But I Don’t Want to Practice! 11

Piano Practice MotivationHow The Pros Stay Motivated, and How You Can Too.

Rarely a week goes by that I am not asked how to stay motivated with practice. Whether you’re a parent of a student, or a student yourself – what do you do on those days (or weeks, or months) when you just don’t FEEL like practicing?

Believe it or not, this problem isn’t unique to students. I don’t think I’ve ever met a professional musician who wants to practice every single day. But they do anyway.

So what’s the secret?

A couple of months ago I gave a musician friend of mine a call. There was no answer, but I did get a text back: “Hey my practice time is about to start but I’ll call you tonight.”

It’s not a story I’d tell at parties, but it does prove a point. This is a very successful adult musician who could easily have decided take it easy and chat on the phone. He might not have even felt like practicing at that time. But the mindset he build for himself was: This is the time that I practice, come rain or shine or snow or sleet or whatever else. It’s not my time to text or chat on the phone or take a coffee break.

The habit of practicing at a specific time, creates great motivation and breaks down psychological resistance. But beware: the key word is “specific”. Just committing to practice every day won’t work (and will leave you feeling bad when you forget or don’t do it!)

The formula for building a practice habit is: Every day, before/after X, I practice.

Here are some common practice success habits I ask students to built:

“First thing in the morning while I’m having coffee before checking e-mail.” (This is mine!)
“The minute I get home from school and before starting my homework.”
“The second I walk in the door from work – before sitting on the couch or even having a snack.”

If you have children – you might be amazed at the results. Instead of “did we remember to practice today” it simply turns into “this is a thing we do every day”.

If you’re an adult – even if you’re too busy to practice, make a habit of just *sitting* at your instrument at a specific time. If you’re a parent of a young child, try the habit of doing at least 10-15 minutes of practice at a specific time with your child. Make this “our practice time”.

Don’t be surprised if all that pushback you’ve been getting transforms into positive motivation. And if you have a rebellious inner-child, like I do, you’ll get less resistance from them as well. That upward spiral is how you can keep music what it should be: a FUN process of learning an art that will last you a lifetime.

Let me know how it works for you. And Happy Practicing!

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11 thoughts on “But I Don’t Want to Practice!

  • Rachel

    Hi! My mom makes me do piano exams, but they stress me out so much and I now I absolutely hate doing the exams! (And sort of piano too because its so hard) Most of my friends’ moms let them just play for fun and for the enjoyment of it, but MY mom said it’s a waste of money and if I don’t want to do exams, I must stop altogether. But the thing is, I like piano, I just hate exams and the stress of them and how difficult the pieces are. I get so frustrated and annoyed after about 15 minutes of practice that I end up crying and then I’m either upset or grumpy for the rest of the evening. My teacher gets so cross when she thinks I haven’t practiced but I HAVE, just not enough apparently. I don’t know what to do!! Thank you! 🙂

    • Matt Post author

      Hi Rachel – Sorry to hear you are not liking your exams. The good news is when you are older you will get to decide whether or not you have to take exams like this or proceed in your own way. I hope you can find a way to enjoy playing the piano and not take the exams too seriously 🙂

  • Marcia Ribas

    Thanks so much for these tips. I have been playing the piano for my entire life…and lately I have been very lazy to practice:)
    Will do it as soon as I get up. Thanks!

  • Rae Lynn

    I like what you said about make a habit of just sitting at your instrument at a specific time.
    As and adult student I have many reasons not to practice.
    I will use your method for a week and I will let you know how it works.

  • Massimo

    For me the key problem is always getting started. Once I start I don’t wish to stop. If I postpone my session, I easily end up skipping it altogether. Since after dinner the neighbors may not be especially happy to hear the piano, since I have also an electronic piano and can use headphones, I may still manage to go sleep without skipping the session. But then most likely I go to sleep too late, and the day after I feel again demotivated because too tired. This is a negative spiral. So, again, the only hope is to stick to the “before dinner” rule, as Matt has pointed out :).

    About how to make the time as useful as I can, what works for me is to write specific goals at the end of the previous practice session for the current; if I start from those, immediately after warm up, I feel accomplished, and then can feel free to try to have some pleasure only time, like rehearsing previous pieces, hunting for new ones, or just jamming a bit..

    • Matt Post author

      Hi Massimo – Yes for sure if you have the discipline to keep a notebook it can be extraordinary. I have friends who swear by their practice notebook. Regarding the getting started, sometimes I tell students “Just sit at the piano bench, even if you don’t touch a note”. I’ve found setting the goal extremely low can make it easier to form the habit without all the internal resistance.

  • Valda

    Dear Matt
    Thank you so much for that bit of advice. I’m an adult and have really put my practising off for a couple of weeks.
    Everything else seems more important and I keep walking. past that piano. I will definately
    get my act together and arrange a time to practise each day. Will keep you posted.
    Kind regards

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