We’re already into January 2022, and with the Spring ahead and pandemic restrictions hopefully behind us, it certainly feels as though we are turning some positive corners at last.
But let me ask you about your musical journey: is that progressing as you would like it to, or are you (like so many) struggling to motivate yourself to spend quality time playing your instrument? What are your musical goals for the months ahead?
In search of motivation…
To generate any momentum in our practice, most of us need a concrete schedule of ideas, actions, and measurable targets. A vague hope is unlikely to sustain us in moments of doubt, nor provide a means to celebrate our progress, step by step.
In my new book How to Practise Music, I list a few of the external factors and circumstances that can motivate us:
- Getting ready for an orchestra, band, or choir rehearsal
- Preparing for and taking exams and other assessments
- Taking part in a music festival or competition
- Preparing for an audition
- The deadline of an impending concert
- Receiving payment, or the praise of others
These can all be positive goals to work for. However, studies suggest that when we are only motivated by external factors, our internal love of music can actually be weakened. It’s a phenomenon called the “overjustification effect”. Where else can we find the necessary motivation to practise, then?
Rediscovering the magic of music
Consider which of these statements you identify with. Then, try saying them aloud. Use this process to affirm your personal reasons for playing and practising your instrument:
- I enjoy listening to music; it is important in my life.
- If I am unable to play my instrument for a few days, I miss it.
- I like to choose the music I play.
- When I play well, I feel a sense of satisfaction.
- I like to play music for myself, whether anybody else listens or not.
- I am curious to discover new music and new styles of music.
- I like to challenge myself as a player.
- Playing music helps me to feel positive about myself.
- I like to play pieces my way and it doesn’t matter whether others agree with my interpretations.
- I enjoy creating my own music, improvising, and composing.
These affirmations speak to our “intrinsic” inner motivation, and it is that which will ultimately sustain us on our musical journey.
Fanning the flames of enthusiasm…
Here are some other tips to help fan the flames of your musical enthusiasm in the year ahead and beyond:
- Make a “to-do” list of all the other things crowding for your attention. Plan to go back to all those thoughts and tasks later. Now, put the list down and go practise!
- Other than digital music, practice resources, and time-telling aids, put your electronic devices aside for the duration of your practice. If you need devices in the room, switch off the notifications.
- Recruit a “practice buddy,” preferably a friend who plays at a similar level and can commit to an equal amount of time. You can aim to coordinate your session times, hold each other to account, or simply check in once a week.
- If practising is an ongoing chore, it’s probably time to try shaking up your routine. For example, change your routine, try different music, spend plenty of time playing “for fun” without specific goals or targets.
- Listen to your favourite music and musicians as much as time allows, nourishing yourself with musical inspiration.
- Try stopping when you’ve barely started your planned practice session. This triggers a phenomenon known as “resumptive drive” (or the “Zeigarnik effect”). You’ll be itching to get back to your practice as soon as possible!
- And remember, a little bit of practice is better than nothing at all. We don’t experience our victories daily. Rather, they gather steam over time.
How to Practise Music
Feeling more motivated? In that case, why not check out the book How to Practise Music for hundreds of tips and tricks for maximising the effectiveness of practice, so that you can support and encourage the other musicians in your life, and realise your own music goals.
I hope that you will enjoy How to Practise Music and believe that it will help many to turn a positive corner in their musical journey. Have a great year!
How to Practise Music
The essential, pocket-sized companion for every musician. Accessible and authoritative, How to Practise Music is an ideal guide for anyone learning to play music. Suitable for instrumentalists and vocalists of any genre, this comprehensive handbook will give you a better idea of how to practise music, good reasons for doing so, and the confidence to succeed.