October 11, 2013 by Don Russo
by: Matt Knox
How To Develop A Positive Practice Cycle
Five words that a music teacher never wants to hear: I didn’t practice this week.
Concession – “I swear I will practice twice as hard this week!”
Transference – “It’s my mom’s fault. She makes me go to bed too early!”
Overload – “I didn’t have time to practice. I had to do x, y, and z last week!”
The truth is that letting yourself off the hook when it comes to practicing can lead to serious problems. Not practicing one week leads to not practicing the next, and so on and so forth, until an entire month passes without any progress – or worse – perhaps even regression. Sometimes, the problem becomes so severe that you may give up entirely, believing that your schedule or a perceived lack of talent is too great to overcome.
Why do we do it?
While it is true that some weeks become too hectic to find time to sit down with your instrument, this circumstance is a rarity; the real problem is not time or skill, but attitude. Many students are hesitant to pick up an instrument because the small chunk of free time that presents itself (15 minutes here, 10 minutes there) seems inadequate to make any real progress. Discouraged, the student decides to hold off on practicing when the seemingly daunting task will be more manageable. What we fail to realize is that very few people will be handed a solid hour on a silver platter to sit down with his/her instrument. It just doesn’t happen.
What does happen, though, are those brief moments of freedom we experience throughout the day – the 15 minutes in the morning we spend waiting to leave for school or work, the 20 minutes we waste on the computer after school/work to give our minds a break, the 15 minutes before bed when we try to clear our thoughts for sleep. These are the moments we need to seize and use, the ones we can’t let slip away. They are short, but they add up. Though they may seem too brief to be productive, they aren’t – any time spent with the instrument in your hands will benefit you as a musician, and short burst of concentrated practice are arguably more effective than an hour spent half-practicing/half-noodling in one sitting. Keeping your mind engaged in your homework for the week will keep you focused and sharp, and will also build your confidence in what you are doing – this time, causing a positive cycle of practice that will draw you in instead of push you away.
Stay sharp, stay focused, and take advantage of those small moments. They may be the only thing standing in the way of your becoming the musician you want to be.