Student 101 podcast. Jeremy said that for him as an adult learner it’s tremendously helpful to have that support and accountability and it can make the difference between him following through on his intended training and not.
So think about where you can get support and accountability for your habit, whether that’s in real life or in an online community.
Those were just a few tips from our Music Habit module that helps you figure out exactly how to fit an effective habit into your life – one that’s going to maximise your results and satisfaction no matter what you’re studying in music.
If you’re listening to this podcast then you love music, you want to be the best musician you can be and you’re putting in time and effort to make it happen. Do yourself a favour and set up a strong consistent music habit that’s going to help you reach your musical goals faster and more reliably.
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