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5 Tips on Motivating Yourself to Practise

How to Motivate Yourself to Practise When You're Not in the Mood

I was watching a video of trumpet virtuoso Sergei Nakariakov the other day (a video of his had popped up on my Insta) and I wondered - does he ever get up in a morning and thinks 'nah I really can't be bothered practising today'? Obviously a player of his calibre must be super disciplined and when music is your livelihood, I suppose this provides a level of motivation that us amateur players may not have.

That's not to say that we banders can't be dedicated to our practice. I know banders, who plan and execute hours of disciplined practice every single week and I follow plenty of amateur musicians on social media who post their practice videos with aesthetically-pleasing setups and perfectly written plans in beautiful practice notebooks.

I am neither of the above examples.

Since I stopped having instrumental lessons when I was 19, I've basically turned into a little musical goblin with a messy practice stand in the corner of a room; various mutes strewn around my feet and hastily scrabbled notes on pieces of paper or post-its - stroking my instrument whispering 'my precious' - (ok that last bit might not be true). Practice used to be out of necessity to prep for an upcoming concert or contest, rather than for the long-term improvement of my abilities or to enjoy playing. But it's one of my New Year's resolutions to change this and, so far, I've been doing well. Don't get me wrong, I've not magically transformed from an ad hoc 'practicer' to a laser-focused playing machine. Like all of us amateur musicians, I have a day job and other commitments outside of banding and some days I really cannot be bothered. So, the question is how can we motivate ourselves to devote some of our hard-earned free time to practising our instrument?

We're in the throes of January - it's dark, the weather is miserable, my wallet has shrunk, my waistline has expanded - my dedication to fulfilling my new year's resolutions is being tested. So, I had a bit of a brainstorm for when the day inevitably comes when the novelty of 'wanting to better myself' wears off. Here are 5 ideas I came up with to keep both myself and you motivated to practise on the days where we really couldn't give a flying banana about practising.


Let's do this.

1) Make a Plan

One of the biggest hurdles for me when it comes to practice is feeling overwhelmed through having no plan and wondering where the hell to start. It sounds so simple, but having a plan of what you want to work on can help to prevent you putting off your practice session. I've practised for longer and more frequently when I've had a clear plan for the session. It doesn't even need to be complicated - here is an idea of a practice plan to get you started:

Brass Band Practice Plan Example:

(Note: when you're in your rehearsals/lessons/classes, make a note of excerpts within the repertoire you're working on that needs work - i.e. tricky passages, areas you've not looked at yet, bars with frequent mistakes - you're going to need these notes for your plan).

  • Warm-up - long notes, breathing exercises, lip slurs - (10 mins)

  • First excerpt (e.g. a section of a test piece you want to work on) - (15 mins)

  • Second excerpt - (15 mins)

  • Third excerpt - (15 mins)

  • Warm down - (5 mins)

Examples of how to work on excerpts:

  • Switch on a metronome and start off playing the excerpt really slow - half speed or less, to fully grasp the notes, any articulation, accidentals etc.

  • As you gain confidence, slowly speed up the metronome until you reach the intended tempo marking.

  • For tricky technical sections, distort the rhythm by switching into dotted notes or triplets.

There you have a simple practice plan for a 60 minute session. Everybody is different so you could take these timings and play around with them until you find something that works for you. Make it shorter or longer - add in extra sections, such as 10 mins working on a piece you enjoy or dedicating sections of the session to particular types of exercises such as double/triple tonguing or intervals or even sections dedicated to skills like improvisation.

2) Get Inspired

Nothing makes me feel like a lazy so-and-so than when I'm vegetating on the couch, scrolling through social media and a video of a soloist performing, either from the brass band or the classical world, pops up. They're there in concert dress, stunning an audience with virtuosic musicality and I'm there slobbing away in some kind of fluffy hoodie and legging combo. I do find this juxtaposition strangely motivating, especially if they are playing a piece I've played before or a piece that I like.

On the It's Not a Trumpet social media pages I follow a lot of bands, soloists and music creators in order to gain inspiration - and there is plenty of inspiration to be found. I would highly, HIGHLY recommend following a range of musicians on your social media pages and when you find yourself scrolling mindlessly instead of practising, take yourself off to these musicians' pages and scroll through some of their videos. Some creators even post their practice routines on their social media pages which can be an even bigger source of inspiration. Plenty of motivating content at your fingertips, ready and waiting for you. I've been posting my own practice routines and tips on the It's Not a Trumpet Instagram and TikTok pages - hopefully they could be of some use (or at least entertaining!), so drop us a follow if you fancy!

Not a social media fan? Why not head to Spotify or YouTube and have a listen to some incredible players or some of your favourite brass band pieces?

