By Sean Stone-Ashe
I am often asked by parents about why their child is not spending more time practicing at home. The following
strategies are designed to promote that consistency and accountability in everyday life that is so crucial to
musical success, so that students are picking up their instruments as often as possible.
1. Have a practice space that is always set up.
Within each one of us exists an internal struggle between our ambition, and the will to laziness. We often picture ourselves favorably, envisioning a version of ourselves that is intelligent, talented and productive. However, there are many times that the desire to be lazy overwhelms our daily goals for self-actualization.
This first practice strategy acknowledges our desire to be lazy, and is designed to counteract that urge -leave a part of your home permanently set up for music practice.
When you want to practice music, think of all the barriers that exist between you and practicing right now. Are you in the same room as your instrument? Do you need to pull up a chair and set up a music
stand? Where is your sheet music?
If everything you need to practice is put away, then you will need to complete many preliminary steps
before you can play your first notes. Each of these barriers presents a new obstacle that is not necessarily
difficult to overcome, but if you are in a lazy mood, you are less likely to want to do it.
I can’t tell you how many times I have decided to practice despite my laziness because all I had to do was
sit down in my practice space and begin!
2. Plan your practice at the same time each day, perhaps around a meal.
It has always been clear to me that the more you make a task or event part of a daily routine, the easier it is to actually make it happen every day without failure. If this concept is new to you, think of something you do every single day. Is there a certain time you are most likely to complete that task each day? If you do that task at different times each day, would you consider yourself more likely to skip it for a day?
The best example of this is your weekday morning routine. Almost everybody has a certain set of habits that they have cultivated over time into a morning routine. These tend to be immensely strong habits, and are rarely broken. How often do you miss breakfast, or brushing your teeth, or putting on your clothes before you leave the house?
The goal for music practice, then, is to find a specific time of day when you can practice every day. I recommend aligning that time with another strongly formed habit such as a meal. If you practice your
instrument every day after dinner, then you are likely to think about practicing, and feel ready for it
once you finish your evening meal. Unless you are regularly skipping dinner, you will grow to associate
these two activities, and the likelihood of skipping a day of practice will decrease.
3. Create a specific set of tasks to be accomplished in each practice session.
Whenever you consider your daily practice habits, this practice should comprise multiple specific tasks that are clearly identifiable. When you think to yourself “it’s time to go practice,” then you should have a clear mental image of what exactly you will be doing.
This approach is fruitful for multiple reasons. First, it helps to make your practice more effective, with less wasted time. Furthermore, having specific practice tasks in mind makes it more likely that you will
actually go accomplish them.
For instance, most music students are able to conjure up lots of practice time around end-of-year performances because a clearly identifiable goal starts to dominate their mind - to give a good performance. This goal drives students to practice better, and with much greater consistency. However, if you think of each weekly lesson as a small performance for your teacher, and you make specific goals
to improve upon the topics discussed in your previous lesson, you can make daily practice more relevant
and feel more necessary.