Thursday, June 6, 2013

Five minutes a day?

A few years ago I was privileged to be teaching at a studio with a guitarist friend of mine. He is truly one of the most creative, unique and thoughtful practitioners of the six-string art I've ever encountered.

One day we were trading stories and shop talk, and we struck up a deal to take lessons from each other. I'd teach him percussion, and he'd teach me guitar. Knowing my own schedule and priorities, I decided to test the "how much time to commit" waters. The following conversation took place.

"How much would I have to practice every day to make progress?"

"Five minutes."


"Yep. If you focus on just one thing, and really work for those five minutes, you can make a little bit of progress if you do it every day."

Over the years of teaching, practicing, rehearsing and just generally trying to improve myself as a musician and a person, I've found the wisdom of this philosophy. Often we try to do it all at once. We want to work on stick control, four-mallet chops, independence, speed, creativity and twelve new styles all at once. That can result in lack of focus and ineffective practice sessions - and little to no results.

Now, I'm not saying you should always limit yourself to only one thing. You should definitely have a well developed and comprehensive plan to become the musician/person you want to become. What I'm saying is that what it takes to make forward progress usually comes down to focus and consistency.

So, here are today's two cliche rules for becoming a better musician.

First, whatever your top priority is, you must work on it every day. Every day. Especially if you can really only give it five minutes.

Second, whether you practice five minutes or five hours at a time, you must focus. Particularly if your time frame is short, you have to make every rep count.

Happy forward progressing!


  1. I totally agree about putting in daily work. I often tell my woodwind students that if they only have enough time to wet a reed and warm - DO IT!!
    I find that I can't maintain my level of performance, unless I'm playing 30+ a day (minimum). Having said that, there are days when all I can squeeze in is a few scales, or my favorite etude/excerpt.

    1. It's great to hear the perspective from a woodwind player. Thanks for weighing in!

  2. I completely agree! As a flutist your tone is the first thing that gets destroyed when you don't practice every day. The 5 minute rule on tone studies is what I tell my students (I do it too) to do if they are super busy. If you've got 10 min. add 5 min of scales. If you've got 15 min add 5 min of a technical etude.

    1. That's brilliant! It's so much healthier to think in terms of, "How much can I get done with the time I have?" instead of, "How long do I have to practice for?"


Why musicians should watch the big game (Seriously!)

Photo by  Ameer Basheer  on  Unsplash Here we are, about to watch another televised wrestling match over who puts a football on one en...