Practice Habits

Hi all,
Erin from tonebase here! 👋

I’m starting this discussion because I noticed that a lot of people in the “Meet and Greet” forum looked like they were interested in discussing practice, consistency, and maintaining a work/life balance.

  • What do you do to maintain a  balance between your practice and work (or school, parenting, teaching etc.)?
  • Do you have any tips?
  • How do you keep your practice sessions focused and creative?

This is our space to ask all practice related questions and share what’s worked with one another!

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    • Abhi Nayar
    • How do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mister Death
    • Abhi_Nayar
    • 3 yrs ago
    • Reported - view

    For me it's all about consistency and scheduling. So if I block out 30 minutes MENTALLY but don't actually put it on my calendar (whether Google or just in my journal) then it ain't gonna happen. But that said, finding the time is really really hard...

    It's one of those things that waxes and wanes with life happenings -- sometimes I'll have a killer week and hit 3-5 session but other times I can only do 2 if I'm lucky (and then I feel guilty).

    One thing I've found is if I go too long without practicing then getting BACK in the habit of it is really hard. There's like some mental block that develops. Curious if anyone has felt that? It's some weird Newtonian motion in action there :)

    Like 1
      • KA
      • Ken_Abe
      • 3 yrs ago
      • Reported - view

      Abhi Nayar Probably nothing truly weird here, just know that neurons need to reinforce synapses!  I always find time despite having lots of kids, being a 100% stay-at-home dad, and holding a full-time career at home as well.  Though I live on the west coast, my hours are east coast time as that is where my main office is at.  Fortunately, my work day ends around 2pm and from then till about 8pm I do dad-stuff. From 8-9 or 10 I practice. To keep my interest, and not saying this is good, but I take small sections of pieces I want to play as practice routines.  The biggest challenge of technical practice is to know if it is correct or not.  By using sections of Bach or whatever, I can hear if I am doing something right more easily.

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  • Abhi Nayar I just put together a presentation for my students talking about setting up consistent practice blocks in their calendars! I'm exactly the same way; if I don't actively carve out organized time in which to practice, then I'll find other things to occupy my time (curriculum planning, administrative responsibilities, research, etc.).

     

    I like to talk with my students about macro and micro planning when organizing their time. On the macro scale, I have them write out their schedule on a given week, starting with the things they have to do at a specific time (classes, work, lessons, rehearsals), followed by things they have to do at nonspecific times (meals, homework, commutes). With the remaining time, we walk through the schedule together and find consistent blocks of time that the student will lock into their calendar as practice time.

     

    From there, we go to the micro scale, looking at how we can organize each practice session. Ideally, we would dedicate time each day for each of the following: warm up (including scales and technical exercises), etudes, old repertoire, new repertoire, sight reading, and critical listening. However, it is pretty unlikely that all of these things can be done in one sitting. What I ask my students to do, then, is develop SMART goals for each practice session (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound). The goal here is that, whether they have fifteen minutes or three hours to practice, they end the session having achieved a pre-set goal.

    Like 6
      • Abhi Nayar
      • How do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mister Death
      • Abhi_Nayar
      • 3 yrs ago
      • Reported - view

      Daniel de Arakal Makes a lot of sense! That whole pre-set goal and knowing the outcome you want to drive BEFORE you actually even sit down to do things is so powerful. Something my coach has been trying to get me to do for all aspects of life, but especially in music you can imagine... I feel like the mind-muscle connection is also pretty real. Not sure about the whole "visualize your way to Carnegie hall" thing BUT there's something there at the least... :D

      Like 1
    • MirceaTeam
    • Head of Guitar
    • Mircea
    • 3 yrs ago
    • Reported - view

    Hi Erin! This is such an interesting question!

    Over the course of most of my studies (school + university), I had trouble getting motivated to practice and tended to slack off a lot. The only thing that would jolt me out of that cycle was the approach of a big competition or concert, causing me to stop being able to put the guitar down a few days / weeks in advance.

    During this time of my life, the absolute BEST thing to do was to set up a routine, like Abhi wisely mentioned in his comment above. It will pain you so hard at the beginning to force yourself to practice at the same time of the day / week, but once you do, your brain automatically adjusts the expectation that this will happen, and it almost feels physically bad to skip it (really!)

    During this time of my life, I would spend the mornings sleeping in and going to university, however, starting at around 3 pm I would begin practicing. From that point forward, I would force myself to not stop for more than half an hour at a time until about 10 pm. I was allowed to take meal breaks and deal with emergency things that might come up during the day, but setting aside those 7 hours a day ensured that I would get at least 4-5 hours of pure practice time in, no matter what other work I had to do that day.

    I also had a rule that no practice was allowed to happen after 10 pm, which was partially motivated by my neighbors :D But it also had the interesting side effect that I had this forced relaxation time, this reward to look forward to, and structure my practice around. I would typically grab a beer from the local kiosk (I lived in Germany, after all) and reward myself with it + a nice dinner after practice, every day.

    Sure, it was a bit more expensive to grab dinner out (although I had some awesome cheap and healthy places on my radar that I would always end up coming back to), rather than cook it myself, but it was saving me not only time, but also the decision / work fatigue that would have been associated with the process of deciding what to make, buying the ingredients, spend time to actually cook, and then have to clean up.

