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How to Practice Music Without the Guilt

By JJ Jackson


Everyone knows that music has many benefits, but you can only get the benefits if you participate in at least one of the six uses of music: listen, learn, play, write, perform, or teach. This can seem hard to do regularly in the modern day with all the considerations of work, family, school, homework, chores, making meals, picking up kids, and paying bills. Many parents are looking for ways to encourage their kids to play and practice music without feeling like they’re taking the joy out of their kids’ music experience. Here's some tips from a real music teacher on how to actually practice music in a fun, effective and satisfying way.


In an ideal world, it'd be great to be able to play and practice music for at least one hour each day. This is how to grow exponentially with music but it can seem difficult to practice on a consistent basis. The key is finding a musical plan that works for you across two approaches: practicing music with the intention of honing and growing your skills, and playing music for the sheer purpose of wellness, such as experiencing relaxation, stress relief, mood enhancement, boosted immunity, connecting to your sense of spirit, and joy.


You're probably more familiar with the paradigm of practicing music to better your skills; for example, learning to play scales and chords in order to perform your favorite songs. This looks like what you might expect: physically learn the necessary parts, practice and rehearse them, then perform the song you learned. This way helps you grow and enhance what you can do musically. Additionally, the six uses of music: listening, learning, playing, performing, composing, and teaching provide many opportunities for music wellness benefits.


MUSIC WELLNESS


A music wellness approach involves the six uses of listening, learning, playing, performing, writing, and teaching music in ways aimed at improving your life experience mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. These times are just as important as the time spent learning that new scale.


For example, if you’re a drummer, try playing drums first thing in the morning and you’ll discover how energizing it is; in fact, the Clem Burke Drumming Project found that 90 minutes of playing drums is equal to running a 10K marathon or playing a professional soccer game. You might even be able to use playing drums as a replacement for your morning cup of coffee. Your gut will thank you. Playing drums is also a great form of music therapy to help with emotional regulation. Comedian Bill Burr once remarked that playing drums was better than therapy. Also in an interview, 2021 Olympic Gold-Medalist Caeleb Dressel, endorsed playing drums as a key component of his swimming accomplishments.


Playing any instrument will help sync the brain hemispheres and help with focus and mental rejuvenation. If you play piano, use the richness and polyphony of the instrument to play calming, meditative, musical patterns that help produce a relaxed state in the body and mind, including lowered heart rate and circulation, and more coherent breathing. Playing wind instruments and predominantly singing involve breath patterns that help stimulate the vagus nerve, which is responsible for directing the parasympathetic nervous system for rest and relaxation. Indeed, any instrument you play will have its own unique properties that will contribute to your wellness.


So it's easy to see how a music wellness approach also harnesses many additional benefits from music, alongside a traditional skill-based approach. Here are some ways to include music wellness in your regular play and practice time.


IMPROVISATION


One of my favorite musical activities, improvisation is an instant way to tap into the abstract, creative, "right brain" state that is great for bringing the brain into a more relaxed, focused alpha brainwave state. This is where you literally make up the music "on-the-spot" and just play and let out whatever music wants to come. Sometimes it "makes sense" and other times it might be totally different and unique. There are no wrong choices when it comes to improv and it's a great way to discover new musical patterns that you might not ever play normally.


Improvisation is especially beneficial to relax later in the day and "come down" after a demanding work shift. The tactic is also useful early in the morning as a way to stimulate alertness and creative thinking. It's also an easy way to quiet the running train of thoughts in your mind that can be overwhelming at times. Use musical improvisation anytime you need a quick way to calm your thoughts and relax your mind and body. Regularly using the technique of improvisation will also train your brain and nervous system to be able to improvise when it comes to daily life situations where you need to be able to adapt on-the-spot.


COMPOSITION AND SONGWRITING


Although there can be nuanced differences in the two terms, I'll be using "composition" and "songwriting" interchangeably here to mean any activity that involves creating or making music. It's a myth that you have to have extensive musical experience to be able to write music. In my experience teaching music students, I've seen two-year-old kids be able to make music in the first lesson. Naturally, you get better and more skilled at composing as you grow your skills and knowledge, but everyone can write music.


