Consistency, Variety, and Balance: How to Maintain Momentum and Achieve Your Musical Goals in a Busy World.

The study of music requires many things, some more obvious than others. First, find a good teacher.   Before you can develop a good routine for your practice, consistent weekly lessons with an instructor keeps you on the right path. There are as many teachers as there are ways to teach, and each teacher brings with them their own unique qualities. This article is focused on practice time and successful habits between lessons and how to navigate through your busy schedule while efficiently getting results.

Your instructor will most likely have expectations in regards to the amount of time you devote to practice.   Life has many priorities that require your attention and that do not immediately relate to your musical study.  Regardless of the teacher you choose, your success depends upon your participation in the process of deciding how to navigate a busy world and how to find consistent practice and consistent play at your chosen instrument.

No matter how driven you are, and no matter what method of teaching your instructor brings to the table, all students experience at one time or another a sense of being stuck, of slowing down and of doubting their progress and even at times their abilities.   When adopting a musical practice, it is important that you establish a consistent time to be with your instrument and a good variety of works to work from.

It is simple enough to schedule time to practice.  It is more complicated insuring consistency and develop the habit of arriving at the instrument. Establishing a routine can take time and can require a dedication that is both based on passion and the clock. I encourage you engage your teacher in a healthy discussion around composition styles, genres of music and repertoire. The more you fill your ear and hands with, the greater the ability to drive your success.   Workouts assigned by your teacher typically make up two thirds of your time while any repertoire you both agree is right for you can take up one third of your daily practice.

Establishing a routine is critical.  Clock-Time is very different than Process-Time, and in order to insure you benefit from effective time at your instrument, the clock needs to be part of building your routine without taking the oxygen out of your process.  Arrive at the same time every day.  Spend the same amount of time, visiting the three categories of practice: Physical work out, theory work and repertoire.  If you are too tired or lack the ability on a particular day for whatever reason , then just arrive and sit with your instrument for the clock-time, keeping that process going regardless.  Showing up every day is the most important detail. It is tenacity, not talent, that wins.

Classical musicians and Jazz musicians have a fairly well charted and proven map for the first few years of study, and songwriters and pop artists benefit from this map as much as Jazz Pianists and Classical Pianists do.  Regardless of what your study requires each day, it is your passion for what you are working on that will get you to prioritize and defend your regular practice time with the same drive enjoyed by other priorities you have on your schedule. Consistency is the most important element in the ‘practice’ of music.  Variety of music itself and the approach to the study of it is critical to a sustainable practice.  Simply put, if you are not interested in the material you are practicing then you will not practice.  So, make demands of your instructor as much as you enforce a ritualistic and repetitive practice schedule.

Teachers of all levels work very hard to try to find the materials that will work for their students.   At times however, both the student and teacher have difficulty finding the best way to approach making a study plan that meets your musical needs and reflects your musical goals.

What you focus on is what you will achieve.  Feed your creativity, and you will become more creative.   Feed your mind with theory and you will find yourself applying and discovering new theory in your playing.  Feed your eyes with music, and your reading will improve.  Feed your creative mind with options and your hands will take what you have filled them with and spontaneously compose or improvise. Just like any other work out, arrive consistently and have a healthy mix of things to work on.

Pick the right teacher for you, and do not be shy about challenging them to prove to you they are the best fit.  A good teacher does not depend solely on the materials they are most comfortable with. A good teacher is inquisitive, adaptable, and open to suggestions.  Be vocal about what you would like to play, and discuss with your teacher what tools and skills you will need in order to play the material you desire to play.

Too often, students can begin with a routine forged out of traditional teaching methods only to find themselves never able to move beyond such material. Many achieve an intermediate level and soon after begin to slow down their study, eventually stopping altogether.  Method books are a great resource to draw from, but not a great place to dedicate your study. “Not reinventing the wheel” is wise, but limiting yourself to the methods that are “off the shelf” will only set you up for a limited musical journey, one that will inevitably hit roadblocks that can end your practice altogether.

So, pick a great teacher and challenge them as much as they challenge you.   Pick a weekly time slot for a standing lesson and never miss it. Discover the time or times of day in which your practice will most benefit you and put it on your calendar.   Never miss the time. Arrive, even if just to place your hands on the keys and keep the time. Show up, no matter what.

Mr. David teaches in the Seattle and surrounding areas. Please see his website at for more information! 

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