It’s a tale as old as time itself, for beginners and advanced students alike. You have the instrument, the books, the online tutorials all at your fingertips, and still can’t find that motivation to pick up your instrument as often as you’d like.
Over the years i’ve been teaching this has been a frequent problem, and when it comes to discussing it with my students, it usually boils down to the same handful of reasons. Some people have demanding jobs and work irregular hours, limiting their available time. Others will feel a bit overwhelmed, with practising feeling like it’ll be a chore, especially if they haven’t done any all week, and their lesson is tomorrow.
But, the common thing I have found in pretty much all cases, is that the person hasn’t really established any kind of routine for themselves; they’ll often treat their instrument practise as some special, separate thing, while at the same time attend a regular sports practise, or maybe visit the gym twice a week as a matter of course.
The overall theme here is to establish a routine, and to stick to it. This routine can be reviewed or altered to suit your needs at different times, but there needs to be some underlying element of structure to your practise, to make any siginificant progress.
Take the instrument out of its case
My first suggestion, if you don’t already do this, is simply to take the instrument out of its case in between lessons. All too often I hear that the persons instrument hasn’t made it out of its case all week. So, place it on its stand and give it pride of place at home, somewhere with easy access. A musical instrument can be a visually appealing thing, and seeing it on a regular basis might be all that you need to be inspired to play it.
Make a regular time
The second thing I would suggest is try to set a regular time for each day, and make it part of your normal routine. Let’s say for example 7pm. At 7pm you practise your instrument for 30 minutes, then you’re done! Setting a regular time to your practise routine, rather than choosing to practising at random times will certainly give you more structure. If you know that certain days you won’t be able to commit to it, simply work around it and elect the days you know you will be free.
My next tip is what I like to call Passive Practise. I’m assuming by now your instrument is on its stand and you have access to it. Try to pick it up and do just a couple of minutes each time you are in the same room as it. Those couple of minutes here and there all add up. “But”, you might think, “two minutes is not really a long time, I won’t get anything out of it”. My response to that would be that if you are not practising at all, even two minutes is going to be better than no minutes!
Limit your time
Now if you feel that you will have to commit to a long practise time and that puts you off picking up your instrument, why not go the other way? Try setting a maximum time that you will practise each day. Maybe set a kitchen timer for five minutes, and give your instrument 100%. When that time is up you put your instrument back down and leave it for that day. This way you don’t feel obligated to spend long periods of time on your instrument. You’re picking it up regularly, and it may be just the thing you need to ignite that spark, and want to spend more time with it.
A technique I have personally used to practise in the past is one I call Mental Rehearsal. The benefit of this method is that you don’t even need your instrument if you don’t have it to hand. It’s not a complete substitute for actually playing your instrument; you will still need to pick up your guitar or your sticks and spend some time with the real thing. The process is fairly straightforward. At a time that suits you, maybe the last thing you do before you go to sleep, simply close your eyes and for a few minutes think through the motions you will do on your instrument when you will be playing a particular song you are learning, or a scale, or an exercise. Try to visualise your hands moving, and also the sound that you will be making when you do. It’s almost like a form of meditation. In my experience, i’ve found that this strengthens my understanding of what i’m learning, and what I like to do when I use this method is to slow the motions down in my mind, so I can really think about my technique too.
I hope this will have given you some ideas as to how you can pick up your instrument a bit more frequently and get something out of it. The basic equation I use is Time In (however long or short that is) = Better Results. Normalising your playing time and making it a regular part of your routine, even if it is a few minutes at a time, is much better than letting the workload build up and cramming hours in the night before your next lesson!