3) 10 Minute Rule

Ok, so now we've looked at planning and finding some inspiration - let's get down to the business of actually picking up our instruments and practising. Now, I get it, after a long day of working, looking after the kids, cleaning the house or any other strenuous day-to-day activities you may have going on, the thought of spending half an hour, an hour, or more practising may seem less appealing than say chilling out in front of the tv. But, if you're still reading this article, then I'm going to assume that you do really want to get in the habit of practising more which does mean pushing through the 'I don't want to' barrier a little bit - but don't be put off, it just takes a small step.

Ten minutes. That's all we're aiming for. Grab your phone, shout at Alexa or grab an egg timer or any other gadget that will allow you to set some kind of timer. If you've made a plan, like we outlined in the first tip, grab that too. Now, pick an element of your plan or, if you're really struggling in the motivation department, let's pick something you WANT to play. Whatever you choose to work on, we're going to focus on that solely for 10 minutes. No getting distracted by phone notifications, procrastinating or anything other than playing until the 10 minute timer goes off.

Worst case scenario: you get to the end of the 10 minutes and you don't feel like you can or want to do any more - 10 minutes is better than nothing!

Best case scenario: you get into your flow, you enjoy the challenge of working through your practice plan or the piece of music you've chosen to look at and you carry on practising for a bit, or maybe even a lot longer.

Motivation for practice is like motivating yourself for anything else - going to the gym, writing a large piece of coursework, cleaning out that one cupboard in your house that you've been saying you were going to tidy for months (the one that you have to jam the door closed it's so full) - the hardest step is starting. Ten minutes is all it could take. Don't beat yourself up if ten minutes is all you manage - it's better than zero, just make sure you try again for ten minutes tomorrow.

4) Romanticise It

This sounds a bit bizarre, and it might not be for everyone but stick with me. I'm not saying that you need to get confetti cannons and pop a bottle of bubbly (to be fair if it will help, go for it!). What I am saying is rather than rushing through practice as a chore that must be done, add some little touches that make it what it should be - enjoyable. Romanticise it a little bit. If you know there is a point in your week where you can spare a decent bit of time, such as an hour or so on a Saturday afternoon, plan a session where you can really take your time and enjoy it. Make yourself a drink you enjoy - cup of tea, an iced coffee, your favourite hot chocolate - maybe a cheeky G&T if you're over 18. Light a scented candle (nice little bit of ambience) - basically create an environment that's relaxed and pleasant. At the end of the day, as an amateur musician, we are doing this for fun - so let's make it enjoyable.

As Mary Poppins said, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down" - I see this tip as the spoonful of sugar that has the power to entice you to practise more often.

5 ) Practise Together

Why not invite your band bestie round for a practice session or if your partner is also a bander (and rehearsing together is not likely to cause an argument) why not practise together? If your parts (or even instruments) are different it can be fun finding pieces or exercises that work for your situation - maybe try out a duet? If you're working on the same piece, such as concert repertoire or a test piece, it could be useful to have a fresh pair of eyes that might be able to help you through the parts you're not sure of. Music also has a wonderful way of bringing us closer, so if nothing else, rehearsing together is a lovely way to spend some time with those who share your love of banding.

No Pressure Method

It's important to remember that you are a human being, life can be tough and it can be more beneficial to your wellbeing, as well as your music-making to rest rather than practice. If you know you're more likely to get distracted or frustrated because your head isn't in the game, for whatever reason, taking a break may be a better idea.

For me, practice is a bit like going to the gym. Sometimes, when you feel rubbish, going to the gym is the last thing you want to do - but if you know you're going to feel better afterwards, then it's good to motivate yourself to go. But sometimes, we're in a space mentally, where having a rest and getting back to it tomorrow (as long as you do get back to it tomorrow) is more beneficial. However, I

if you're the type of person who knows they are less likely to pick up their instrument regularly if they have a break, then have a quick 10 minute session or just have a play through some pieces you enjoy to keep yourself going.

At the end of the day, this is a hobby and it is supposed to be fun - disciplined fun, if you want to make progress - but fun nonetheless and this is a key point to remember. You're practising because you enjoy it or you want to be the best player you can be or you want to overcome certain challenges in your playing. Beating yourself up or piling the pressure on is not a positive experience, so why would you want to repeat that. Remember:

  • This is a hobby

  • Without mistakes there is no progress

  • Progression over perfection

Ready to Make 2024 Your Best Musical Year Yet?

Well I'm ready to kick some brass - are you? Let's make this year the best banding year. Whether your goal is to smash a particular performance, nail it on the contest stage or simply increase the frequency of your practice sessions - let's do it! Want some help planning your practice sessions? Download my FREE Practice Journal sheets that prioritise progress as well as enjoying your instrumental practice.

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