“What’s the best piece of advice you offer folks that can’t find time to practice?”

Photo by Aaron Gibson. LoDo Bass Bash 2016
Photo by Aaron Gibson. LoDo Bass Bash 2016

In recent days, I posed this question to friends on Facebook; “What the best piece of advice you offer to folks that have real difficulty finding the time to practice?”

Folks ranging from hobbyists all the way to nationally known working musicians responded to my question. The answers were varied, and no one answer is right. Some answers might contradict either other directly. This is about finding what works for you, based on what others have found that worked. My hope is that in scanning these answers, perhaps you may find some ideas that help you out, or help the music student in your life out. Here we go….

“Count your hours. This puts everything into perspective. If we don’t keep ourselves accountable no one will.” – Steve Gibson

“Even 15 minutes a day is better than no practice!” – Micah Kaplan

“I tell my folks they need to make it a priority…they have to look at their schedule and figure out how to make the time for it on their schedule. It’s amazing how many folks will tell me they can’t find time to practice, but then I ask them about their week…there is always a time sink somewhere…and it’s usually one they don’t feel good about anyway. I tell them to look at their schedule and get rid of the time sinks that they do not feel good about engaging in. Then make practice a priority. On par with not skipping math class or making sure they pay the bills each month. And come up with a routine…a set time or time of day when it’s going to happen. It has to be a priority.” – Brittany Frompovich

“I find that practice is enjoyable, makes me more secure when I do play in front of people and often leads me to write and/or compose more. I still make time for practice.” – Dave Sterenchock

“Stephen King once wrote (I’m paraphrasing here) “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time to write — it’s just that simple.” And I have used that equivalent. My boss once looked at someone who complained that they had no available time left to perform some essential tasks to get things done in his life, and he said in response, “Sure you do – you have twenty-four hours in a day, just like everybody else. Steve Morse once remarked in one of his “Open Ears” columns about how he once worked with a famous name player who swore up and down to Morse’s face that he never practiced — ever. But as Morse and this guy worked through whatever session or project they were doing (Morse didn’t identify him), he noticed that this “guy who never practiced” was spending four to six hours on his instrument a day actually DOING the work he was called there to do. I’ve thought about that, but never actually used that in context with a student. I suspect my student, as gifted as he is, was not like whoever this guy was. What I did end up saying to my last student (who complained that he had nothing but little minute, random pockets of about 5 to 10 minutes each) was, “Well, take the 5 to 10 minutes. Take as many of those pockets as the day offers. IT BEATS NEVER TOUCHING THE INSTRUMENT AT ALL, AND WHO WANTS THAT?” The complaints came to an end, and he’s become a heaven of a bass player. I don’t know if it was because of what I said — probably not — but the idea of never being able to play was too much for him to bear, that I know. So he learned to hold onto whatever he learned in those minute 5-10 minute pockets of time. During my medical internship, 80 to 90 hour work weeks, with no sleep every 4th night (busy all night on call), was the rule. At morning report, after we were up all night busy as feck, the chief chided us for complaining, “There are 168 hours in a week. You should be able to work something out.” I felt like going all Game of Thrones on him. Thirty years later, I *still* do. BUT….five minutes on the instrument is better than no minutes. Two hours is wonderful. “ – Jesse Morris

“You don’t have to practice all at once. 15 minutes 4 times a day is still an hour. “ – Roy Vogt

“Your instrument isn’t going to learn new scales on it’s own.” – Jeff Leavitt

“Any amount consciously aware and diligent practice is better than none. Also, Coltrane said something along the lines of “if you learn one new thing a day, or come up with one new idea a day, by the end of the year you’ll have 365 new ideas.” I’m paraphrasing, but I like to remember that when I’m struggling.” – Drew Hutchinson

“Just play something challenging that you like every day and stop calling it practice. Call it play time.” – Wulff Harris

“It’s about time management. If you REALLY want it, you’ll make it happen.” – Kristen Bidwell

“Put it in your schedule like it is important like all other stuff (because it is). Also, in between things works well sometimes-15 min can still do a lot. Often it’s just a priority issue in my opinion because some people don’t enjoy practicing. If they don’t make it a priority because they don’t enjoy it, then start out practice with something fun, and end it with something enjoyable. Grunt work can be in between! Time management is everything.” -Sara Griffin

“First you play, then you practice. Then you play again. This eventually becomes a habit, even an addiction in some. But it’s a therapeutic and progressive habit that becomes self-reinforcing. Like any regular exercise routine, you don’t feel right unless you do it. It isn’t what you do, it’s what and who you are. One word sums it all up for me: woodshed.” – Dan Davis

“If you can’t find the time, make the time.” – Michael Kasalski

“I’m with the pockets of time people. I think people tend to get hung up on “I should practice x hours a day,” which is not always possible–and leads to negative reinforcement (“I should’ve done this, but I didn’t). I say commit to a period of time that you can really do (15-30, of that’s it). if you spill over, so much the better.” – Steuart Liebig

“Every minute you find to practice, is 60 seconds closer to the next level.” – Harold Cagle

“If you’re playing something you can already play, you’re not practicing -you’re just patting yourself on the back.” – Roy Vogt

“I actually think that for many people it has more to do with entertainment than dedication. Make a list of the top 5 things you do for fun. If practicing your instrument isn’t on that list, you’re probably not going to find time to practice. The only reason that I’m any good is because practicing was a lot of fun for me. In high school, it was more fun than watching TV, playing sports, video games, etc… I practiced 6-8 hours a day but it wasn’t because I was “dedicated” and forced myself to practice… It was just really fun for me to learn and get better.” – Rob Smith

“I encourage them to practice *first* before _________. Fill in the blank with Whatever their spare time sucker is– PlayStation, skate boarding, watching tv/movies,texting friends etc.” – Rana Strickland

“The students that get better are the ones that have fun and join bands and play with friends and enjoy all of it. So… My advice is to practice 30 minutes every day for 2-3 weeks. If you really loved those practice sessions and want to practice more than that… Good. On the flip side, if you had to force yourself to practice every day and hated practicing, you might want to get a new hobby. “ – Rob Smith

“Force yourself to practice until you love it. Then, once you love it, you’ll want to practice all the time. That’s what I did. The beginning is hard, it gets easier as you form different practicing habits.” – Anne Briggs

“Don’t put your instrument away in a case. Keep it out, in the room you find yourself in most often. Always have it plugged into an amp (or cable hanging next to it if active). Don’t let time to unpack and hook up be in the way. You should be able to grab and play anytime you’re in the room with your instrument. Don’t make it easy to find excuses not to play. If you have enough gear, put ready rigs in more than one room!” – Paul Fields

Here’s to a better week ahead in the practice room….hope there’s a tidbit of advice in there that inspires you!

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