Practice Q&A [1/5] How To Find More Music Practice Time, with Gregg Goodhart

Do you have enough time to practice your music?

This is the first in a special series of episodes on how to tackle the biggest sticking points in your music learning. We recently surveyed our audience to learn about their experiences with music practice. The results were astounding! Across several hundred responses, we found a handful of really common and painfully frustrating practice issues – like, “How do I find time for music?”

To answer these big burning questions, we invited Gregg Goodhart, The Learning Coach, back on the show. Gregg is a leading expert on how to apply all of the latest scientific research and understanding of how the brain learns to skill acquisition, including in music. In this episode, we talk about what to do if you feel like there’s never enough time for practicing music.

After this episode, you may well find time that you didn’t even know existed, as well as ways to supercharge the time that you do have for practicing, and get better results faster.

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Christopher: Hi, my name is Christopher. I’m the founder and director of Musical U and welcome to Musicality Now. Have you ever been frustrated or disappointed with your music practice? Maybe you felt like there is just never enough time or you don’t seem to make any progress even when you do find the time and put in the work.

Christopher: If you’ve ever wondered what lets some musicians achieve the highest levels of worldwide success while others remain forever a struggling hobbyist, it’s not down to talent and it’s not purely about putting in the work. Science has shown over the last few decades that so-called talent is almost entirely a myth and there are actually very specific practical things that can make a dramatic difference in how fast anybody learns a skill, including in music.

Christopher: Despite that research, almost no music learners are actually able to put that into practice and get the benefits. I’m joined today by The Learning Coach, Gregg Goodhart. Gregg has been a guest on the show before, so I won’t give a full intro here. You can find the link to his past interview in the show notes for this episode at Suffice it to say, I consider Gregg to be the world’s leading expert on how to apply all of the latest scientific research and understanding of how the brain learns to practical knowledge and skill acquisition including in music.

Christopher: Gregg, say a quick hi, if you would.

Gregg: Hi, it’s great to be here with you.

Christopher: We’ve been working with Gregg on a brand new and unique course designed to help any music learner shift into high gear in their learning simply by adjusting the way they practice. As part of preparing that course, we surveyed our audience to learn about their experiences with music practice, and across several hundred responses there were a handful of really common and painfully frustrating sticking points that came through. I read through each and every one of those responses personally and I can tell you I felt your pain on a visceral level.

Christopher: I can relate, from my own experience to that frustration, that struggle, and that feeling of self-doubt or even inadequacy that comes up when you feel like you’re just not seeing the results from your music practice that you expected to.

Christopher: So I’ve invited Gregg to come on the show today and share his insights on how to tackle each of these big sticking points.

Christopher: We’re going to talk about what to do if you feel like there’s just never enough time for practicing music. We’re going to talk about how to get the biggest bang for your buck, how to make the most of the music practice time you do have. We’re going to talk about how to break through any problem or sticking point you might encounter in your music learning. How to stay motivated and interested and keep up a consistent practice habit, and how to always feel clear about how you should be spending your practice time.

Christopher: If you’re like most music learners, then you are ready and willing to put in the time and energy required to improve, but at the same time, you probably wish there was a way to make sure you were doing it right and would get the maximum payoff from the effort you do put in.

Christopher: As you’re about to discover, that payoff can actually be several times greater than what you’ve probably seen in the past, even at your very best. Shifting your practicing into high gear like we’re going to be talking about today, you just might discover you have a lot more apparent talent than you ever thought possible. So without further ado, let’s dive into the big questions and challenges that came up in that survey and get some expert insights on what can do to get better results faster.

Christopher: So if I had to name the number one point of frustration for people that came through in our survey it was, “I don’t have enough time. I can’t find enough time. I can’t seem to make the time. I can’t keep up putting in the time.”, and one fascinating thing was that we also asked people how much time they were spending, and I was shocked to see just how consistent it is, and keep in mind, we have some teachers, we have some pros in the survey responses, but for the most part they’re amateurs of one stripe or another, hobbyists, people who are passionate about music, but it’s not their full time gig.

Christopher: We had answers across the spectrum from five minutes a day to 5 minutes a week, to two hours a day and no matter how much time people were spending they were saying they did not have enough time. So Gregg, how is this possible, that however much time we seem to put into music practice, it always feels like there’s not enough time or we’re not getting the results we thought we would from that time?

Gregg: Well, it’s natural to feel that way when you have lots of things that are putting demands on your time, your mind has all these open loops that it’s trying to close and we don’t particularly close them.

Gregg: One helpful way for me. I thought private Catholic school for many years and there were kids on the football team, and they were on the debate team, and they were in AP classes, and they would tell me they didn’t have time to practice. And I’d say just allot a time inventory, not with specifics of what you’re doing, I go to school here, I do football here, just black all that stuff out. Black everything half hour that you’re obligated, even if it’s just meeting my friends down at the park every Saturday to shoot some hoops.

Gregg: And inevitably, what we found is you start closing that open loop of scheduling and you see your schedule from afar. And we’d always find, no matter how busy they were, we’d always find these white spots.

Gregg: Now, I was dealing with high school kids, but when I’d say, “Geez, what are you doing with those white spots there? That’s a couple hours. And we’re not even looking at the weekend. There’s a couple hours.” And the answer was almost always, “I don’t know. Texting?”

Gregg: And the truth is is that we do have more windows in which, and no, it’s not, “I’m going to find 15 minutes between the other 12, 15 hours that I’m working.”, it’s not that. We do have little windows so that’s the first thing.

Gregg: The second is, how are you using that time? There should definitely be no one who is practicing two hours a day who is not making progress and it’s what you’re doing in that time, but even short little bursts of practice, and I think most people would be amazed, if you manage it right, if you put the right things into your practice, starting with just 10 minutes, finding that 10 minute time, will get you much better at things within five days or so. That’s usually the plan that I use.

Gregg: And that will create motivation to do more. One of the reasons we think we don’t have time when we practice is we tend to think, especially if we’re older and dedicated and really want to do something, “I’ve got to find 30, 60, 90 minutes here because I’m going to buckle down and get it done.”

Gregg: That’s very hard to get started. What we’re talking about there is something in your brain called orienting selective attention. Going from what you were doing to what you are doing. And the harder the task it is that you’re going to undertake, the harder it is to actually do that.

Gregg: So if you reduce the time and say, “I will be perfectly satisfied with five minutes of practice five days a week.”, or 10 minutes of practice, that itself won’t be enough. And your natural reaction is going to be, “Oh, that’s not going to work. I’m not even going to start.

Gregg: However, if you put the right things in that time and really manage the way the brain learns, you will begin to notice improvement which will make you look forward, and there’s science on this, make you look forward to doing more practicing. So it really, I think finding the time might not be as hard as people think. It’s not being willing to put in five or 10 minutes because we think it’s worthless.

Gregg: You can really, and this isn’t, “Well, if you do it for a month you’ll get it.” Within a matter of days, you will notice how much better you get if you apply things like deliberate practice.

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