Creating the 'New' in the New Year: Habits for a Successful Music Routine

January 1, 2021, 4:38 PM · Here is what the Dutch composer Johann Wilhem Wilm (1742-1847) said about New Year's:

"Today is New Year's, as they say. Midnight is the exact passage between the old and new year. But it is not that simple. The calendar or the clock do not determine if it will indeed be a new year. To make a year new is up to us. Can we make the year different? We need to think anew, speak anew, and begin living anew."

How do we find new ways within our music routine, when so many of us have been studying and practicing for many years? I usually write about psychology and technology in practice, and I've been reflecting on how much I have found inspiration for my own practice from other fields.

I find inspiration to be a much better kick in the pants than motivation. To find inspiration, I study the habits of successful and happy people, not just the habits of musicians. I've decided to explore their stories as passionately as I study the technique on my instrument. It's amazing how much transfers to music.

Here are some habits I "stole" from some people I had a "habit crush" on (mostly entrepreneurs and athletes):

  1. I keep my phone in do not disturb mode - ALL DAY. My family is on my "favorites" contact list, so their calls still come through. The rest of the time I control when to pay attention to my phone. I'm in charge.
  2. I have accountability partners that I play for every few weeks. We exchange ideas, and give each other the gift of performance practice. I need deadlines during the pandemic.

  3. I keep learning, and I'm about to turn 50. Musicians are driven by learning and self-improvement; it's just how we are hardwired. I suggest finding an online workshop, no matter how old you are. I invite you to join my Practice Blitz Workshops ( in January, they are super cheap and fun (shameless plug)! I took part in Nate Cole's Violympics last summer and recently sat in on the Cleveland Conservatory audition workshop. I've realized that being a student is really when I'm happiest.
  4. I change my vantage point. Most of what we tell ourselves is absolutely true, but only from our current point of view. Read the stories of great artists, athletes, business people, or civil rights activists to learn more about working smart and being a passionate daredevil. For example, by reading about sports I learned that sprinters have 75 percent fast twitch muscle fiber, and marathon runners have 80-90 percent slow twitch muscle fiber because of how they train. So now I'm practicing some more fast stuff, maybe a little more recklessly, every day. I want to build more fast twitch muscle fiber.
  5. I teach. That might be self-explanatory....but I keep expanding what I teach and how I teach. I play with my edge through new technologies and new techniques, even if I feel underconfident. This pushes me to learn.
  6. I usually take a day off from practice once a week. That one is really hard for me, but I'm occasionally succeeding, and I can feel the psychological lift when I do it. I have more focus the next day.
Please share your sources of inspiration in the comments!
May your 2021 be filled with new discoveries. Ditch the practice guilt and embrace that you will be a student forever.


January 2, 2021 at 03:30 PM · Susanna, I truly enjoyed this post! One of the most motivational things I did in 2020 was to sign up for your Practice Blitz Workshop last summer. Not only are you a wonderful teacher, but it was inspirational to be amongst a group of students whose ages seemingly spanned 7 decades. (I'm quite accustomed to not being the youngest person in the room, but rarely am I not the oldest!)

January 2, 2021 at 11:56 PM · Wonderful tips. If I may add one suggestion. Once each day, take 3 minutes to try something new, some very small but new detail (like a couple of notes from a sonata, or a shift you're having a problem with, or a bow change - whatever). Just give it 3 minutes. Do something different every day, but make sure it's something you haven't done much of before.

Just see what happens to your attention doing this once a day for a week or two.

Hope that helps. And have a great new year.


PS. I actually got a brief article on this 3-minute idea published in 1975 in The Instrumentalist, which I'm proud of because I'm an amateur.

January 3, 2021 at 12:03 AM · Diana - thank you! Sander, I love the 3 min of new idea! Small, actionable, achievable and I bet surprisingly powerful.

January 6, 2021 at 05:25 PM · "Being a student is when I'm happiest." <--- me too!

January 6, 2021 at 05:25 PM · "Being a student is when I'm happiest." <--- me too!

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