Try a Motivation Ritual

young man playing the piano
Last Updated on 2024-06-07 | Originally Posted on 2019-09-21


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