Time management is one of the most important skills musicians must master. The uninterrupted hours that are afforded to music students for practice time in college cease to exist after graduation. Once students enter the “real world” they have to balance a day job, personal/family life, and a musical career that in some cases will include both collaborative and solo projects. All of these things need attention in order to sustain a fulfilling life and financially viable career. Whether you are about to launch your professional career, are years into it, or are still several years away from it, it is always worthwhile to consider and evaluate one’s own practice habits.
SET A GOAL
Driving with no destination is a waste of gas. Every time you practice you should have a specific destination in mind, whether that be making it to a specific rehearsal mark or nailing a four-bar lick at the end of a phrase. Either way, if you set out with a specific goal, you will have a metric to gauge how successful your practicing habits are.
QUALITY OVER QUANTITY
True or False: a two-hour practice session can be more valuable than an eight-hour practice session? Let’s be honest, how many of us can say that we have actually focused on our music for a full eight-hour session? I know I can’t! Often, the longer we practice, the less valuable it becomes—in some cases potentially becoming counterproductive if bad habits are allowed to be repeated. Furthermore, as musicians graduate from music school, they find themselves with less and less time to practice. The trick to a successful practice session is focusing on the quality of the session. A two-hour, goal-driven, laser-focused practice session can be more productive and schedule-friendly than more extended shifts that we may be used to putting in inside a university practice room.
No matter how much time you set aside to practice, efficiency is the key to effectiveness! Before you practice, plan out your goals for that day and allot an amount of time to accomplish each goal. Time allotments do not have to be accurate, as you can adjust them based on how fast or slow you are progressing. Be sure that you have a timer to keep yourself on track, and when the time runs out for that specific goal, make it a point to stop. If you were not successful in accomplishing your goals in the allotted time frame, reflect on the things that took longer than expected and why they took longer, and adjust your schedule for the future to better accommodate those things.
GIVE YOURSELF GRACE
We are our own worst critics! If your practice session did not go as well as you wanted, reflect on and reroute your efforts but do not punish yourself. It may be possible that your goals for that practice session were ones that are meant to be accomplished over a period of days and not all in one day. Most things, especially in this field, take time to come together. The piece you are stressing over was likely not written in a day and therefore should not be attempted to be learned in a day.
Be sure to schedule breaks regularly to combat fatigue. Practicing non-stop for long periods of time can lead to mental fatigue, making it hard to remain productive, and physical fatigue, opening the door to poor technique or, worse, injury. Time your breaks so that you can stay on task during your focused practice sessions. Furthermore, on your breaks I suggest taking a walk, even if it’s to the restroom. Even better, find a window or a door to the outside world and take in some fresh air and nature for a few minutes to clear your head.
KEEP A PRACTICE LOG
Lastly, have a dedicated place to track what you practiced and for how long. This can be a physical journal or notebook or even a spreadsheet on the computer. In it, notate the day that you practiced, how long you practiced, your goals for that practice session, and what you accomplished in that practice session. Doing this will not only help you remember what you practiced but will also serve as a measuring tool to see how efficient your practice sessions are. It may be helpful to have a “notes” section in your practice log to write reminders or other notes to yourself either before or after your practice session.
These guidelines are easily adaptable to any work situation and should not be limited to the practice room. I hope these tips help you to take control of the one thing that can never be returned: your time!
Derrick Greene began playing drum set in church and eventually joined the marching band in high school, which led him to pursue his bachelor’s degree in music with a concentration in education from Tennessee State University. After finishing at Tennessee State, Derrick enrolled at the University of Memphis, where he earned his Master of Music degree in percussion performance. Currently, Derrick serves as one of the assistant band directors of Tennessee State University’s Aristocrat of Bands and serves as the head of percussion studies at He also serves as a teaching artist with the National Museum of African American Music, and he performs regularly with various groups such as Brassville and Uzoma Obiora and The Path to Freedom. Greene is the owner of a YouTube channel, The Greene Beat, where he posts educational videos about percussion as well as reference videos of various percussion pieces.