Practice sometimes gets a bit dull, or you can feel like you're not making progress, or you just want to watch the next episode on Netflix. It's ok to feel like that sometimes, but if it becomes a habit then your progress can stall for a long time. Maybe you start to get guilty about it, or embarrassed at your next lesson, or you start to be annoyed at yourself...
But fear not! Help is at hand! This blog is for you, the student. It is also for you, the parent if your child isn't loving practice at the moment.
Here are some of the best tips to keep yourself practising, and enjoying it too!
10) Practice makes perfect... but maybe not today
You are practising because you haven't met your standards yet. And that is ok! The whole point of practice is because you are not yet perfect. Don't get cross about it, but instead focus your energy on...
9) The dream
What is your long-term musical dream?
Picture it in your mind. Maybe you can feel the heat of the stage lights, smell the boards of the stage, sense the adoring eyes of your fans as you play the opening riff of your first Number One hit...
Perhaps this is a bit TOO big for the moment, so you should also:
8) Set yourself little goals
Think about what your next waypoint is going to be. Maybe you're studying for a grade: imagine opening the envelope which says you've passed with merit or distinction. Perhaps you're working towards the next concert: imagine standing on stage hearing your friends and family cheering and grinning. Perhaps you're looking to go busking: imagine your impromptu audience stopping in their tracks to listen. Having this in your mind will give you new purpose. But how to get there? Next, you should:
7) Set yourself teeny tiny goals
When you're just starting a new project, things are exciting and novel. But when the novelty starts to wear thin, setting tiny little do-it-now targets for today's practice session will mean you have a purpose and will be able to feel success. Maybe focus on that nasty little quaver run; could you improve the intonation a little better on that high note? What about moving 5bpm closer to concert tempo? Perhaps you can play the whole thing through with one fewer error than yesterday?
6) Record yourself
When your brain is focused on your fingers, your breathing and the notes on the page, it is really hard to listen critically to your playing. Record yourself on your phone, and play it back right away after you played. Listen carefully to whether you did what you wanted. If so then smile a big smile: you did it! If not, then think why not. Try to fix it next time round. In any case it's a win: either you played something you're happy with, or you didn't and you have a new point of focus. Maybe you could even:
5) Talk to your teacher
I'm here to serve your goals, after all. If you are feeling practice is getting stale or aimless, I can help to refocus you and give you the lift that you need to get back on track. However, I'm not the only one...
4) Play to your loved ones
If you're a parent, and your child isn't practising much, then ask them to give you a little concert. It's a low-stakes event, with a friendly audience. And because you love them, you will give them that praise and a smile and they will be energised to get even better.
If you're the student, the same thing applies - just put aside your insecurities and ask to play to the people in your family. After all, if they didn't want to hear you play they'd have put your instrument on eBay already...
3) Look outwards
It's easy to get wrapped up in your own music and insecurities, so go back to the music that first inspired you. Look at similar artists and reach out a bit. It might be a while since you've listened to them, so you might surprise yourself to realise that you've actually learned how to do some of the things your hero can do. Do you spot part of a familiar chord progression? Or a lick or a riff?
2) Look backwards
You know how you were recording yourself in point 6? Play a few of those recordings back. Scan back a month or two. How much better do you sound now? Oh my goodness, haven't you grown!
1) Be kind to yourself
Learning to play a musical instrument is a never-ending process. You will never be perfect - but that's perfectly fine. If you beat yourself up about not being perfect, then you will be perpetually angry at yourself. But if you celebrate your successes and take pride in your progress, then you will be perpetually joyous. If you picture music as a mountain, you can imagine the peak as being exhaustingly and eternally out of reach. So take a moment to turn around, look at the path you have achieved, and look out at the beautiful, unique view that only you in the world can see.
Hopefully you feel a bit more invigorated about getting back to practising. Everybody gets down about it sometimes, even the greats. But they keep on going. I don't think there's any such thing as genetic 'genius' in something as complicated as music. I think that with the right set of circumstances, access to the right guidance and a load of hard work, anybody can become awesome.
And if you're still in need of inspiration, go and listen to 'The Mountain' by Dierks Bentley.