Creating Time To Practice Music

Jul 26, 2022
Christopher Maloney, music educator and founder of Practice Warriors presents the immovables, the movables and the wasteables to make time to practice music

In all my years of teaching music, whether it was class instruction, clinics, lectures or private lessons, the number one challenge I’ve heard from people who want to practice and get better is finding time to do it consistently.  With work, school, family, and necessary errands, it seems that there is literally no extra time to do anything.  We talk about this extensively in our Practice Warriors Masterclass on the Practice Warriors site.  As early as the first Unit of the class, I talk about how this ‘lack of time to practice' a false notion. In fact, it’s one of the top five myths of learning music.  In a later unit, I prove it to our members once and for all.  For you folks reading this, I’m going to give you some of this insight right here and now.  Heck, after going through the exercises here, you’ll find time for all kinds of things you want to do in your life. You’ll be surprised how you can carve out some precious time each and every day; time that is just for you.  

The good news is that you don't need a lot of time to practice.  20 minutes a day is going to be your minimum.  If you're focusing on four separate topics, that'll give you 5 minutes a day for each topic.  Yeah, that's not a lot of time.  More would be better for sure.  However, as I talk about repeatedly in the Masterclass, the most important thing with practicing is consistent time.  Consistency means that you'll be practicing every single day, certainly for the first three or four weeks.  Once you establish a Practice Ritual that's firmly embedded into your daily schedule, you can throttle back to five or six days a week without fear of losing momentum or quitting your practicing.  At first, however, you want to make sure you practice every single day. 

Get Your Life Organized:

So, how are you going to find the time in your already crazy-packed day to practice?  Well first of all, time is not something that you “find”; it's something that you “make”.  If you sit around wondering why you can't find time to practice, that time is not going to find you.  Instead, you have to make the time to practice.  You have to actively create time in your daily schedule, by looking at that schedule and carving out specific time frames to practice.  You can do this by taking all the activities you do daily or weekly and putting them into three categories:  The Immovables,  The Movables, and The Wasteables.  Let's check them out.  

The Immovables:

The Immovables are those things in your day-to-day life that can not move.   They are hard scheduled into your life.  These can be things like your work, your school, picking up the kids at soccer practice, visiting hours for your Uncle Sal in prison...look no judgements!!  But seriously, there are things you have to do in your life that take up very specific hours of your day.  Writing them down and looking at them on a schedule gives you a clear visualization of what your days actually looks like.  Now, you may have some immovables that are on specific days.  Maybe you have a standing counseling session on Thursdays at 2pm, and that day and time can not be changed.  Or your kids have to be shuttled to baseball, but just on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 6.  Juggling all these responsibilities can seem daunting.  However, once you write them down and get a bird's eye view of your scheduled life, you'll be able to find available times you never knew you had.  

So do that!  Write down the Immovables in your life right now.  If you have a daily planner or detailed calendar, go ahead and use that.  If not, just write these down on any piece of paper or type them into your mobile device.  Just get them out of your head and onto something that you can look at.  This will make organizing your time a lot easier!

The Movables:

As you can probably guess, the Movables are those things in your daily life that have some flexibility in regards to when you do them.  These can be things like when you wake up or go to bed, or when you eat your meals or when you work out.  These can also be weekly appointments that you can move around, like say work meetings.  It can be certain social appointments, like a regular yoga class or going fishing or meeting up with your friends.  If you have a flexible work schedule, then congratulations!  You can move work to the Movable section.   The good news with the Movables is that they're just that: activities you can shuffle around to make time to practice.  The bad news is that, because you've probably done them for so long, shuffling them around may feel disorientating or even disruptive.  However, you may just have to move some of them anyway to make time for practicing.  If it's truly important to you, you'll make the time.  

As you did with the Immovables, write down the things you do each day or week that you still need to do, but the days or times you do them are flexible (Moveable).  Write in the days and times you currently do these things.  

The Wasteables:

The easiest way to create time during your busy week is to find the time you spend wasting.  This is the time and energy you spend doing things that really aren't necessary or even that important to you.  We all waste some amount of time each and every day in small or big ways.  Again, you've got to take a hard look at your daily activities and be honest with yourself about how much of your day is spent on non-productive things.  Now, having some amount of downtime during your day is actually really helpful to keep yourself balanced and not totally stressed out.  But that's not what I'm talking about.  I'm not talking about sitting in a park taking in nature or doing some meditation.  I'm talking about all that TV watching; all that time on social media; all that time hanging out at the bar; look...I don't know what it specifically is for you, but you have to look at the time you waste daily, and you've got to replace at least some of that time-wasting activities with practicing.  It'll actually be much easier than you think .

You know what to do: write down all that social media scrolling, all that binge watching, all that Wordle you're playing.  Try to estimate how much time you do those things and when during the day you’re most likely doing them. C’mon, be honest with yourself.  If you really, really want to get better at playing music but you say you don’t have the time, you need to get clear with yourself to create new time to practice.  As I said earlier, if this is really important to you, you’ll make the time!

Find The "25th Hour" Of Your Day:  

Now, taking a hard and honest look the 'Movables' and the 'Wasteables', you should be able to carve out at least 20 minutes a day, each day to practice.  I call this the hidden ‘25th hour’, which refers to ANY extra time you can find during the day.  So many people think they don't have one extra minute in their day.  This isn't true.  If you move around some Moveables or get control of some Wasteables, you'll easily be able to MAKE the time to practice.  Create the time necessary to take your playing to the next level.  20 minutes a day?  You got this.  

Here’s one last thing about this 20-minute stuff: Yes, I know that’s not a lot of time.  I mentioned that earlier.  But, if that’s all the time you’ve got, it’s better to practice for a short amount of time than not at all.  You are learning a physical activity, and these activities need one thing…consistent practicing!  So don’t look at your calendar or day planner and think “I only have 20 minutes to play today.  That’s not enough time”.  Yes it is!

Okay, so I lied a little.  HERE’S the last thing about the 20-minute idea: Have you ever sat down to practice or play your instrument for just a few minutes, and wind up playing for much longer?  I know you have, because I do this all the time as well.  Sometimes you get so caught up in playing that you decide to cancel other things you have scheduled, because you’re either making so much progress or having so much fun (or hopefully both!).  

If I told you that you had to practice for an hour, you might say you don’t have the time.  But if I say you can practice for just 20 minutes and that 20 minutes turns into an hour, then you literally created more time in your day to dedicate to your music.  You have become a Time Creator!  Sometimes you can only do 20 minutes and sometimes you can extend that time.  The most important thing is that you practice for ANY amount of time each day.  After a few weeks, this’ll give you a firmly entrenched Practice Ritual that you’ll be able to continue for the rest of your life.  

All you need to do…is begin!

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