    So, in short, for most of my life, the things that worked for me were:

    • create a very strict practice routine, stick to it every day
    • have a clear cut-off point beyond which you will simply not continue practicing
    • reward yourself with something pleasurable awaiting you at the end, whether it's food, drink, gaming, or anything else
    • invest actual money in things that will free up mental energy during your day, increasing the amount of attention you can dedicate to your practice time.

    Does this help?

    Like 4
    • Elie
    • Technology Enthusiast and Guitarist
    • Elias
    • 3 yrs ago
    • Reported - view

    Hello Erin . I was reading a book recently called "Atomic habits" by James clear.

    "But when you repeat the 1 percent errors day after day by replicating poor decisions, duplicating tiny mistakes, and rationalizing little excuses, our small choices compound into toxic results. It's the accumulation of many missteps- a 1 percent decline here and there that eventually leads to a problem." Going through that book made me realize that I need to work on the habits and the attitude. Not only small steps to go forward. But also being mindfully how small mistakes repeated in daily basis pull you to the other direction. I believe building good habits small steps for enough amount of time is the key. 

    Like 2
      • Erin
      • Erin
      • 3 yrs ago
      • Reported - view

      Elie that’s an excellent point. I have realized that one of the biggest difficulties is ensuring that I have the right mindset going into practice. 5 minutes of focused intentional playing (even of just exercises) can be more beneficial than a longer practice session that results in counterproductive habits. Training focus is a challenge in and of itself when it comes to practice! 

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    • Erin
    • Erin
    • 3 yrs ago
    • Reported - view

    Lot's of great stuff, super interesting to see everyone's different approaches! I'm interested to see if anyone has any sort of "documentation system" that they use. I used to think practice journals were not really for me, but actually have had a lot of success with documenting some very basic things each day. Something as simple as writing down a sentence about what I achieved and what I need to work on  is really helpful because over time you can see an overview of progress. This was especially nice to have on more frustrating days where I felt like I wasn't making any progress😅 I'm curious if either of you have tried any sort of logging or documentation Mircea  Daniel de Arakal
     

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    • Erin I've used practice logs a bit for myself and for students in various settings. I really like the reframing of the concept as a "practice journal" rather than a log. I could probably stand to get back into the habit of doing practice notes for myself just so I can keep a record of those little daily victories.

       

      I have given or assigned practice logs to students, but the reception of this was, to put it kindly, mixed. If the student was self-motivated, then it wasn't an issue. However, if a students weren't motivated to practice, then they often perceived keeping an up-to-date practice log as a negative consequence. Framing it as a journal may have prevented some of that pushback.

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    • Roni Glasernull
    • Classical guitarist and composer
    • roniglaser
    • 3 yrs ago
    • Reported - view

    Great choice of topic!

    Erin I sometimes use a sort of logging system, I don’t know if I have as much time as some of the more hardcore crew round here, but a few things I’ve found helpful to keep my practice focussed are:

    - make two spreadsheets, one with the list of exercises I’ve planned to do down the left and the days across the top, and another the same with the pieces. Then on each day I decide how much time I’m going to practise and choose from the charts according, using a timer to make sure I do enough of everything and don’t miss out on stuff. And as I go through it I tick all the boxes I do, building gumption (in the Pirsigian sense of the word) all the way😊 . I can also see what I didn’t have time for and do some if necessary the next day.

    - in more detail with pieces I write down all the things I need to practice, which bars etc. and how. I also do something similar when I compose, and it’s really getting time to make some progress, where at the end of each composition session, I write down all the things I have to do next time, like “plan section x” or “finish off the rhythmic pattern in y”, and if I don’t know what I have to do, I write down all the decisions I have to make, like “figure out what type of scale/harmony/register/relationship between theme A and B/form to use” or also “find and study someone else’s piece so you what frick you’re going to do”. Sometimes a lot can come out of the process of writing everything that needs to be done out. When it’s clearly laid out like that, the mind finds it easier to think of what to do, and even better, next time it’s motivated because there are things ready that will lead to progress.

    But that’s more planning than logging, although the function might be similar?

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    • Ronjazz
    • Ronjazz
    • 3 yrs ago
    • Reported - view

    COVID has given me lots of spare time, so practicing time is not a problem. I have found, over the years, that limiting the time spent on each exercise or study can help with focus, along with a computer-based metronome that can accelerate the tempo in a programmed way. For instance, starting at mm=30, and increasing by 5 bpm every 4 or 8 measures will allow in instant warm-up at the very slow tempi but within a few minutes will have doubled the tempo. Spending 4 or 5 minutes on each exercise is often enough time to get lots of repetitions and is easier to maintain focus. This way, one can program your sessions to increase starting and finishing tempos every week or two. The time flies by and lots gets done with this method. Also, guitar-playing is accumulative; that is, everything you practice improves everything you don't. so it might be more productive to alternate your exercise program every other day.

    Like 1
  • I'm a bit late in the reply. But I'  finding that most of the answers here or in other areas  found in Tonebase  leaves me  with still lots of questions not answered . I feel i need to have solid examples of how or Tonebase teachers and professional guitarist do actually practice. For the most part the actual pieces practice part has been well documented here. What I would like to know is how to structure my technical practice part ( scales & arpeggios for example and other technical stuff). Having real time examples would help me . I tend to structure my technical practice part depending on the pieces i want to practice on, is this a good idea?

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