Brassatomic Habits: cues for practicing

I’ve been reading James Clear’s wonderful self-help book, Atomic Habits. As trumpeters, we need to practice to get better, so we need to establish good habits of practice–we need to put our practice sessions into our habitual routine.

The first thing we need to do, according to Clear is to establish a “cue” for our intended habit of practicing. Cues are like the little bell that Pavlov used to get his dog to start salivating. Cues are more effective if you are specific about their time, location and preceding event.

Here’s a cue-building exercise for you, inspired by Atomic Habits. In this case we’ll focus on establishing a morning routine, but this can apply to other times of the day and other types of practice.

  • Think about the habits you already do first thing in the morning. Write them down. Here’s my list–wakeup, use the bathroom, make coffee.
  • Use one of your habits that you already do as a cue for starting your practice session. In my case, it would be after I make the coffee.
  • Think about the place you are. In my case I make the coffee in the kitchen, but I like playing in the Sun Room (my trumpet is there).
  • Have your trumpet and music in the place where you will do your practice (this is a visual cue)
  • Write down the exercises that you will work on in your routine
  • Get your music out, in order and ready
  • Write on a piece of paper (we have to be deliberate here!) what time or after what habit and where you will commit to your practice sesh. My example: “I will do my fundamental warmup and routine practice in the morning in the Sun Room, right after I make my coffee.”
  • Enjoy your practice sesh!

These are great tips for strengthening your cues to practice–the first step in getting in a great groove that will pay big dividends over a long period of time. Just like compound interest at the bank!


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