Time and Place

Introduction

Time and place have more to do with practice than any others. For some, they are tightly linked, but for others, they may not be. If you’ve been finding it difficult to get a practice routine established, or your old routine doesn’t work any longer, make this powerful combination your best friend.

Time

Exploring time on its own, as I did place, you need to find out when you have blocks of time that you could use for practice. Once you find out where your free time is, you need to decide what are the best blocks of time to schedule practice. If you have an acoustic piano, or you don’t want to use headphones with a digital one, you will likely have restrictions about practicing during sleeping hours. You also might find that your energy is not good at certain times of the day, and avoid those as well.

Once you find a good time for practice, you might just be disciplined enough to sit down to practice, or you might need a Motivation Ritual to get started. Depending on your practice goal, you might want to make it a time that’s repeatable each day, so that you have some likelihood of practicing at least several days per week. You could instead just choose whatever time you have available, and rely on the place to be the deciding factor.

Place

Some of you might be saying, but I have just one choice. My piano is where it is. If you have an acoustic piano, that may very well be the case. If you have a digital piano, however, relocating it might be much easier. Your piano should be somewhere that makes it conducive for practice. If it’s in a common area where there is high foot traffic, competition with TV or video games, or a host of other distractions, it might be time to move it.

If you can’t relocate your home instrument, do you have a secondary place where you can practice? I’m sort of lucky that I’m affiliated with several churches, so I have options for both piano and organ practice. However, even having an alternate location once or twice a week might be worth exploring. Or, maybe you can find an inexpensive used portable digital piano that you could put in a better location of your home or office. Yes, one of my students has considered the latter!

Time and Place

While I tried to purposely keep time and place separated, you’ll see that they interconnect quite a bit. If you’ve read anything that I’ve written about my practice, you will quickly understand that I am not a good model for your practice. I practice just two or three days per week and usually practice for a long period of time. That’s the exact opposite recommendation I give to most of my youngest students. However, my model might work for teens and adults who have lumpy schedules and need to fit practice around life.

My time and place are typically at my church job in Bella Vista, where I work three days a week. In particular, I find that Friday and Sunday to be my best options for practice, where I can spend at least an hour or two, sometimes more, on the piano or organ. That is at a peak energy time for me, and I have two beautiful pianos from which to choose.

I have a decent home instrument, a Yamaha U1 studio upright, but it’s not a grand piano. It’s not my preferred place to practice. Plus, when I’m at home it’s typically early in the day or late at night and so the time doesn’t work out. Another strike for place is that I find myself most reluctant to practice at home because I’m trying to conquer housework, cook and clean dishes, keep my plants alive, answer emails, and much more. Spontaneous practice, just for fun, is not happening in that environment.

In Conclusion

I hope I’ve encouraged you to think about time, place, and their interconnection. I first read about this in the context of a visual artist, who like me, finds that she does her best work when in a studio, not at home. I don’t remember her specifics, but they were similar to mine. The best space has few distractions, whether they be of the drudgery type, like dishes and laundry, or of the fun type, like a giant HDTV. If you have only one place to practice, you might have to tweak your practice time. Try a few different ones to find what works. Then make it stick!

Last Updated 2022-03-10 | Originally Posted 2022-03-10

Try a Motivation Ritual

Introduction

Establishing a practice habit seems like it should be pretty simple. If you’ve already established this habit, you realize that it requires just time and place. How do you get started, though, if you haven’t established the habit? I learned so much aobut habit formation when I read James Clear’s Atomic Habits in a book club of fellow piano teachers. Even though the book wasn’t targeted at musicians, many of the habit-forming ideas directly apply to practice. One of them is the motivation ritual.

What Is A Motivation Ritual?

A motivation ritual is a device that leads you to establish a new habit. Let’s say you want to get in the habit of doing some Bible or other devotional book reading in the morning. Your best hope of establishing this habit would be to connect it with a kickoff activity, something that’s related to the habit. You decide the kitchen table is the perfect place, and you have your materials already there. You prepare a cup of coffee or tea and sit down with the book on the table in front of you. Why not start reading?

How Can It Be Applied to Piano?

You can create a motivation ritual for piano practice as well. Although a beverage or snack might also work, you might want to choose something more tightly aligned with music. It could be to listen to a piece of music on your phone or watch a video on YouTube, while seated on the piano bench, which leads you to practice the piano. Or, you might sit down at the piano to play your favorite piece, play a scale, or do some sight reading.

Getting Started Is Usually Enough

The beauty of the motivation ritual is that it makes practice possible without being heavy-handed. There may be some days where practice doesn’t follow the kickoff activity. However, once you get started, the activity becomes the motivation to continue. You start working on a piece, and you want to keep going. You make an improvement to a phrase, and you want to do the same to the next phrase. You realize you have other work to do on the next page, and you all of a sudden find that you’re in a flow state. You can’t get there if you don’t get started.

In Conclusion

I have established my own practice habit, but I sometimes need a motivation ritual to get started, too. I enjoy a cup of coffee or tea as much as the next person, but sometimes I just want to have fun instead of practicing. In those cases, I settle for having a little fun before getting to work. That could mean watching 15 minutes of Netflix as my kickoff activity. What motivation ritual works best for you?

young man playing the piano
Jeune Homme au Piano (1876) – Gustave Caillebotte – Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo
Last Updated 2022-03-05 | Originally Posted 2019-09-21