Change Your Practice Environment to Unintentionally Practice More

Topics: Skills

Our habits define us. Not only do they define us now, but also give us a relatively good predictor of our future selves.  If we can intentionally define our habits, we’ll have a much better chance of success.  With only a few changes around the house, and maybe some slight life changes, I think you can dramatically improve your playing skills. A quick example of how our habits define us, and then we’ll get into practical implementation.

Have you noticed how some fat people have a habit of going to Wendy’s or McDonalds on a regular basis? They go and order more than one sandwich, biggie size the combo meal, and get ice cream on the side.  Why? Because they have constructed a daily habit where physical and mental cues in their lives which lead them to the front doors of the restaurant.  Every day it’s the same thing: they receive a mental cue from their bodies (“I’m hungry”), which in turn requires a response to satiate that need.

“Hey, let’s go to Micky D’s!” they say with flabtastic enthusiasm.

And they end up getting fatter, and fatter, and fatter, and wonder why the hack they can’t lose all that weight.  Really all they gotta do is stop going to fast food all the time and eat a decent meal at home.

So we as musicians need to somehow conquer this kind of habit, turn it around, and use it to our advantage.  We all have goals in our lives, and if you are a musician, these probably include practice/writing/performance goals right?  So we need to start building habits in our lives that will (almost) automatically accomplish our goals.  We have got to create triggers in our lives that will, in a similar fashion to fat people going to Wendys, make us better musicians through developing our habits.

Assuming you aren’t where you want to be, you’ll need to make some changes in lifestyle.  Some will need bigger changes than others, but almost everyone requires some kind of change.  I think it’s best to do all of these changes as quickly and dramatically as possible, as one thrust of energy.  In WWII, without the initial charge on the beach of Normandy in 1944, the war might indeed have never been won.  They needed an huge push in order to establish a beach-head, which required thousands of hours of planning, deception, and preparation in order to pull it off.  The allied forces could not have kept up that kind of sustained force for the whole war; it would have simply been impossible.  But the thrust gave them the momentum and the mindset that propelled them toward victory.  Create your own Normandy beach-head.

So here are some things that you can do to Musicize your practice area.  (Yeah I made it up.  I haven’t decided how to pronounce it yet though.  Muze-er-syze, Myoo-zeh-kaize, Myuu-zih-size?  Ideas anyone?)

  • One of the most important things to do is to put all of you instruments out where you can see them.  Many people have more than one, so you want to spread them out around your house.  Doing this will probably result in one “accidental” practice almost every day.  I read an interview with Eddie Van Halen a long time ago, and I remember him mentioning he had set up a guitar and drum machine for his toilet.  That’s what I’m talkin’ about.
  • Put the songs you’ve written on your “The Playlist.  You should obviously be recording your work somewhere so you don’t forget it, so why not put that onto your mp3 player and listen to your own music.
  • Listen to music all the time.  I used to find it hard to study or do work while music was playing, but I really wanted to change that, so I found a solution: play your music at a very low volume while working.  Just loud enough to hear the beat, but quiet enough that you can’t exactly hear the lyrics.  It made my long college study sessions not so stressful.
  • Change your friends.  Do you still hang out with friends that don’t believe in you?  Do you still feel you have to pay homage to people that are always bringing you down?  Find some people who are going the same direction as you so you’ll be reminded constantly about music.  But don’t be a jerk in the process.
  • Buy more music documentaries for your movie collection.  These are a great way to get inspired and learn some things about the music industry.
  • Put up posters on your walls of your favorite artists.  I went to my friend’s apartment yesterday, and realized how stylish music posters can be.  I wish I could show you a photo or something of their place, but it was almost like one of those apartments you see in suave magazines.  It made me want to pick up a guitar and write something.
  • Set up your own mini recording studio.  The idea is to always have this place ready.  You never want to lose a good melody or riff simply because you forgot it.  If you haven’t realized it yet, your mind isn’t that great at remembering stuff for a long time.  Take a few minutes to put your idea into the computer and you’ll thank yourself later.  I’m hoping to write an in depth article about creating a mini recording studio pretty soon, I’ll try to remember to post a link when I do.
  • You want to be able to listen to your music just about anywhere, so buy an mp3 player and the necessary accessories.  And don’t skimp on this one either.  Do your research, save up some cash money, and go buy a nice iPod or a good mp3 player.  Use it in the car too, because you don’t want to be at the whims of the radio hosts, and commercials can be a serious waste of your time.
  • Change the food you eat: beans, beans, the musical fruit…

There are of course a bunch of other things you can do, but the idea is that you are pursuing the habits that will help you improve your playing.

Disclaimer: This is not to say that you’ll become amazing without trying!  Nothing can take the place of intentional and purposeful daily practice and writing.

Apology: I do not mean to offend obese people who have no control over their weight.  I mean no offense to you, and I do my best not to judge people based on outward appearance.  If you are overweight but DO have a degree of control over your weight, I’m trying to offend you a little.  Not in a demeaning way, but it is my hope that you face the reality of your situation and take steps to improve your health.  Remember, your habits define you!