Well, this is something every musician at every level needs to consider. When you are at school, you have a full timetable and often some after school activities plus homework. When you leave school, you may be a student with increased responsibilities/money-earning activities and a degree. When you leave uni, if you’re working full time or looking after a family, pressures on your time only increase.
The single most important tip I’d give is to set an intention for your practice. What is it you want to be able to do? is it a certain piece you want to be able to play or sing; a technique you want to master, or some vocabulary in a certain style you want to acquire? It could be - to solo over three latin jazz standards, or to start singing a couple of songs out of your vocal comfort zone, or to finish writing one new song every month. Just ‘practicing’ in a vague sense will soon be too woolly to get you into action when there are always millions of things competing for your attention. This Sunday, I might go play some swing tunes at a vintage fair. I have been meaning to learn a few more for some time, but without a specific performance situation, I hadn’t been sufficiently clear with my intention. Often that’s the way – and whatever your level, you can find a suitable deadline. Perhaps an end of term concert or ensemble performance, perhaps a family gathering or maybe just your own timeline.
My second tip is-be consistent and realistic in practice time. Easier said than done, but easier to get those minutes in if you know you’re going to have to play in front of people. It only takes a couple of excruciating performances to teach you that it’s waaaaay more enjoyable playing confidently. The easiest way of being consistent is to make your practice manageable. Maybe you can only manage 15 mins a day. But if you are consistent, you can make great progress on almost anything. 15 mins of sight-reading a day for 2 months will radically improve your reading, if that’s what you’re interesting in. 15 mins of technique even five days a week will really improve your agility. Don’t set unrealistic and unmanageable goals. If you’re working full time, doing 2 hours a day is not possible. If you set that as an intention, you’ll just feel like a plank and a let down when you can’t stick to it. If you exceed what you promised yourself, you’ll feel really productive.
My third tip is to examine your mindset. An awful lot of procrastination is based on hidden beliefs that get in the way of taking action, eg ‘well, I probably won’t ever be that great, so there’s not much point in practicing’ ‘practicing only helps if you have talent anyway – and I’m not sure I do’ ‘people like me aren’t rockstars’ etc.
If you have a hidden belief that you’re probably not that talented, or unlikely to amount to much musically, then every time you sit down to practice, you’ll have to find the energy to overcome that, which is an inefficient use of your energy. Far better to investigate any limiting beliefs you may have and work through them. Talent is really unhelpful idea. Most people have huge potential for development in whatever direction they choose to direct their attention-so don’t ever waste a second wondering if you’re ‘talented’. Talent is time plus attention plus knowledge.
Topics like mindset, understanding your potential and even identifying, let along overcoming, your limiting beliefs, are pretty big ones which I’ll tackle in subsequent blogs, but hopefully this gives you some different ways of thinking about structuring your practice.
If you fit in your 15 mins or whatever amount you’ve decided is manageable at the same time each day, like brushing your teeth it just becomes something you do, and you don’t have to even think about whether you feel like it, or whether you’re going to do it. It’s your routine.