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How to Develop Strong, Lasting Practice Habits

music_brain-299x300For all of us,  a strong practicing routine or practice habit can be the most difficult aspect of playing the instrument. Often times, our personal lives have become so jammed with so many activities including, but not at all limited to, family, friends and of course, work and out employment commitments.

Odds are, there is a tough life/fun balance always tugging away at you and your ability to commit time to practicing and reaching your true potential a musician. So the question is: how do you fit in a practice routine in the wake of all the craziness of life and, above all, make it stick and pay off for you?

First off, lets ask…

First, What IS a Habit?

Habits are behaviors done enough time until the body reacts automatically to a stimulus. Practice habits at their core are what you choose to practice, when and how much of it with regards to what your bigger goals are as a musician. If you want to get really good at walking bass, you wouldn’t spend a lot of time practicing slapping, would you?

To make a good habit, I think it is important to understand how habits are formed and how they behave. Here are some of the major points behind habit creation:

  • Work in a three pattern loop: Trigger or Cue, Routine (or Action) and Reward. Take for example your morning routine: you hear an alarm go off, you get up, perform a series of actions including shower, change and eat breakfast in a certain order and get in your car to go to work. For example, look at your morning routine: alarm clock goes off (cue), shower, make coffee, get in the car and go to work (probably in a particular order) (routine) and you weren’t late (reward).


  • Habits can be triggered by anything. A smell, sound, memory, location, commercial, color sighting – anything. And this trigger kicks off the loop mentioned above.


  • Bad habits can’t be eliminated, per se, but they can be rewired into good, beneficial habits. In other word, “breaking a habit” is a misnomer. A habit’s cue and reward are two things that cannot be changed; once made, they’re stuck to your head and you associate one with the other. For example, if you feel stressed (cue), you might smoke a cigarette (routine) and feel better (reward). You can feel stressed a lot in life – you can’t really avoid that – but you can change how you feel better when stressed. THAT’S how you rewire bad habits: keep the cue and the reward and change the action. You’re stressed (cue), so you take a walk (routine) and you feel better (reward).


  • Your brain does not know “good” or “bad” habit. Habit’s are the brain’s way of automating behavior. Once it realizes that you are doing something over and over and over based on the loop above, your brain assumes that these are the actions to do when you’re hungry or tired for example. The brain only knows how to “automate” the behavior – it doesn’t discern good or bad – just what’s easy.


  • Integration of brand new habits come from introducing something new to something familiar. 

For more information on this topic, I highly recommend Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit.


How Do I Take This Knowledge and Apply It To Practice Habits?

If you want to make a habit of practicing every day for, say, 20 minutes, here’s an easy way to take the knowledge above and apply it directly. These steps help identify what makes you practice in the first place and where, how and what you do already and will help you develop your practice routine for bass guitar:

1. Identify the time of day (hour of the day, if you can) that you typically find yourself practicing or, at least, picking up your bass to play.

2. Identify how you practice and what makes you feel most in the zone? Do you like to play with a metronome versus silence? A backing track versus a metronome? What makes time fly for you?

3. Write all of that information down on a piece of paper so you can see it in real time. Some of this information alone might be pretty revealing.

4. What prompts you to practice? A feeling, sound, time of day?

5. What kind of practice routine do you want to achieve? Daily? Bi-daily? 20 minutes? 30 minutes?

Based on this new found information, and the information about habits above, take a minute to bring it all together: what do you want to be doing and what are you doing now? Once you answer that question, you will begin to see how to make the habit and make it work for you.


Give it a shot!

Keep on playing,