Architects of Our Environment

In February, we put the spotlight on creating a positive environment for home practice.

We considered how small changes in how we set up the space for music could contribute towards smoother and more effective practice sessions. I shared how showing up for the weekly lesson well prepared to take good notes makes it easier for you to guide your child through home practice over the next 6 days. And how about setting aside just 15 minutes once a month to set a practice plan that would take the guesswork out of what and when to practise each time a new day floats around?

Figuring out how each of these separate actions fit together into a cohesive system that works for you and your child seeks to answer the bigger question: How can we design a world where it's easy to do what's right?

There are whole books written on building good habits such as those by habits expert James Clear, the very man who put forth that question to himself, to parents, to coaches and to leaders.

In this article, Parents Can Coach sums up our thoughts and tips on how all of us can be our own architects in creating an environment for regular and effective music practice at home.

1. Make it easy

Make it easy to remember to practise. We can do this by setting cues. It could be programming a daily alarm to provide an audio cue for a pre-determined time for practice (which has the added benefit of neutrality as it removes you from having to play the role of The Bad Guy Who Decides That It Is Time To Practise NOW.)

Make it easy to practise. This means reducing any friction between you and music practice. For us, the obstacle was having to remove the cello from the case. So we deliberately got lazy and stopped putting it back into the case altogether. Because humans and all other moving objects are coded to conserve energy by taking the path of least resistance - and it works.

A variation of reducing friction is to prime the environment for the next practice to happen. It's similar to how we have our child pack his bag and lay out his uniform every evening in preparation for the next school day so that we can get to school on time, hassle-free. When we want to get cello practice done first thing in the morning, we set up for it the night before. Waking up to a ready set-up silently inviting us to practise also provides the visual cue that reminds us of the intention that we had set the night before.

Don't stop at making practising easy. Make tracking practice and rewarding consistent practice easy too by having a practice tracker or chart on hand, complete with colour pencils and reward stickers within close reach. Because we humans don't just like the feeling of satisfaction that we get from completing a task - we enjoy the immediate reward of checking it off.

2. Make it automatic

We automate tasks that we don't want to have to spend precious time and energy thinking about. This frees up our brain to think harder and deeper on the more important aspects that matter. This is where planning for practice in advance is immensely helpful. Once you've made a plan, all you need to do is to follow it. Not having to rack your brain on which scale to play after you (finally) succeed in sitting your child down at the instrument means that you can start your child on playing straight away and use the time saved to master the tough spots within the specific items assigned for the day.

3. Practise it

Practising through repetition is not just for our child. Parents too have to get reps in when it comes to figuring out what works for our family. We need to get comfortable with experimenting with making small changes day in, day out. We repeat the actions that give us the desired outcomes. We tweak and change those that don't solve our problem, until we come across a solution. There is no perfect practice plan that will work month after month, unchanged. There will only be a practice plan that works for the month, repertoire and routine that we are at. Then, we see how to make it better for the month ahead. Every lesson is a practice in writing better notes as we experiment with different formats and notetaking shorthand to find what is most useful to us in supporting home practice.

4. Model it

Finally, YOU are the most important and impactful aspect of your home environment. We have to find it in ourselves to model nurturing and positive behaviour even when we feel like sighing, chiding or exploding. Especially when we feel like sighing, chiding or exploding (or perhaps even all at once. Parents are masters at multi-tasking after all.) Children copy those closest to them and whom they look up to as people in power. For parents, we are both. We said before that getting angry is a waste of time. Having to undo damage done is a greater waste of time. Positive emotions cultivate good habits. Negative emotions destroy them. Children will repeat actions that earn them positive emotions. They will avoid those that draw rebuke and punishment. What can help us to stay positive is to do precisely the opposite of points #1 and #2: instead of making it easy to get angry, we create friction in order to make it difficult to build a bad habit of getting angry during every music practice. We don't react in automated annoyance whenever our buttons are pushed. We can choose to walk away. We can choose to hold our tongue. We can choose to breathe and slow down. We can choose to distance ourselves from angry thoughts. Distance creates space to fill with better things that we can pour forth unto others.

This article wraps up February's focus on the environment. Let us know which tips and tools you've tried and if they work for you!

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