Finding the motivation to practice and improve is sometimes hard, especially when you don’t see immediate results. When we first begin to sing or perform, it doesn’t take long to notice a difference. It’s exciting and encouraging to see how quickly we can learn to play new notes and new music, but as we get better, that difference becomes less and less noticeable, the excitement begins to fade and frustration begins to set in.

I find myself constantly wondering where I am at with my playing – how I measure up with myself a week ago, a month ago, and what I need to do to improve. With singing, it’s still easy for me to notice improvement because compared to saxophone, it’s still relatively new for me. If I record a song even a few days after a previous take, I can hear a noticeable difference which is both frustrating and encouraging (frustrating because it makes finishing my album difficult but encouraging because I know I’m becoming a stronger vocalist). When playing sax, however, the differences day-to-day, week-to-week or even month to month are so small that I often feel like I’m not improving.
So how do I know if I’m getting better?

I use Evernote to keep a practice journal. I have a notebook with notes from each practice session where I write about the different things I practiced, the parts that were difficult and I include a sound clip of something I was working on. This provides me with a “scrapbook” of my playing. At any time I can go back and review my notes, setup practice goals and listen to old sound clips of solos and performances. It gives me a really good way to measure the way I played at any given point in time. It also helps keep me accountable (as far as frequency and the diversity of the materials I work on).

In my practice journal I note the things I practiced, the tempos I played my scales, my goals for the near future, etc. I can create a plan to not only develop my actual playing, but can incorporate sight-reading, tone, scales, confidence, soloing, articulation, etc. It gives me a good idea of where I’m at and it gives me a great way to compare where I was with where I am now.

I’ve found that the goals I write at the end of each practice session serve as a fantastic means of measuring my progress. At the end of each session, I write down the things I need to improve. Perhaps it’s my articulation, or maybe it’s that my fingers don’t move perfectly in time on a certain passage.

Writing these things down is a great way to improve my personal awareness of things I’m not doing well and looking over my practice serves as a constant reminder of the things I need to work on. If I find something from a few weeks back that I still haven’t worked out, it definitely pushes me to work on it.

Being able to cross those things off my list are my motivation to keep practicing. That and I cannot imagine my life without music, it’s what I love to do and that is motivation enough in itself, but I would be lying if I said it was always easy to sit down and practice.

How do you find motivation to keep practicing?

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Published by Shannon Kennedy

Shannon Kennedy is a vocalist and saxophonist living in Southern California. She is author of "The Album Checklist" and the founder of Teen Jazz. She has been contributing articles to music magaizines and websites since 2004.