How to Make Piano Practice “Automatic”

I’m going to confess something. I’m a practice nerd. Like Star Trek nerd. I get super excited about practice, man. We talkin’ bout practice. Today, I just want to share a few practical strategies you can use right away.

Now when I say “automatic,” I don’t mean to become a mindless practicing robot. What I really mean is that practice is just a habit. You can make practice feel as natural as tying your shoes or brushing your teeth (unless that’s not normal for you… ew).

The journey to get there is tough… but the reward is oh so sweet.

First, set up your practice “environment.” Make it conducive to you wanting to practice. Why do you think restaurants are dimly lit at night? I read about a study saying low lights make a person more hungry or comfortable enough to stay longer. I don’t know how much truth there is to that but all fast food places seem to be as bright as the sun 24/7 (think about that).

So hang posters, quotes, pictures, pretty much ANYTHING you can think of that will inspire you to practice. Get rid of ALL distractions, your environment is supposed to be 100% motivation. If phones are ringing, a TV is on in the background, or even the kitchen is luring you towards its refrigerator (FROZEN PIZZA!), that’s a no-no. I remember my most influential piano teacher actually had a practice “shed” in the backyard away from the main house.

Next, start small. You have to walk before you run and crawl before you walk. Too many people overwhelm themselves by setting gigantic, unrealistic, impossible goals. You’re not going to conquer Mount Everest on your first hike. Progress is made by baby steps, not huge leaps. Start as small as 5 minutes if you have to. When that feels normal, add a minute or two. If that’s too much, back off and try again.

Small wins lead to huge victories.

Now for those times you don’t feel like practicing. Two things are inevitable in life: death and taxes. In your pursuit of excellence, there’s a third one to add: plateaus. When you’re trying to build consistency over the long run, you will hit a wall guaranteed. It’s inevitable. But remember that you can climb over it and resume your journey.

So when you reach a plateau, remember to try something simple. Just sit on your piano bench/chair. That’s it. Literally just sit there and wait… set a timer and stay for at least 5 minutes. I’m pretty sure you’ll get down to business within a minute or two though.

But what if you sit there for the full 5 minutes and leave? Well… you got bigger problems I can’t fix buddy!

I actually got this idea from fitness. There would be days where I would rather count the hairs on my dog than exercise. When I was feeling this unmotivated I simply made it a point to change into my workout gear. That’s right, I made changing my clothes THE goal. And it worked because at that point you pretty much have no choice to exercise since changing back into your day clothes will make you feel as embarrassed as that time you peed your pants at school (everyone’s been there).

Also, make sure you get a calendar. Not an app, an actual physical calendar. There’s nothing more satisfying and motivating (notice a theme here?) than seeing your progress visually. When you “x” out each day of successful practice, you’ll naturally feel tempted to keep the chain going. Famous comedian Jerry Seinfeld did this. One day he woke up and made a commitment to write one joke every day for an entire year. Think of how accomplished he must have felt when he looked up and saw 365 consecutive X’s on his wall.

Lastly, make the commitment to do it 30 days straight. This will be your toughest challenge but once you accomplish a whole month it will be smooth sailing. If not, you’re going to struggle and your practice routine will resemble a roller coaster ride (not the good kind). Scientifically speaking, it takes about 30 days for your brain to register something as a habit, a.k.a. “normal.”

So to wrap things up, making something “automatic” does take some work. You want to think of it as a pyramid of little tasks that you do every day for that one big goal. Remember, it’s a mountain you have to hike one step at a time. When you get there it’s as easy as pie.

Hope to see you at the top.