I Don’t Like Practicing

Call it Fred

Judy Minot
6 min readJan 6, 2024

Many people tell me they don’t like practicing. Music teachers often write to me about new students who announce, “I really want to learn to play the [violin/chromatic button accordion/harp guitar], and I love the music, but I don’t want to practice.” If you find yourself thinking this way, you’ve probably got poor associations with what it means to practice. Don’t feel bad. All musicians have been there.

There’s no getting around it, you’re going to need to practice if you’re committed to being a better player. (Can you imagine learning a new language without having to practice speaking, listening or writing it?)

The good news is you can make practicing an activity that you love. You’re an adult, and you get to be in charge. So you can decide exactly what “practicing” is going to be for you. After all, practicing is simply a way of playing your instrument that helps you explore the sounds you make and how to improve them. If, at the end of the day, you don’t want to call that “practicing,” call it something else. Call it “Fred.”

Exercise 1: Reflection on Practicing

If you are feeling a gut-level resistance to practicing, sit down with a paper and pen. Take 3 minutes — use a timer — to write all the things that occur to you when you think about practicing.

Here are a few reactions I’ve heard from others, or that bubbled up in my own thoughts:

  • I just want to play the tunes. I don’t want to play things that are unmusical (like scales or exercises)
  • Practicing feels like a mindless exercise
  • When I practice, I have to think about what I’m doing wrong, instead of the things I love about playing. I end up feeling so bad about myself.
  • I don’t know where to start
  • I’m not sure I’m benefitting: I don’t think practicing helps me get any better

You’re now armed with some information you can use.

For example, if you only want to play tunes, then base your practicing around playing the tunes. A single tune can offer a host of opportunities for improvement in technical ability, musicality, or just improving your posture and calmness. After the basics of learning the notes, you can start working on fingering issues, making arrangements, or fine tuning phrasing. You can cut a tune up into little snippets and turn them into little exercises to improve facility. You can play it in different keys. There are endless possibilities. None of them is mindless or unmusical. They can be completely based on your goals, and you only have to do anything as long as you want to.

You never have to play mindlessly or unmusically. In fact, I hope you never play mindlessly or unmusically for a single minute, ever again. If something is boring you, you should stop and figure out why. On the other hand, if you get to a place in a tune where you think having more facility with the scale or arpeggio would help, then it may not seem boring or mindless to practice that scale or arpeggio.

A copy of Hanon’s piano exercises I’ve had since I was a teen. At some point I wrote on the cover, “mind numbing exercises for the killing of the musical spirit.”

“Repetitive” doesn’t have to be “mindless.” The point of repeating something is to give it your full attention, so you can figure out how to do it better each time. When you repeat a phrase with the full laser focus of your mind, you’ll find you improve much faster, and you don’t have to do endless boring repetitions. Just a few can make a measurable difference.

You don’t have to practice for a set length of time every day. Although it does help to have a routine, if you’re practicing past the point of enjoyment just to fill out the “hour,” you’re not doing yourself any favors. Stop while you’re having fun.

It’s likely that a past experience gave you a bad association with “practicing.” Most musicians have tales to tell on this subject, as do many more who might otherwise have had a lifetime of playing music. High school band, childhood piano lessons, and memes that insist you need 10,000 hours can all contribute to the problem. It’s worth giving some thought to what items in your list are connected to your past experiences.

Practicing brings out the inner critic in many of us. It can be a long-term effort to quiet the inner voice that focuses on what we do wrong, rather than rejoicing in what we are doing right. That work, however, is very rewarding, and worth integrating into your practice in its own right.

If you question what to do when you’re practicing, or whether practicing is helpful, useful, or beneficial, you need formulate a better practice plan. What are you working toward? What could help you get there? There is a lot in my book, Best Practice, about how to set goals for practicing and how to reenergize when you feel like you’ve reached a plateau. A teacher can also be very helpful.

Exercise 2: Why Do You Want to Play?

Get your paper and pen again. Set the timer and write down all the reasons you want to play. What kinds of music do you like the most? Why do you want to play this instrument? If you play multiple instruments, what do you love most about each? What settings do you imagine yourself playing in, once you have achieved some proficiency?

Your answers may be varied and may even surprise you. You might love playing piano but took up the whistle because you can carry it everywhere. Some instruments are more suited to playing in social situations like jam sessions or community orchestras. You may just like the way an instrument feels against your body, or it may be a better match with the music you love the most. When you have a better understanding of why you want to play, you’ll be able to orient your practicing so you realize your playing goals.

Read Best Practice

It feels very corny to end my blog post by saying, “There’s a lot more about this in my book,” but in truth, my motivation for writing Best Practice was to help adult musicians, particularly trad and folk musicians, enjoy practicing and get more out of it. There are chapters on how to set practice goals, how to feel good about our accomplishments (instead of feeling terrible about all the things we still can’t do), how to get out of a rut, how to use tune snippets to create your own exercises, how to play more musically, how to enlist the support of your body, and much, much more.

Practicing Can Be Rewarding Beyond Measure

The bottom line is, if you don’t love practicing, you just need to learn a better way to practice. Ultimately when you learn to set your own goals and pay attention to what you’re doing, practicing can be rewarding beyond measure.

Here‘s a starting point in Best Practice, some chapters where you’ll find more about making practicing an activity you love.

9–Having a Plan
28–Interrupt the Loop
32–Tailor-Made Technical Exercises
54–Tracking Small Wins
74–Discernment vs. Criticism
83–Playing as Play
118–Stop When You Feel Good
158–Scales and Arpeggios
169–Continuous Growth
172–Wake Up Your Warm-Ups

Judy Minot is a musician and the author of the book Best Practice: Inspiration and Ideas for Traditional Musicians.

Judy has played and practiced piano since she could reach the keys, training in classical playing until age 16. She now plays traditional music in various settings on a number of instruments, and gives workshops and classes on Best Practice ideas all over the U.S., Europe, and virtually.

Judy spent her working life in broadcast television and digital marketing. She holds a 4th degree black belt in the martial art of Kokikai Aikido and is a certified yoga teacher.

For more information visit: www.judyminot.com/bestpractice

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Judy Minot

A musician and author of the book Best Practice: Inspiration and Ideas for Traditional Musicians