By Maya Phipps
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” —Aristotle
“The patterns of our lives reveal us. Our habits measure us.” —Mary Oliver
A habit is a practice that someone does that is regular and hard to give up. Everyone has habits, whether they realize it or not. Getting up in the morning is as much a habit as biting your fingernails (of which I’m guilty of myself). As you can gather, getting up in the morning is obviously a good habit. But, of course, like biting my nails, not all habits are positive! Some habits may be leaving your clothes on the floor, or forgetting to make your bed every morning. No matter what it is, good or bad, a habit is something you do so frequently that it is really hard to break it. Sometimes, habits are so strong that no one or anything can ever break it. These are life-long habits.
If you are a musician, you already know that a lot of habits are involved in order to grow and become a better performer. Here are some tips on how to incorporate habits in your music practice, to achieve musical goals leading to great success!
1. Create a practice schedule and stick to it.
When you schedule things into your day, it becomes a habit. Practicing a skill such as music, art, or any other hobby, will help you improve in those skills. A practice schedule should include a specific time that works, preferably everyday. If you are a beginner, you should practice a minimum of 20 minutes per day. On the other hand, if you are an advanced musician, a minimum of 1 hour per day is suggested for a greater success. The key to an awesome practice sessions is to be consistent with it. Consistency goes hand in hand with making habits, so stick with your schedule, no matter how difficult it may get. It is proven that it can take up to six weeks for something to become a dedicated habit. So keep pushing onwards! You can do it!
2. Warm up before practicing.
When we exercise, we warm-up before doing our cardio workout—or our initial practice. Warm-ups help our body focus on what we will be practicing. They help prevent mistakes from happening later on during our practice session. It’s kind of like the Prologue or Introduction of a book. Warm-ups make include scales, arpeggios, chords, or any other short piece that will loosen needed joints and muscles.
3. Keep learning and studying!
We’ve all heard the saying ‘you learn something new everyday’. But what if we purposefully learned something new everyday? Just think about it…if we learned one thing about whatever hobby or topic we like, we would learn 365 facts about our subject in just one year! That’s crazy! One of the best ways to learn a topic or become a ‘specialist’ is to study and learn as much as you can about it. So, study everyday, and try to challenge yourself to learn one thing about your chosen hobby per day. See what new things you can discover!
4. Listen to a professional play.
I have learned from experience that if I hear a live performance or a professional or recording of a certain piece I’m playing, it helps me to know what goals I want to place for myself, and I can properly tell if and when I play the piece right or wrong. It is an extremely helpful tool for practicing, especially when you are playing a complicated piece and don’t have immediate instruction from someone like a teacher or other instructor. Then, if and when you have finally achieved your goals, you can sound just like a professional!
5. Play the piece slowly at first.
My music teachers have always told me to stop rushing while I was playing my piece. This occurred, especially when I was first learning a song. I would get so excited about learning a new piece that I would completely miss important details because I didn’t really fully examine the piece before playing. Basically, the ‘magnifying glass’ used in music is to start out playing slowly so that you can see every detail before playing it seriously. You will find, as I eventually did, that playing things slowly really is useful. So, even if Flight of the Bumblebee sounds like the Flight of the Snail at first, start out playing slowly and you will eventually find your wings and fly.
6. Repeat with a purpose.
One of the most annoying things I experienced in my music lessons and practice sessions was the repetition my instructor would tell me to do. How many times would I have to play the same blasted measure? There were days I would literally spend my entire lesson or practice time replaying the same measure or few measures at a time. It was, of course, very repetitive and dull sometimes, but the method worked…until I learned a different approach to the repetitive style of practicing. This new style gave a whole new dimension to repetition that made it less dull and boring. When we replay a section of a piece, we should have a specific purpose each time! For example, I could play the same two measures 10 times, but this time, I would focus on something different each time, such as dynamics, articulation, speed, and hand formations. Then, after you have gone through working on these, do it again, but try to play it even better. Practice makes perfect! Eventually, these things will become muscle memory—or habits.
7. Mark your paper while playing.
There is something I love about seeing clean, white, newly printed music sheets. It gives me the same feeling I get about blank lined paper and notebooks. Even if I have no idea what I would write on it, I almost crave clean paper. So when I started music lessons and my instructor would write, underline, or circle things on my paper, it made me cringe. Why was she ruining the beautiful paper!? Then, I learned that it was very helpful to have those markings on the paper because they tell important information while playing. I could circle a note to remind me that it’s a flat or sharp. I could highlight a certain measure to let me know that I need to pay more attention to it. I could write a note on the side of the sheet to let me know what areas I needed to work on the most. So, as irritating as it was to see my white paper become increasingly dirtier almost every week, I came to realize that the ‘dirty’ music sheets were helping me become a more beautiful musician. So circle those notes, underline important details—write whatever you want on the paper! It will help you!
I hope that all the tips I’ve listed above will inspire you, as it did me, to adopt these tips and raise them up as habits that will encourage and support you in your musical journey.