Last time we talked about the three main areas of practicing that need to be considered when planning your practice session: Tone, Technique, and Music. You can read more about that here.
The Rule of 10's is simply this:
You focus on one area for a solid 10 minutes, then move on to the next area.
For example, your 10 minute session could be working out a jazz lick in all 12 keys, or working on technical exercises from a method book, or learning to play the melody and/or bass line of a new song, or even working on coordinating fingerings and articulation for a challenging passage in a classical piece.
Why 10 and not 15 or 20? It was believed for a long time that adult attention spans used to be 15 – 20 minutes. With the advent of smartphones, tablets and other devices that not only create information overload, but also anxiety about having too much to do, our attention spans have rapidly decreased.
What needs to be stated is that people will pay attention longer if they are interested and engaged in the subject. The time of day matters too (longer attention spans in the morning as opposed to the evening), as well as the person’s willpower (if you want something bad enough…). Keeping within 10 minutes for each area stays within a reasonable amount of time and keeps our minds engaged and more focused. And if we like what we are doing, and are achieving some sense of success, we can find more time throughout the day to practice! (And we have conquered the enemy of “not enough time.”)
Here’s an example…
So let’s say you have been playing your instrument for a few years (Intermediate Level), but only have time to practice 30 minutes a day.
Let’s break up that time into 10-minute segments:
- 10 minutes – Tone & Flexibility: warm-up, interval exercises, lip slurs
- 10 minutes – Vocabulary & Coordination: scale exercises with a metronome or work on difficult spots in etudes or songs; if you play Jazz- 1 pattern in all keys or learn the chord progressions to a tune
- 10 minutes – Performance & Endurance: just playing music! (leave 2 minutes at the end to warm down)
You can do 3 sessions of 10 minutes each (just add a minute to warm-up for the 2nd and 3rd sessions), OR do 30 minutes in one session. If you are more advanced, and can put in an hour a day, then you can break the session down into two 30-minute sessions or one 60-minute session. Advanced musicians will have built up enough mental and physical stamina to focus on a particular area for more than 10 minutes. Some pieces and exercises take longer than 10 minutes to work through. The key here is to recognize when your mind wanders, and try to gently get it back in focus. Too much mind wandering means it’s time for a short break.
How to Really Make the Rule of 10's Work to Maximize Music Practice
So you like this idea of the Rule of 10’s, but are thinking that you need help following it.
The first solution is: Use a timer….it’s that simple!
You know those old style kitchen timers, with the annoying ringing sound? Those work great and they’re cheap. “Why not use the timer on my iPhone, tablet or smartphone, Donna?” It will benefit you most if you avoid using your phone as a timer because it is so easy to get distracted by incoming notifications, email, texts, etc. One tip to avoid the phone distractions is to set it on Airplane Mode (in your phone settings). Notifications and texts won’t keep popping up in this setting.
The second solution is:
The Ultimate Practice Planner!
This resource is for musicians of all levels, and includes the three main areas of practice, examples of types of exercises for each area, and a very specific planner/journal for the most advanced students.
You can access this free resource here.
Benefits of the Rule of 10's
- Breaking the session down into 10 minute mini-sessions makes you focus more on each area
- Only having 10 minutes to focus on a task makes you want to get as much done as possible to feel like you accomplished something
- Only having 10 minutes for an area forces you to not stick with 1 exercise too long, so you don’t get burned out
- You are not limited to only 10 minutes for a particular area: You can focus on technique, for example, for 10 minutes in one session, and then 10 minutes in a later session too. The Rule of 10’s is meant to be flexible and to maximize your practice.
- Changing up your routine creates interest
Two of the biggest problems musicians face is how to practice and what to practice. By analyzing how you spend your time throughout the day, you can find pockets of free time to set aside for practice. Committing that time to your personal practice time every day is the first step. Concentrating on the three core areas of Tone, Technique and Music addresses the question of what to practice. By using the Rule of 10’s, you can laser-focus your practicing into mini-sessions and accomplish more in less time.
The Rule of 10’s is flexible enough so that musicians at all levels can prioritize what they need to work on and make solid progress. Using a timer and the Ultimate Practice Planner can help you maximize the Rule of 10’s, so that you are practicing less and improving more. But before we can set up our practice sessions using the Rule of 10’s, we need to establish, clear, specific, measurable goals.