How to Motivate Yourself to Practice When You’d Rather Not
I’m sure that somewhere in this world, there is somebody that wakes up every single day, eager to practice and absorb every iota of musical wisdom the world throws their way. Setbacks are never met with frustration, and their zen attitude is almost saint-like. The practice room is their temple, and they are one with their instrument.
That person isn’t me.
Don’t get me wrong – I generally enjoy practicing. I love setting specific goals, curating practice plans, and enjoying the sense of accomplishment when I feel like I’ve improved.
But then there are those days where I’d rather do anything other than practice. Maybe you’ve been there too? Those days where you pracrastinate by doing mundane tasks, like deep-cleaning your bathroom or organizing your sock drawer.
It’s completely normal to need some practice motivation (practivation?) every once in a while. Here are some tips to help you make practicing feel less like a chore:
- Lay out everything the night before. Set up your practice area every night (or every day after you’ve finished practicing) so you don’t spend precious practice time looking for music, metronomes, books, stands, water bottles, or accessories. You’ll be less distracted and ready to go for your next practice session!
- Schedule it. Write in down in your planner (or on your phone) so you can organize the rest of your day around practicing.
- Keep a bullet journal. Perhaps you’ve heard of bullet journals? They’re nothing short of spectacular for list-obsessed people like myself. For the uninitiated, bullet journals are organizational tools which serve as a combination planner, to-do list, goal tracker, diary, or anything else you want it to be. Bullet journals are a great way to break down your practicing habits, set goals for yourself, and keep track of anything else that you’d like.
- Reward yourself. Find a rewards system that motivates you to practice! In middle school, we had weekly practice charts. If you completed the required practicing, you received a gold star. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something immensely satisfying about seeing a row of gold stars. Take a cue from middle school and use stickers to show your practice streak. Treat this practice streak with the same dedication you devote to your Snap streak with your BFF. Reward yourself for every milestone (maybe every 20 or 50 stars – that’s up to you) with a small treat. Sean Perrin of the Clarineat podcast finds practice motivation by paying himself an hourly minimum wage to practice – so put your money where your mouth(piece) is!
- Recruit a practice pal. See if any of your music friends near or far want to be practice pals. If you live close by, practice together (great for university music students) or vow to practice at certain times. Regularly check in with your practice pal and send words of encouragement to keep each other motivated.
- Go social. Join hashtag challenges like #100daypracticechallenge or create your own! Practicing can be a lonely endeavor, so find others on social media to keep you motivated and hold you accountable! Some people even commit to posting short clips of themselves practicing every day, and it’s inspiring to see other people’s practice progress.
- Remember that something is better than nothing. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Every practice session doesn’t have to include profound revelations or striking improvements. Stay focused and set mini, realistic goals for yourself to work towards. A 30-minute practice session is better than none at all.
- Think of everyone else that’s practicing when you’re not. When nothing else seems to work, this little bit of tough love usually does the trick for me. I think of everyone else practicing and improving, and this
freaks me outmotivates me so I don’t fall behind.
If all else fails and you just don’t have it in you to practice today, here is my advice on ways to “practice” without opening the case.
Thank you Claire! xx
Sometimes I find that just getting to the practice room (I’ll stick with this metaphor for a bit) and taking the instrument out of the case is the hardest part.
For working on specific problems with one piece, I often find it helpful to find another piece that has similar features but that I’m more excited about, at least at this time. If I’m too frustrated with one piece (or one technical issue), I try to find something else, perhaps just a nice sounding etude, that I would really would like to play right now.
For example, I wanted to improve my throat tones, but I hate working on it. Not long ago I’ve made a transcription of Gliere’s Intermezzo for double bass — I’m so madly in love with that piece that I don’t care if my transcription has long and prominent throat tones all over that have to sound as good as everything else.
So, the “metapho”r of practice room: the problem is that at school there are too few rooms so a lot of time the only place where you can practice is the hallway. Problems with noise and distractions aside, the fact you are rarely struggling alone if you are in the hallway is oddly motivating. You can also make an ad hoc performance for people taking a break and get feedback from them or show off your practice achievments.
Great advice! Everyone has to find what works best for them. Thanks for sharing!