Practice is Not Linear

My son gets really frustrated with his piano practice. Often I have to sit with him just to counteract his negative self-talk; he says again and again, “I don’t like this.” “I can’t do this.” or just screams and slams the keyboard.


The past two weeks I’ve been really on top of making sure he gets his practice in: 20 minutes, 4 days a week, plus a 30 minute lesson.

And the last two practices of this most recent two week stretch? He was on his own, working past the timer, singing along as he practiced. And came away from the piano smiling.

What caused this shift? I believe it’s the simple fact that practice is not linear.

You might subconsciously assume that practice is linear: If 10 minutes a week produces little or no effect, then 10 minutes a day will only be 7 times than minuscule effect – still small.

But inconsistent practice can lead to frustration because any progress you’ve made is quickly lost between sessions.

Consistent practice maintains and builds the skills you’re practicing. This leads to faster-than-linear growth, because as you see results, you’re likely to be in a positive mood. The positive mood leads to more effective practice, and even better results!

I often tell my students that 5 days a week of even 5 minutes is better than once a week for an hour. The little progress you make in each short practice will: 1. Motivate you. 2. Reinforce positive experience. 3. Prevent attrition.

And for my son? To see him finishing practicing in a good mood is a powerful motivator to remind him to practice – even when I don’t feel like I have the energy to get into it with him.