You know what today is, right? It’s practice day! As a matter of fact, yesterday was practice day, and tomorrow will be, too. Day, after day, after day. We know that sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated to practice again and again, so we’re excited to share three strategies that can help enliven your practice regimen and get you back into the daily habit.
1. Tracking Streaks on a Calendar
Who has a dream for you to become a better musician? You. And who is responsible for making sure you practice daily? You. And whose job is it to motivate you to get in there and actually practice? Unfortunately, you again! How do you motivate yourself to do something when you’re craving a day off? Tracking Streaks is one fun and simple way to leverage against your lazy side.
How it works: Get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page. While you’re out, buy yourself a big red marker, too. Hang the calendar in a visible place. Each day you achieve your practice goals, put a big red X over that day.
Why you’ll like it: The first day or two won’t be very impressive, but once you get a few big XXX marks on the calendar, they’ll form a bold chain (your streak). Take pleasure in seeing how long your chain is growing. Tell yourself, “I don’t want to break the streak! It’s longer than it’s ever been before!” Seeing your chain of XXX marks grow can motivate you when you’re tempted to skip out. You don’t want to start all over, right?
Why it works: Tracking music practice streaks makes sense because musicality is not improved by infrequent cram-sessions. Musicality is improved through consistent, deliberate practice sessions over days, months, and years. Doing a little bit every day is more effective that trying to do it all in one big event.
Developing a daily practice habit is essential for musicians. The calendar puts emphasis on the daily requirement of practice. Most music students occasionally have thoughts like, “why does today’s practice matter so much? Can’t I just skip a day?”
Unfortunately, when we give in to such tempting thoughts, we weaken our resolve to ever achieve a true habit for daily practice. If you catch yourself thinking such things, talk back. Say, “No. I won’t skip practice today, because I am becoming a musician. I know it’s not easy, but I’m training myself to practice every day. I know this is what it takes to be a better musician. If I skip today, it will be way too easy to skip another day or two. If I skip, I’ll have to look at a big blank space on my calendar. I’ll have to start my chain all over. I want to put an X and see my chain grow. I want to see how many days I can practice without missing.”
2. Short Sprint Goals
We just explained that musicality can’t thrive only on occasional bursts of intense focus, but if you have the time and want to give some full-speed attention to your musical skills, it can be fun and invigorating to execute a sprint. Anticipating an upcoming, exciting goal can put the pep back into your ho-hum daily practices.
How it works: In running, a sprint is a run at full speed over a short distance. In software development, a sprint is a get-together of everyone involved on a project to work on focused development of the project. A short sprint usually lasts one to three weeks and has a very specific, measurable goal the team all work toward.
If you (alone or with your musical group) have a musical goal that could be achieved in less than a month of focused attention, a sprint could be the perfect invigorating way to focus and motivate everyone involved. Some examples of goals might be:
- Start a local band
- Prepare a community performance
- Work with your current group to create new music
- Master a performance solo piece
- Attend a music workshop or camp
- Record an album or a song
Why you’ll like it: If you’re not a professional musician, it feels exhilarating to step into the nearly immersive intensity of focused musical creation. Even if you work in music full time, you’ll find it refreshing and fun to try something different or new for a few weeks. It’s like going on a very fun, focused, productive vacation.
If your short sprint goal involves other musicians, you’ll relish the opportunity to spend time together creating and collaborating.
Why it works: A sprinter in a footrace goes much faster than a marathon runner, because he knows he won’t have to endure the intensity for long. When you give yourself a sprint goal, you are fully aware that you’ll only be this focused for a short time. With that relieving thought in mind, you can dedicate time, focus, and mental energy to your music in a way that you might not usually be able to endure for long or balance with normal life. You’ll be excited and motivated to work hard for your special event/ goal.
A short sprint goal gives musicians a very clear answer to the question, “why am I practicing every day, again?” With that very big, very fun goal looming, you’ll be motivated to put your best efforts out in preparation.
3. Accountability Partners
Still struggling to get motivated to practice daily? Perhaps you find yourself thinking, “I’m just too busy to practice today. Besides, who’s going to know if I don’t?” It sounds like you could use an accountability partner.
How it works: An accountability partner is someone you recruit to help you stay on track and motivated with your practice goals. Record your practicing on a log, and schedule to report back to your accountability partner. Choose someone who can share your excitement about you becoming more musical and who wants to see you succeed.
A great way to get your partner (and yourself) on board with your goals is to write a list of reasons why they are important to you. “I want to practice every day because I want to be able to play this piece in the Spring Show and be ready for the big audition next month.” Or, “I want to practice every day because I want to jam with my cousins on Friday nights.”
Your report doesn’t need to be restricted to just minutes practiced each day. You can include the quality of each practice. If you are working to become more deliberate and mindful as you practice, tell your partner about it. Explain your weekly and daily practice goals and if they were met.
Why you’ll like it: Like so many worthwhile achievements, becoming musical is a journey and a challenge. It feels like less of a struggle when you have cheerleaders and support crew encouraging you along the way. Reporting to an accountability partner gives you a chance to share the celebrations and trials of your journey with someone you trust. You don’t have to do this all alone!
Why it works: Each time you debate about whether to practice or skip a day, you’ll think, “Do I really want to have to tell my accountability partner that I skipped practice again? No. I really want to be able to report that I practiced.” Sometimes the discomfort of knowing you can’t hide behind excuses is all it takes to motivate yourself.
Partners also work by bringing an outside perspective to your struggles. Two brains are better than one, right? Your partner can bring additional ideas and strategies to the table when she sees that you are looking for ways to fit practice in, ways to strengthen a specific weakness, or places to get help and advice.
Your partner’s outside perspective is most helpful because she’s brutally honest and she’ll remind you why you care. She’s not there to rescue you, she’s there to hold you accountable. She knows why you care about practicing every day and she doesn’t let you forget. “You only practiced once this week? I will be honest with you; I don’t think you’re on track to be ready for the show. How will you feel if you don’t do well in the show? How will you feel if you do an amazing job? What are you going to do differently this week?” Saying these things out loud to another person helps you remember why you started.
Where will I find someone? You have an entire community of possibilities for finding an accountability partner.
Do you have a music teacher? Your teacher has a vested interest in the quality and quantity of your practicing, so he’ll be checking in to see what you’ve done. If not, you can easily suggest it. “I know don’t always ask me if I practiced, but I want you to ask me because I know it will motivate me to practice if I have to report.”
If you don’t currently take music lessons, there are still plenty of people who can help you. A musical friend will likely understand your efforts completely. Don’t forget to tell your partner what you care about most and why. Each week, exchange practice details. Some friends have even been known to engage in a friendly wager to see who could achieve the longest practice streak.
Even a non-musical friend or family member makes a perfect accountability partner. Explain your goal and your excitement about improving your musical skills. “I’m really trying to train myself to practice every day, and I could use an accountability partner to report to. Are you willing to help me? I’ll just chat with you once a week to check in.” Chances are, your friend will be honored to be trusted with the task, and may likely have goals she is working on, too. You can reciprocate by asking her about her progress.
Didn’t find a nearby person to help? An online community like Musical U provides a network of like-minded musicians looking for accountability, mentorship and motivation. You may even find a cyber-buddy working on the same instrument and skills as yourself.
Are you ready to begin your daily practice habit? What will help you motivate yourself to stick with it? You may find that you use different motivational strategies at different times, or all at the same time.
Whether you track your streaks on a calendar, create a sprint goal, or find an accountability partner to help you, we hope you get some practice time in today.
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