As 2021 kicks off, we’ll be focusing on how to successfully make practising a habit so you can make some serious progress on your instrument this year.
How to Start a New Habit
Expecting drastic changes overnight is not a practical, long-term approach to improving as a musician. No matter how good your intentions are, it is highly unlikely that your new habits will stick if you set yourself unrealistic goals. You are much more likely to succeed if you introduce a new habit slowly and build it into your daily routine gradually over a longer period of time. This goes for any new skill, whether you’re learning a language, committing to regular exercise, or making time to read a book. Practising music is no exception!
A popular theory is described in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, where he claims that if you spend 10,000 hours working on a skill then you will master it and become an expert. There are certainly examples of many famous musicians practising for crazy amounts of time: Charlie Parker, a jazz colossus widely regarded as the best saxophonist ever, reportedly practised for 11-15 hours a day over a 3-4 year period. More recently, Beyoncé spent 11 hours a day rehearsing for her knockout 2018 headline set at Coachella.
Practise With Purpose! Gradually build new habits into your daily routine.
Don’t worry - you won’t have to put in quite that much time to prepare for a Rockschool exam! Something closer to 20 or 30 minutes a day to get in the habit of practising well should do the trick to start off with. It is much more important to focus for shorter, regular sessions rather than the mammoth amounts of time mentioned above, particularly when you are starting out.
Even if you are a pro at the top of your game, between two and four hours of practice a day is about the maximum time worth doing – it will be very hard to play for any longer than that without losing concentration and slipping into unproductive work.
Baby Steps, Not Giant Steps
If you work out some small but achievable goals that prompt you to make progress by the end of your session and fulfil them, then you should be able to tell yourself (or anyone!) how you have become a better musician by the end of the session. These small, incremental improvements you make each day will quickly add up and your musical ability will start to rocket!
Rockschool’s Practise with Purpose Diary allows you to note down what you’ve been working on in specific boxes designated to Technical Exercises and Supporting Tests as well as a separate one for Performance Pieces. If you can clearly write down what your achievements were for each session then you will be on the right track.
If you're struggling to think of what you actually achieved or, conversely, you find your notes overflowing from the box, then you might need to rethink and put a more efficient practice routine into place. When you’re immersed in something, it can be hard to take a step back and approach it objectively. Speak to your teacher about what you might need to work on in-between lessons, or find a musical friend or family member and ask them for pointers to see how you can improve next.
Anticipate Obstacles and Take Breaks!
Try not to be too hard on yourself! If you find yourself struggling with a particular part, leave it for the day and come back to it tomorrow. Strengthening weaker material is obviously key to improvement, but sometimes it’s best to be kind to yourself and come back to it another day.
We’re all human, and sometimes we overestimate how much time we’ll have to complete something – we might become ill, or other commitments simply take longer than expected and get in the way of the time we diligently set aside to practise.
This is okay! You can always make up the time another day, and you should definitely schedule in the occasional day away from your instrument. Breaks can be hugely beneficial and allow you to return with a refreshed approach another day.