Establishing a Practice Habit, Part 3: Make It Easy
One of the primary goals we’ve been working on in establishing a practice habit thus far is to create a regular behavior of getting to the piano several times throughout the week. A practice habit becomes more automatic through repetition. We aren’t tracking the number of minutes a student practices at this point. Instead, we’re focusing on just getting to the piano and playing. The number of times a student practices is more important and beneficial at this point than the amount of time spent practicing. We want a student to master the habit of showing up.
By nature, we’re wired to take the path of least resistance when confronted with a task. We want to do what’s easiest and most convenient. Here are some ways to remove obstacles and make practice time easier.
Have the practice space organized and ready to go. At the end of each practice session, open to the first piece or assignment to be practiced the next day and place it on the music rack. Keep a pencil there too. Have all the materials for the week neatly stacked on the piano or bench. When the student sits down to practice, they’re all set and ready to begin.
Create a two minute ritual to begin each practice session. The hardest part of practicing is often just getting started. Begin each practice session with the same routine. For example, mark the day on the practice calendar (yes, before they even play anything; after all, they showed up!). Then play a simple scale or warmup exercise from their technique assignment. This helps the student get focused and prepare their fingers and ears for practicing. Once they’ve gotten started, it’s easier to continue and complete the work they need to do.
It’s OK to make some practice sessions super short rather than skipping it altogether. Help students realize that by just getting to the piano and looking at one finger skill or a section of a piece, they’ve been successful. Remember, we’re working to master the habit of showing up.
Use sticky notes or flags to mark the pages assigned for the week. This is an easy way to move from one piece or book to the next with minimal effort.
Keep extra pencils, erasable highlighters, erasers, highlighter tape, and other practice aids in a small container in the practice space so they’re easy to find. It’s frustrating and disruptive to have to stop and go looking for something in the middle of practicing.
Remember that in the early stage of developing a practice habit, the frequency of practice is more important that the amount of time each day. Simply showing up at the piano is a successful day!
(Some of the ideas noted in this post are based on James Clear's book Atomic Habits. I highly recommend it!)