Spend Less Time Practicing, More Time Getting Your S**t Together

better-than-beforeIn Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin describes foundation habits that are necessary to make other positive changes. Translated into jaded musician-speak, it’s getting your s**t together. The four habits are: enough sleep, exercising, decluttering, and good diet. On this site, I’ve blogged about my attempts to eat better, live simply, etc. Yet I’ve still had this lingering feeling of guilt that I’m focusing too much on these habits and not on the #1 habit for working musicians: practicing.

If you’ve been through any sort of formal music program, you’ve most likely been told to practice as much as possible. Even if you haven’t gone through such a program, you’ve probably had a teacher who espoused the same philosophy.  I’m constantly seeing Facebook memes to the effect of, “Put down your computer and go practice. Now!” Obviously, practice is crucial for musical development, but as I’ve mentioned before, I think we go a little overboard with it.

Contemporary schools still function using industrial-era models – mass production, interchangeable students, and rigid hierarchies. Therefore, the only way to really set yourself apart in these systems is to have super-human technical abilities – which requires intensive, non-stop practice.  There’s nothing wrong with musicians who want to do this, but for a lot of people this just isn’t feasible.

Recently, there’s been more of an effort to emphasize self-care for musicians – that it’s OK to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthy, just don’t let it cut into your practice time. And here’s where you run into a wall: the foundation habits require a pretty major time investment, but you’re not allowed to take time away from your practice. If you have any sort of work or family responsibilities, you’re back to working on 4 hours of sleep and a lot of coffee.

A lot of the reason that I advocate for working smarter, not harder with practice is to make room for these other important habits. I’ve been trying to stick to keeping regular sleep schedule (11:30pm-7:30am – although this often gets disrupted by gigs), doing hot yoga (almost) daily, paring down to the bare essentials, and eating a plant-based diet – all of which require a fair bit of time. That said, not only is my practice a lot more efficient because of these habits, they’ve increased my productivity while finishing the e-book (more on that in future posts).

In college, I was told I needed to constantly practice or else I would bomb gigs and never get called again. As a working musician, the majority of musicians who I see get this treatment, put bluntly, don’t have their s**t together. Some of them are awesome musicians – much better than me – but they show up late, with their music disorganized, etc.

If we can give ourselves permission to take time away from practice and apply it toward taking care of our bodies, minds, and souls, then we can have the best of both worlds: being excellent musicians who also have their s**t together.

Note: This post originally appeared on my other site, Gig-Ready Jazz Bassist.

Author: Leah Pogwizd

Bassist and Instructor

6 thoughts on “Spend Less Time Practicing, More Time Getting Your S**t Together”

  1. Those foundation habits are the counterbalance to everything else in life. I struggle with them in my daily work/life imbalance. All of it gets in the way of practice. On top of that, our daughter just started pre-k this month, and I’m trying to help her at least eat and sleep enough daily so that she’s functional in school when I haven’t even got it down pat, myself. The variables of life make it all a moving target. I hope you fare better with it than I am! 😉

    1. It’s definitely a tough balancing act – especially with little ones. I know I’ll have to make some major adjustments to my practices if/when I become a parent. The thing I always try to keep in mind is that the point of any kind of practice is to be constantly becoming a better person – not just trying to be better than everyone else. Helping your daughter develop good habits and learning to balance multiple responsibilities are both things that make you a better person. It may take away time from practicing in the short-term, but in the long-term, it’s a good thing.

      1. That’s a good attitude to have. I do hope to help her learn good habits, and I think that as a side-effect, I might even be able to refine my own while trying to show her the right thing, or *a* right way, in any case. 😉

      2. There’s definitely no *one right way* to do things – different things work for different folks. Although I’m not a parent, I know that the best way to encourage good behavior in others is to model that behavior. It also holds you more accountable for your own behavior which, for many but not all people, can help us stick to good habits.

      3. You’re right about that – leading by example. There’s a lot of interesting psychology about that. I think it works better with people who are young or who are new to an environment, kind of like first impressions. I’ve been around people who are headstrong and… uncaring, too though. They tend to justify or simply not acknowledge or answer for bad behavior.

        In any event, good luck with your health choices – and with *bass*!

Leave a Reply