Principles for productive practicing

A very common trend that I’m seeing from people these days is the claim that they practice for hours on end without results.

Published on Apr 30th, 2020

Updated on Jun 16th, 2022

A very common trend that I’m seeing from people these days is the claim that they practice for hours on end without results. This is leading to all different kinds of negative feelings and thoughts like frustration, anger, depression, mental exhaustion and lastly leading to thoughts of quitting. I’d like to take a minute to make a few suggestions that should increase productivity, create momentum, and instill a sense of enjoyment within a daily practice routine.

Set Specific Goals

The first game changing principle is a simple one; have specific goals. Without Any idea of where you want to end up with a practice session, people tend to spend a lot of time noodling or just playing their instrument because someone told you to practice at least 30 minutes a day. This is inherently frustrating. There are two types of goals that I like to set simultaneously so that I feel like I have a constant source of direction.

The Macro Goal is the high-level way above where I am currently. This Acts As the second story in a house that you want to build. The Macro Goal is something that tends to be more subjective than objective (I.e. “I want to improvise through chord changes better” or “I want to be able to recognize harmony faster”). Without a goal off in the distance it is very hard to set Micro Goals.

Micro Goals are much simpler to set. If the Macro Goal is the General in your army, Micro Goals are your infantry. These are goals that you should set at the beginning of every practice routine that serve as the stairs to reach the second story. These goals are tangible and relatively quick to achieve (I.e. “I’m going to play a major scale at quarter note equals 40 BPM”). They should be within your reach for every exercise that you work on and must be reasonable. When you begin to check off the Micro Goals, it establishes a sense of momentum and accomplishment that makes practicing more enjoyable.

Quality Over Quantity

Principle number two is also easily implemented; keep it short. Nobody likes the idea of a four-hour block of time in their day that they’re forced to do something. Even if they have specific goals, people tend to bite off way more than they can chew for any given practice session. I’ve found my best results come from 15-minute segments strung together in one-hour regiments. This basically means working on an exercise (with a goal) for no more than 15 minutes then taking a full two-minute reset break. I’ll do that four times and that is my whole practice routine for the week. At the end of the hour I’m always refreshed,and I feel like I need more time practicing. That’s the secret to not dreading practicing. At the end of the hour I feel like I need more time so that I can come back later in the day even and be just as productive.

Consistency Is Key

Now that you’ve generated the want to practice the last principle is relatively easy to implement. Practice every day.Now that your practice routine isn’t as daunting, it’s much easier to carve out 45 minutes to an hour a day to practice. If done once every day, this method will produce dramatically better results than practicing for four hours a day sporadically. I always recommend people to practice in the morning whenever possible. I’ve noticed that the later in the day it gets, the more guilt builds up about not practicing. If you wake up and the first thing you dois practice for 45 minutes, you’re guilt free for the rest of the day. If You feel motivated later, you can always practice more but at least you’ve been productive already. People tend to take care of the things that are most important to them before noon (or before 5 pm if you’re in school). Eating, getting dressed, going to work or school all happen within the first two hours of waking up usually. Why not add practicing to the list of essentials?

There is no one-size method for building a practice routine that is fun and effective and some of these may need to be altered slightly. If You implement these principles into your everyday practice routine or design a practice routine with students based around these,I can guarantee a healthy relationship with practicing. At the end of the day we all want to get better as musicians, why wouldn’t we take the path of least resistance?