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How to Practice When You Don’t Want To

practicing technique Sep 12, 2012

We all have times when we don’t want to practice. We wish we wanted to practice, but for whatever reason, we seem to have lost our self-discipline. Maybe the house is too messy, the piece is too hard, we are worried about something else, the weather is too nice, the weather is too rotten, we didn’t get enough sleep, or we have too much homework.But the practice must be done.

© Andy Dean –

I was awful about practicing when I was a child. My parents threatened weekly to sell the harp or the piano if I didn’t practice. That was the only thing they knew would send me running to the living room to practice.

As an adult, I generally don’t have any trouble practicing. It has been a part of my life for so many years that a day without practice feels a little blank. But some days, the will to work just isn’t there.

Sometimes my students will complain about not being able to concentrate enough to practice. The commonly cited culprits are schoolwork, classes, family obligations, and lack of sleep.

But still, the practice must be done.

So how can you work when you don’t want to? I have seven little tricks that I have used to sidestep my way into practicing on those days when my mind just won’t focus. They are little baby steps to help you get started, even if you’re not motivated. There’s no magic to them, except that they help break that mental barrier between me and my practice. I hope they will help you too.

1. Have the world’s shortest practice session. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Granted, in 10 minutes you can’t do much, but you may find that 10 minutes stretches into more time once you get started.
2. Pick just one thing to do. Give yourself just one task. Instead of thinking that you will spend the next hour or two practicing, set yourself one very small goal. One example might be, “I’m going to play those eight measures on the second page 25 times and then I’m done.” If that’s really all you do, you have accomplished something. But maybe you’ll discover that you can…
3. …Do one more thing. If you have a little momentum gathered at the end of your task, try giving yourself one more small thing. Hear the crowd cheering for you, “One more thing! You can do it! One more thing!”
4. Work on technical exercises. When my mind really won’t work, I make my fingers do the work instead, and get out some tried and true technical exercises. Sometimes the repetitive nature of drillwork can have a calming effect that allows me to start concentrating and do some other practice. But if not, I still will have done something useful.
5. Read through new music. Have you ever gone shopping to try to lift your spirits? Reading through new music can work the same miracle without the credit card pain at the end of the month.
6. Do it first! This is the strategy for the chronic procrastinator. Try doing your practice before you do anything else. Otherwise it may never get done!
7. Create a sanctuary. Light a scented candle and your studio becomes a “practice spa.” You might even experiment with aromatherapy, trying energizing or calming scents. A cup of tea (my favorite is Earl Grey) and a heavenly fragrance should give you the relaxed focus you need.

Tell us your favorite pre-practice ritual!

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