Happy 2015!

I have to admit that I’m not really a New Years resolutions sort of person, but I do like aiming to try new things , and developing habits and processes (which are often more effective than goals).

The beginning of a new year is as good a time as any to make some changes, so if you’re still shopping around for something new to try, here are 10 to choose from (otherwise known as 2014’s most read posts).

#1 – Practice better (by stealing adopting effective practicers’ top practice strategies)

We all have the same 24 hours and a finite amount of energy at our disposal, so it behooves us to utilize the most effective practice strategies we can.

The amount of time we spend, and the number of repetitions we get in aren’t the key factors. Here are eight things that do seem to matter:

8 Things Top Practicers Do Differently

#2 – Make time for the fundamentals

Scales and etudes are boring (or at least seem that way at first glance). Yet a solid grounding in the fundamentals is essential for mastery. Embrace the boring-ness, we must!

Why I’d Be a Lot More Diligent About Practicing Scales if I Could Do It All Over Again

#3 – Be less judgmental; go beyond praise and criticism

From the “Wooden” to a 5-second behavior modeling technique, there is much musicians can learn from legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s teaching methods.

What is More Effective? Praise or Criticism?

#4 – Improvise more! (Or learn how, if that seems totally foreign)

Improvising is not just for jazz or non-classical musicians. And it’s more than just making up notes or rhythms on the spot. It’s a mindset. Learn more about the neuroscience of improv:

Why Improvisation Should Be Part of Every Young Musician’s Training

#5 – Pay more attention in theory class (or rediscover your inner musicologist and music theory geek)

I didn’t see the point of music theory for years. If you’ve been wondering the same thing yourself, read this:

Why I Should Have Paid More Attention in Music Theory Class

#6 – Form good habits, but avoid getting too comfortable

Whether it’s ordering the same pizza toppings, sitting in the same seat in class, or using the same few practice rooms, we are creatures of habit.

But there are indications that this can leave us more vulnerable to glitches and memory slips in performances.

Learn why throwing everyone for a loop and regularly rotating amongst a different set of practice rooms/spaces may be better not just for you, but your fellow students as well.

Evidence That Pianists Might Have It Tougher Than the Rest of Us When It Comes to Performing From Memory

#7 – Don’t worry about finishing; just get started instead

It’s not easy to be totally enthused about practicing all the time. But on those days when you’re really dragging your feet, a curious phenomenon observed in restaurants almost 100 years ago could help you get yourself more in the mood.

How to Get Yourself to Practice When You Don’t Feel Like It

#8 – Practice teaching practicing (or just practice practicing)

In much the same way that effective study skills can make a significant difference in the performance of two otherwise evenly matched individuals, good practice skills can help us make the most of our time, and minimize those soul-sucking practice plateaus where it feels like nothing is happening.

To that end, two Australian researchers did a 3-year study tracking the practice habits of young musicians, and found that while many had the desire to practice, they lacked the skills required to do so effectively.

Read their two recommendations for teachers: Why Practicing Practicing From An Early Age Is So Important

#9 – Reduce caffeine intake to maximize learning

Coffee can certainly make us feel more alert, but it actually seems to impair learning. What?!

Naps vs. Coffee – Which is a Better Choice For the Sleep-Deprived Musician?

More detailed info on caffeine and its impact on our mind/body: The Caffeine Controversy

#10 – Get in shape, and gain an edge in beating on-stage jitters

Turns out that exercise may reduce our sensitivity to anxiety. Which is a good thing.

The Impact of Exercise and Physical Fitness on Performance Under Pressure

And a fun 7-minute workout routine you can do anywhere: The 7-minute workout

Further reading

Need some helping making habits stick? Try BJ Fogg's (free) Tiny Habits course: Tiny Habits

Want to read the book on proven tweaks for more effective study and practice habits? Try my favorite book of 2014: Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and productive 2015!