How To Develop And Keep A Music Practice Routine

I've taught hundreds of students over the years. I noticed that most had a passion for the instrument and a general desire to be really good. The number of students who actually committed to a routine was surprisingly low. In other words, most people love the idea of being good at something but they're not up for taking the action required.

In theory, it should be easy to develop any habit. Even if you don't know the necessary steps, a quick Google or YouTube search will give you enough information to start something. Most people know at least the basics of what they would need to actually do to improve a skill. Music is no different. The tough part comes when you actually try to develop the habit of regularly practicing the skill.

We all know this is difficult because there are so many things we want to do or learn or be that we never get round to. We live in the Information Age and yet it seems it's more difficult than ever to actually choose something, stick to it and develop the behaviours required to improve.

Habit Tracker

This is where the subject of this post - habit trackers - can dramatically help you. Once you decide that you want to be good at music (you're here right, so you must be at least a bit interested!) and you find a few things to play and work on, it's time to get serious about developing a practice habit.

A habit tracker is a sheet of paper used to check off a box when you complete your habit. Each box represents a day. The aim is to create an unbroken chain of check marks for as long as you can. Research from my old university UCL shows that it takes 66 days to form a new habit. To be honest I've heard lots of different figures for how long it takes. The point is though, it's not a long time but it's long enough that many people won't strengthen the habit enough to acquire it.

How To Use A Habit Tracker

Using a habit tracker is such an ingenious way to build habits. Amongst other things, it plays on the human cognitive bias of loss aversion. Once you have taken the first few baby steps, you won't want to break the visual chain representing your sessions. String enough of these together and, provided you are practising well, you will get better.

The best practice routine is the one you stick to. Decide how much time you have per session and how many days you can realistically stick to and then commit to that. Share on X
  1. Print off the tracker and put it somewhere prominent that you can't miss.
  2. Write down your start date and habit (e.g. pick up my bass for 10 minutes every day).
  3. Place a mark in the box only when you complete your written down habit.
  4. Aim not to break the chain.

Your goal may not be to practise every day. Playing little and often is better than playing once a week for a longer duration. If you really want to get good and develop a habit then try to do it daily or as close as you can manage. However, if you do only have a few slots then schedule them into your diary and check off the box on those days.

Either way, the tracker is a visual aid to keep you motivated to carry on whilst you develop probably the most important habit for a musician.

Check out some more practice-based posts here.


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