Keeping a regular practice schedule is hard. I’m one of those people who genuinely loves to practice, and I still find it hard to keep up a regular schedule.
Life, work, and business get in the way far too often – it’s important to take a step back and realize that ultimately what you’re aiming to do is be a musician. Play music. Ideally, really well.
I believe that keeping a regular practice schedule has many benefits for your musical career as well as your mental health.
The benefits to your music career are obvious; the better your performance, the more opportunities you’ll get. And I’m not just talking chops here, I’m talking about every facet of your live performance. You can and should be working stage presence, banter, etc. into your practice.
I also firmly believe that keeping a regular practice has mental health benefits. Seeing yourself improve is hugely motivating and confidence building, and having a positive habit in your life makes you a happier person.
Finally, the more I practice, the better I get, and the more I enjoy playing. I’m not so stressed out about playing anymore, I can just play.
Have I inspired you to get back into a regular practice routine yet? Good. Here are my seven tips for keeping yourself interested in practice.
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1. Keep A Meticulous Practice Log
Keeping a practice log was a game changer for my practice routine. I keep a journal – much like weightlifters keep a journal – to set goals, make notes of challenging spots, and mark progress.
I also set up my practice session before I start playing; establishing loose timelines for different sections of practice, e.g. technique, improv work, learning new songs.
If I’m having trouble with something in particular, I make note of it, so that I remember to come back to it tomorrow or the next day. You’ll soon find yourself improving much faster.
2. Set Goals & Deadlines
There are a number of ways to set goals and deadlines for yourself within your practice. But the key is writing them down in your journal (that you now have), so that you can create a plan for the real world fulfillment of your goal.
For example, I have recently taken on the challenge of creating and releasing a video of me playing my own arrangements of songs or parts of songs. Usually, this is showing off a certain part of my playing or new technique.
When you’re goal involves social media, it serves the dual purpose of keeping you focused and giving you an easy way to advertise yourself.
3. Structuring Your Practice Differently Every Week
When I was younger, my piano teacher told me to always start my practice with theory/technique. Probably just so I would actually do it. But the truth of the matter is that I hated theory and having to start my practice with it made me dread practicing.
You should never have to dread playing music! Start your practice with whatever you want. When I start my practice with 20 minutes of soloing to a backing track, I can't wait to sit down at the keys.
Now, I switch it up week by week. Sometimes, I’ll start with theory or exercises. Sometimes I’ll start by playing along to a song or two. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re putting in quality hours with your instrument.
4. Record Demos Of Original Or Cover Material
This was also huge for me. Realizing I could record myself completely changed the way I practice.
Now, recording myself is probably the single biggest part of my routine. This can be easily accomplished using a tool like Audacity.
I’ll learn a song and then record myself playing every part, just to see how close I can get to the players I’m trying to learn from.
Or I’ll write a song and flesh it out completely. Then, I not only have a song, I have a functioning demo and I've accomplished something productive during my practice hours.
The possibilities are endless. If you don’t already have one, I would definitely recommend getting a little audio interface to record yourself.
5. Collaborate With A Friend
Some of my biggest breakthroughs have been with my band. Working on a groove or a part, I’ll suddenly break through a plateau I was struggling with.
Something about collaborating with other musicians opens up doors in your brain that were previously closed.
Try taking your personal practice out into a different situation. Get together with another musician that is serious about making music, and suggest “jamming” with the explicit purpose of working on your playing.
It may seem weird, but trust me, it will provide you with some interesting insights.
6. Challenge Yourself By Playing At Different Volumes
Drummers, I’m looking at you! But truly, this applies to all instruments.
On nearly every instrument, playing loudly and playing quietly are two completely different techniques. My goal when playing quietly is to bring just as much intensity as when I’m playing loudly.
You may think that you can play something quietly just as well as you can loudly, but playing quietly often messes with your sense of time and feel. You may find yourself playing somewhat less accurately, or perhaps more accurately.
Whatever the case, having the ability to play with intensity at any dynamic is hugely important, and it certainly won’t hurt to practice it.
7. Take Breaks And Gig!
If you’re finding your practice becoming particularly stagnant, it’s probably time to get out into the big wide world and play some music.
Whether it’s an open mic, a solo gig, a sideman gig, or your band’s gig, having something to work for makes a huge difference.
After all, the gigs are what got us into this crazy industry. It’s really important to go out and play music for people and with other musicians. It keeps you grounded and motivated, plus it’s super fun.
If you were to implement just one of these tips, I would strongly recommend using a practice journal. If you could add another, I would say recording yourself is the next most important thing.
But by far the most important thing is that you put in the hours. No time spent with your instrument is wasted. It’s all part of the journey.