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Like Brushing Your Teeth

One of my teacher trainers told me that practicing should be like brushing your teeth. There is never a day when your tooth brushing is affected by other events in your day. The process is completely emotionally detached.

I mulled over her words of wisdom for quite some time after she said them to me. What struck me the most was the suggestion of emotionally detaching myself. All my life I have been told that music is supposed to express emotion. So it was almost like it would be wrong to try and strip that away.

For me, the teeth brushing example was a very interesting concept. I realized that the level of habitual repetition of that daily routine is rarely achieved in any other life areas. Dishes get put off, vacuuming, shopping for groceries.... but I always make the time to brush my teeth.

Always making the time for practice? A lofty ideal indeed.


  1. Interesting thoughts. My biggest annoyance with practicing as a daily habit usually comes back to how to keep it interesting. So many times I've felt bogged down by the "have to" and "need to" parts of playing scales, working sections, and sharpening skills.

    You can make a habit, saying you must/should do it in the day, but in order to have it worth keeping as a habit in your life later, there has to be a way to keep the passion going. I can feel the difference between going through the motions of playing (like I'm in a daze), and working on something that pushes me and gets me excited about pushing myself more.

    1. Well I suppose as a counter argument I'd have to ask why it's necessary for practicing to ALWAYS be interesting. I would say that if we're using the teeth brushing example, I don't consider that part of my day to be interesting or uninteresting. I mean, do you ever feel bored when brushing your teeth? I don't. It's completely ingrained in me.

      So if we're talking about the actual act of practicing, if practicing itself is still something that you (royal you) have to put effort into in order to make exciting in order for you to continue, does that mean it's not a habit yet?

  2. Good point. I think when you're first making practice a habit, it needs to be gone about like brushing your teeth. But once the simple habit is in place, there has to be an end goal you're shooting for (recital, completion of a song, chamber music gig). The practice you do to achieve that goal needs to be deliberate, like planning out exactly what work you need to do from the first step to the last and how you'll use your time practicing. You want the music and the goal to be interesting enough, so when you do the grunt work, it's ok if it's not always interesting.

    So between knowing *how* to practice and knowing *what* to practice, you can have a MASTER practice skill set because you've combined it with practicing regularly.

  3. PS: Have you heard of BJ Fogg? He writes a lot about habits and how to create them -- I think you'd like what he says :)

    1. I haven't heard of him! Does he have a blog/book?

  4. Here's his website: The first video on the site talks about psychology as it relates to habit formation. There's also a link above the video for his "3 tiny habits" program that I might sign up for. I've heard good things about it.

    1. That was really interesting! I watched the video on trigger, ability and motivation. Fascinating.

    2. It got me to thinking what would be practicing "triggers"...

  5. I was thinking about that too! Maybe one trigger could be, "after I [blank] I walk to my violin."

    1. In the example he gave he was talking about eating less popcorn. In a sense that's the easier task because it's like out of sight, out of mind. I kind of wish he went more into the marketing techniques where you want to ADD a new habit.

      You would basically have to train yourself to think of the violin every time some everyday occurrence pops up. Like have a picture of the violin on the fridge lol?

      I dunno. The problem I find with myself and students is not that I'm not thinking about it it's that I don't act on it.


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