5 Minutes Practicing Music


in Learning Music

One of the most difficult concepts to master in learning music is the practice time. In traditional teaching you are told to play for a half hour or even an hour every day. For the professional they may practice 8 hours a day as that is their career and sometimes the job.
I've written about the different approach to practicing several times. I bring it up again after reading in Effortless Mastery about the experience Kenny had in Brazil. And that is the two weeks of only practicing a five finger exercise for five minutes a day.


I think this story is a great illustration of the mindset that exists which can sabotage our learning of our own musical instrument. Thinking that we must put in so much time to accomplish the task of learning some scales or chords becomes a burden rather than joy or as Kenny explains effortless practice.

I struggle with this concept when watching my daughter. She procrastinates with her practice of piano and trumpet. When she does practice I notice that she has a tendency to quickly and almost effortlessly practice everything she is working on. And usually does it well, unless of course it's one of those days of getting through it as fast as she can. Her concept is minimal effort. She does very well in what she does play, but the progress is slow.  I'm wondering if I can teach or encourage her to apply this concept to advance the pace.

The Concept of the Five Minute Practice

The concept is to build off of this base of five minutes of practice of just one thing. You master the technique it becomes effortless and you can add another five minutes of something else or even change to a couple of new exercises and spend five minutes with each.

By now you may be putting in ten minutes per day. It may be just five minutes before school or work and five after. When ten minutes becomes an effortless endeavor then adding five more is easy. It continues until you may be spending that half hour, an hour, or three hours.

My Experience

When I started thinking of my practice as a “review” and that I only need to focus on one thing for that five minutes of practice, or as I prefer to think of it, acquiring a new skill or performance ability, it became a much simpler task.
Often I would spend 15 or 20 minutes each day covering three to four things five minutes at a time. I didn't worry about having to practice 3 scales, 4 chords with inversions, 3 songs, and so forth. I simply keep it to only 3 things I could do in five minutes increments.

Let's Take a Simple Example at the Keyboard.

I picked three things I wanted to accomplish. 1. a scale, 2. an arpeggio chord, 3. Two to four measures of a song I was learning. To start I would take the first five minutes with a scale.  I needed to warm up so maybe I would pick the D harmonic minor scale.

So for first five minutes I spent the time like this: Play the right hand twice of four octaves up and down, play the left hand twice for four octaves, put both hands together for four octaves very slowly. Then in the last minute I would play both hands using the contrarian motion slowly and then at speed of whatever was on my chart for goal accomplishment.

Here's what happened. I had four very specific steps that I would do. I didn't focus on the clock but had steps that would fit in that five minute window of time. I would simple work those steps and presto I was would get through it in 6 minutes. WHAT! I went six minutes effortlessly. That's a whole minute longer than I had planned.

This would continue for the next two chosen items as well. Before I knew it I had put in my 15 minutes and accomplished 3 specific tasks with simple focused attention on a few steps.

I usually ended up spending 20 to 30 minutes because my focus went away from the time factor on onto the simple few steps to accomplish the short goal. I would often try something, not be pleased with the result and try it again. So often I ended putting in more time without realizing how much time had passed.

It didn't take long before I was moving along and accomplishing more by taking small (5 minute) efforts and turning them into significant advances.

Be Kind to Yourself

If you are fraught with the prospect of trying to practice everything, change your approach. Be kind to yourself. Pick just one thing you can work on for five minutes. Write out four or five steps that you will do in that five minutes. Now do just that.

Let me help you get started.

  1. Pick the E chord or scale (your choice).
  2. Say I'm going to play the E (pick one: broken chord, arpeggio, major scale, etc)
  3. I will play it slowly for (pick one: 2, 3, 4) octaves – seven times.

For piano: each hand separately, then together; for other instruments: start slowly and then add the metronome and increase the speed twice by adding 2 beats / minute to my current comfort level

If I have five more minutes today I will,

  1. Practice tapping the swing rhythm in 4/4 time for five minutes.
  2. One minute slowly with just the right hand.
  3. One minute slowly with just the left hand
  4. Two minutes of working both hands together.
  5. One minute of grooving on the rhythm.

OK, that's a couple of five minute accomplishments you can do right now or today. Go to it. Let's know how that's working for you.

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