The Best Practice Advice for Time Poor or Lazy Musicians
We all do it. We tell ourselves to practice more. We schedule it in our calendar and then a month later we beat ourselves up for not being disciplined enough. The problem with this approach is that we don’t get to the bottom of WHY we’re not practicing.
We don’t figure out what the initial change is that will make the bigger behaviour change easier to make.
What is the lead domino, that if pushed, leads to all the other dominos toppling over?
So, let’s go over a few of the excuses we use and what we can do about them.
LACK OF TIME
Okay, we get it. You're super popular and busy - lucky you. Why is it that we wear our busy-ness like a badge of honour these days and yet it's not serving any of us? Pro tip: Get a new badge.
If time is your go to excuse, you need to become a time-bender. You've got two choices.
More often than not, we keep adding things into our days. More yeses fly out of our mouths than noes. We want to do it all and we have endless opportunities so we cram more and more in - until we collapse in front of the TV and eat popcorn for dinner (it's a vegetable right?).
There's no point in piling more and more things into your calendar, because time is a limited resource people. Something’s gotta give. The people pleasers amongst us hate having to say no, we feel that we’ll disappoint people or piss them off, but it’s a really important thing to do and there are ways to say it gently.
Instead of adding more music practice into your schedule on top of everything else, ask yourself "What can I cut out? "
I know, this is rough. I'm now asking you to make CHOICES. To prioritise.
Is it time you put your foot down about that ridiculous overtime you're doing at work (don't they know you've got pipes to work out dammit)?
Can you find a yoga studio closer to home to cut some commute time?
Is watching that adorable goats in pajamas video on loop more important than nailing that audition?
You could go deeper into that last one too. Why are you spending so much time escaping into videos/TV/social media? Is it a distraction from something else? Stress? Anxiety? Loneliness?
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I know it's not pretty but if you're willing to figure that out and deal with that issue, you're more likely to succeed in changing the time suck behaviour.
If subtracting activities feels way too painful, is there a way you can become more streamlined in the way you do things?
I don't know about you but I am the queen of distractions and multi-tasking. I'm getting better but I'm not perfect.
If your crazy-long to do list is part of the reason you're not getting time to practice, it's time to delegate or eliminate (see the subtraction game above) or batch it.
Need to fire off 16 emails? Do them all together, one after the other.
Need to make 4 phone calls? Yep, keep them as a group.
Need to sort out X, Y, Z around the house? Don't split those tasks up.
A study reported in the Journal Of Experimental Psychology found that students solving complicated maths problems were 40 per cent slower when they had to switch to other tasks.
When we keep moving from one thing to another, we have to change gears, find which tab it is or remember what we were doing in the first place! Total time waster. Not to mention it feels really stressful juggling it all.
OVERWHELM / EXHAUSTION / TIRED
Often when students say they haven't been practicing because they're tired, they tell me "but I know I should've pushed through and forced myself to do it anyway."
Uh, no. Dude, we don't want any collapsing musicians on our hands.
Again, the only way you're going to conquer this excuse is to find the root of the problem and FIX IT.
So what are the key factors that can lead to you feeling like the walking dead?
You may have nodded at one of the above or realised that every single one of those is a contributing factor to your sluggishness. Now I'm not going to tell you that you have to go to sleep at 10pm every night and drink green juice every morning but I DO want you to make changes.
They don't have to be huge. Start experimenting with one piece of the puzzle and see if your energy levels rise enough to slot a few minutes of practice in here and there.
This is about figuring out what works for YOU and what changes you need to make in order to feel better.
The best part? This not only changes your musical life for the better, but just about everything.
For me? I feel best when I get 7-8 hours sleep, exercise daily, eat a mostly plant based diet, get some sunshine and spend as little time on my phone or computer as humanly possible in this day and age.
LACK OF MOTIVATION/DRIVE
Firstly, it's okay to feel uninspired or a bit meh about your craft. We've all been there. Passion ebbs and flows and you can't force the love to return, sometimes you need to wait it out.
But again, let's dive a little deeper to see what could be behind your lack of get up and go.
WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?
If you're learning to sing because your parents told you that you should, the whole motivation piece is going to be a little elusive.
If you want to become a famous singer to earn millions of dollars, your common sense is going to do the math that this isn't super likely and want to give up and do something else.
If you enjoy music, want to express yourself and connect with people through performances and/or recordings - remind yourself of that.
It's never the scales or breathing exercises that we're really excited about, it's the bigger picture. So make sure you're giving yourself opportunities to get closer to that dream.
Set yourself challenges like open mic nights, auditions or song writing to USE what you learn in the practice room in the real world. I also have a 30 Day Singing Challenge if that floats your boat.
ARE YOU BEING CURIOUS?
This is about how you're APPROACHING your practice sessions. Do you go in there, run through a few exercises, sing your song once through and tick it off your to do list?
Do you do it just to get a gold star from your teacher or to feel smug that you've been consistent?
As I say in my book, "Practicing should be about finding the play in the frustration. The wonder in solving the puzzle. Too often we get so impatient that we forget that the exploring is kinda the whole damn point."
Hunt down those less than ideal notes and use everything you know about your instrument to figure out why it's not coming out the way you'd like it to. As a singer, you want to become your own vocal detective rather than relying on a teacher for years and years. Learn to teach yourself.
DO YOU KNOW HOW YOU SHOULD BE PRACTICING (y'know, efficiently and effectively)?
If you're like 90% of the singers I've met and do follow the "warm up, sing the song a few times and wipe your hands of the whole practice session" method - please know that there IS a better way.
Every part of your practice session should have a PURPOSE. Each exercise should specifically focus on the technique you're currently trying to learn. Our muscle memory needs constant repetition and our habits tend to try and get in the way of that.
Breaking down your song and ironing out the creases in small sections over and over is a much better use of your time than singing it through in it's entirety a few times over.
So I hope this post will help you think a little more strategically about WHY you're not practicing and has helped you identify the REASONS behind what you might see as "laziness".
Taking small actions to knock over that first domino is much more effective than yelling at ourselves because we ignored the practice alarm that went off for a 6th day in a row.