No matter whether your preference is to write pop songs for guitar, compose and notate classical pieces for piano, make beats or cinematic music using computer software, write jingles for tv and radio, compose symphonic arrangements, or any type of music making, it gives you access to your creative mind and spiritual and emotional expression. Songwriting is an effective activity to help process intense emotions and experiences that you can experience. It's something that helps war veterans and other trauma survivors cope with PTSD, anxiety, and depression symptoms. Writing music can help teenagers and young adults process hard experiences from childhood and avoid stunted maturation. It can also help kids develop their outlook and personal beliefs by providing opportunities for personal reflection during lyric writing. Another fun thing about writing songs is that it makes it more motivating to want to share your music with others.


JAMMIN' WTH OTHERS


Like Bob Marley sang, "We jammin' and I hope you like jammin' too," getting together with others to play music is one of the most fun group activities people can do. Playing music with others forms an instant bond between the people playing and listening. Sharing music is a primal part of human nature and every person can connect to the experience. Watch this video and listen for the laughter and shrieks of pure joy and excitement that come when people play music together. All of my closest friends have been people that I've been in a band with or shared music with in some way.


Playing music together and putting on concerts at home is a family activity that parents and kids can enjoy. Plus, it gives kids a fun thing to look forward to and preparing for the family concert always makes kids more motivated to play music at home. As a couple, playing music together is a powerful way to bond and grow together through a holistic shared activity. It's a nice way to relax together after a busy day, as well as provide healthy stimulation and rejuvenation for the mind and body.


CONTROL YOUR STATE


We've seen so far how playing, writing and performing music is beneficial for the mind, body and spirit. Listening to music also gives access to many benefits. The music you listen to can have some immediate effects on heart and breath rates, circulation, hormone production, brainwave dominance, and emotional state. For example, studies have shown how listening to gentle, soothing music before bedtime can contribute to better, more restful sleep. It's also easy to energize your body and mind by listening to music that gets you up and moving. You can control your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual states throughout the day with the help of music.


During a busy day with lots of demanding activities, one simple thing you can do is take 2-3 minutes in-between tasks to play some arpeggios in 6/8 timing. This can be done on any instrument, even playing a rhythm or beat on drums and percussion. I've noticed how this works instantly to start to mellow out breath rate and brainwave focus, and students I work with also report effective feedback with this technique.


Many people also find that the right type of relaxing music helps them to reach different meditative states. Music helps the brain to be able to achieve certain brainwave states, such as alpha or theta, which are beneficial for focus, relaxation and connecting to the subconscious mind. This is why it's popular in the personal development field to use music and meditation specifically right before bedtime to capitalize on the brain naturally moving through alpha, theta and eventually into delta brainwave state for deep sleep. These states are useful for aligning your subconscious beliefs with your conscious desires, so you can more proactively manifest your desired experiences in life.


EXCELLING AT TRADITIONAL MUSIC PRACTICE TIME


Learning music is the traditional paradigm most people are familiar with and it also offers many benefits. It engages the whole brain and is an effective way to challenge yourself to learn new skills, as well as hone current skills. The different uses of music, especially actively participating in learning music, has also been shown to boost the body's immunity response by increasing the production of immunoglobulin-A (IgA), the body's main warriors against sickness. Taking music lessons also helps to learn others things easier because of how learning music links up different areas of the whole brain and builds coordination, dexterity, language, math, listening, and spatial reasoning skills. Learning one instrument makes it easier to learn other instruments, and you can even use music to help develop other skills in areas, like athletics, science, medicine, software coding, employee management, and other fields.


Follow these tips to get the most satisfaction, growth and progress from your music lessons, whether you're learning from a music teacher, online videos, or on your own:


  1. Use a whole brain approach to make learning music easy by following the optimal protocol, which is a balance of "left-brained," analytical, repetitive activities; as well as "right-brained," emotional, performative activities.

  2. Be thorough and have variety in the daily and weekly routines. Think of it like you have different lists: warm-ups, new projects, favorites, improvisation, and original compositions. Each time you sit down for a playing or practice session, try to include something from each list. Then, make sure that over the course of each week you get a chance to play everything on your lists at least once.

