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Habits and Routines

I have recently discovered that YouTube has an application with which one can create video captions. This is exciting news to me, as I am hearing-challenged and love the idea of adding captions to my Upper Hands Piano instructional videos for piano students who are similarly afflicted. It’s not a perfect app; I have to go through and add periods, capitalizations, and corrections to the captions –this morning I changed “sea cord” to “C chord” 🙂 –but the app makes editing captions easy.

Through this process it has been disconcerting for me to discover that I have lots of bad verbal habits. I say “um” quite a bit, but I say “okay” and “so,” all the time! I had no idea. It is great for me to know this because I am currently creating page-by-page instructional videos to accompany Upper Hands Piano BOOK 1. Now that I know that I am constantly yammering “um”, “so” and “okay,” I want to become more aware my language, and cut out a lot of my filler speech.

While I’m trying to break some of my bad habits, I’m also trying to institute some good routines. I exercise every day, but don’t do much core/abdominal work, so I am trying to do a plank exercise every morning at 6:30 am. I have an alert in my iPhone calendar so that it pops up each morning as I am waking up. I am also trying to become a better accordion player (I am learning Gypsy Jazz and Irish tunes), so I have another alert in my phone to “Practice Accordion” at 7 pm.

From my years of research on learning science and memory, I know that if you want to get good at something, you need to try to do it every day. I do my plank every day, but I practice accordion an average of about 5 days a week. There are so many things we need to do each day- it’s difficult to add another activity to an already overloaded day. But it’s important to me to be intentional about how I live my life, and what I want to accomplish, so I find that when I have taken at least 10 minutes a day to practice my accordion (and also the piano of course!), I feel an emotional lift.

In her book, Better Than Before, author Gretchen Rubin shows that we have much better success in doing something if we make it part of our daily routine, rather than trying to rely on self-discipline. So I try to pair my accordion practice with dinner (I practice right after dinner dishes are done), which is great except when we go out or I have a late lesson. It might be better to pair it with something else earlier in the day. I pair my morning plank with brushing my teeth so that is failsafe.

There are some emotional roadblocks involved in piano practice. Sometimes it takes feeling in a good mood to be able to face the difficulties of playing the piano. In his book The Now Habit, author Neil A. Fiore says, “People don’t procrastinate just to be ornery or because they’re irrational. They procrastinate because it makes sense, given how vulnerable they feel to criticism, failure, and their own perfectionism.”

Ouch. It’s so true. If we could just play the piano in the spirit of curiosity, just from an interest in learning, instead of judging our intelligence, ability, or self-worth by the speed of our progress, we might be more consistent.

If you have been following this blog for awhile, you know that I suggest that students play the piano for as little as 10 minutes per day. Over the years we have done several 30-day challenges to Pledge To Play 10 Minutes A Day. During those 30 days, piano students and teachers have reported amazing progress, simply because they have played every day. Scientific research bears this out- you will make better progress by playing daily for 10 minutes than from playing once a per week for 70 minutes. That is because the brain learns best through daily exposure than from one long session. Of course playing more than 10 minutes is even better, but if you practice for at least 10 minutes, you can go to sleep feeling proud that you got your daily dose of musical benefits. And you’ll see real progress by the end of the week.

In a previous post called Practice Small, I suggest ways to approach your short practice sessions. When I am practicing accordion, I let my mood dictate my focus. Sometimes I really want to get better at a particular piece, so I practice the difficult passages several times before playing the piece from the beginning. Other times I want to play several songs through just for the joy of playing them. You will practice best when you are doing what is calling to you in the moment. If you find that you are continuously avoiding a piece or exercise, it might be best to choose something else. As adults we can choose what we want to play, learn, and focus on, and we will practice more when we like what we are playing.

Don’t worry about how quickly you think you should be learning something. Every skill has its own timeline. Trust in your process; you’ll get there. Remember also to go back and enjoy playing pieces that have become easy and fun for you. Life shouldn’t always be so hard.

What are some routines you would like to fold into your life every day?

Tell me if you’re interested in doing another Pledge to Play: 10 Minutes A Day, 30-day challenge.

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