  3. Find the right schedule that fits your personality, or that of your child, if you are the parent. Maybe you or your child work best by practicing music at the same time each day, or perhaps, a more spontaneous approach is best. Figure out what type of schedule fits your personality best and follow that, and always remember that it's much easier to find the right practice routine when the instruments are sitting out, easily accessible and in-tune.


TEACHING MUSIC


It's never too early for a budding musician to help others experience the wonder of music by teaching them what you already know. I've seen five and 10-year-old kids teach their siblings and parents and friends the songs and techniques they've been learning. Teaching is also a powerful way to cement the knowledge and application firmly in your ability. As you grow with music, you might find that you enjoy working as a professional music teacher or volunteering as a music mentor. I taught my sister to play drums back when I was high school and she was in middle school, so we could start a band together. It was a great bonding experience for us as brother and sister. Now, we are sharing music with my two-year-old nephew so he can start getting the benefits of music from an early age.


As a parent, the most effective strategies you can use to instill a love for music in your kids are: modeling, encouragement through positive reinforcement, and organization based on personality. I hear the statement often from parents, "We don't want to force anything," or push too hard to get their kids to play music from a fear of causing their children to develop a dislike of music. That's a natural and understandable feeling and brings the opportunity to set the example and show your kids how to appreciate, enjoy and make use of this magnificent thing called music. A totally hands-off approach avoids this opportunity, so the best thing you can do as parents is to show your kids how music fits into your everyday life and provides tools for wellness and growth.


SAMPLE DAY - HOW TO USE MUSIC


Here’s an example of how you can actually use music throughout your day for many benefits:


  1. Immediately when you wake up, listen to the right kind of music that helps keep your brain in theta mode. Perhaps it’s ambient or classical music, a style that keeps you in that “twilight” period between being sleep and being fully awake. Stay in this state for 5-20 minutes and capitalize on being tapped into your subconscious mind. Visualize achieving your goals and how it feels in your body.

  2. Grab an instrument and play one of your favorite songs or improvise music for a few minutes to awaken your whole brain and move into a relaxed, focused alpha mode. Singing is also a great way to utilize theta and alpha brainwaves, as well as stimulate the vagus nerve, a bundle of nerves connecting all the major organs in the body and is responsible for controlling the parasympathetic response for rest, relaxation and digestion.

  3. Use singing throughout your day to stimulate the relaxation response and taking short breaks in-between school and work activities to sing and/or play an instrument will help prevent mental exhaustion by activating different parts of the brain, boosting immunity and providing emotional release. Playing drums can be especially effective after a long session of looking a screen or interacting with a lot of people.

  4. When you get home, play some of the new songs and projects you've been working on, whether it's a new song you're learning or one that you're writing. Practice the new parts using the whole brain protocol to activate the brain in a coherent state. This will help you transition out of "work mode" without a big physical and emotional crash. There will also be a boost in confidence that comes with the feeling of accomplishing something like learning a new musical part. Another effective strategy is to teach something musical to someone else, a partner, child or friend, preferably someone's who's willing to learn. Teaching adds a social bonding element that is uplifting and energizing for everyone involved.

  5. More bonding opportunities will lead to more chances to play and listen to music together, maybe learn or write a song together. Doing this will naturally bring you closer together as you express yourselves, tap into your creativity, and share in the musical experience together. This process will offer chances to teach music to each other, and as soon as you have songs that you can play together, you'll want to perform them, even if it's just at home for yourselves.

  6. As you approach bedtime, listen to soothing music that helps you take advantage of the natural transition through alpha brainwaves, back through theta waves and eventually into delta waves for deep rest. Listen to the right music that will prolong your theta brainwave state and simultaneously visualize and embody the beliefs and goals that are important to you. This helps reinforce the subconscious belief structure that's aligned with what you actually want in life. Doing this will help you get better sleep and wake up more refreshed, happy and excited for the new day.

Visit the Benefits of Music Page to learn more about what you gain from music. Visit the Contact Page to inquire about private music lessons or up-coming camps and classes. JJ Jackson is an expert music teacher who specializes in music wellness and music lessons for toddlers to teens. Go to JacksonMusicProgram.com if you'd like to give your kids the benefits of music from an early age.

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