Learning to play a musical instrument is a dream on many people’s bucket list. According to a Gallup poll, 82% of Americans wish they had learned to play a musical instrument when they were younger, while 67% expressed a current interest in learning.
Yet, of those who participated in the poll, 66% said they had no time to spare due to scheduling constraints and other commitments. Between work, family, and friends—and the irresistible urge to procrastinate or binge-watch on Netflix—it can feel like our time is squeezed to the max.
It’s understandable that our dreams and creative pursuits, such as learning how to play an instrument, fall lower on our to-do lists. Sometimes, hobbies can feel like a luxury, but studies show that learning music improves mood and brain function, decreases stress, and even increases productivity in other areas of life.
At Tunelark, we often hear that people would love to learn music but can’t because of their busy schedules. And so here—from our community of expert musicians and instructors—are five tips to help you make time for music learning in your life.
1. Commit to a practice schedule – however humble
The most accomplished musicians will tell you that in order to improve at your chosen instrument you must learn how to practice music consistently. However, when we’re pressed for time, practicing regularly can feel like a huge challenge and the hobby becomes a chore.
The key is to start small. An hour a day might be impossible, so make it 15 minutes. Or even 10 minutes twice a week. Just a few minutes a day will still yield results by the end of the week. It’s true: you could learn to play a new song in just 10 minutes a day!
Whatever your free time looks like, make a schedule that feels easy and see if you can stick to it for a few weeks. We recommend habit-stacking or linking your practice time to an activity you already do regularly. Could you practice piano while drinking your morning coffee? How about after dinner each night or before brushing your teeth? If that doesn’t work, practice for a shorter period of time and then try adhering to it again for the next few weeks.
Most importantly, don’t feel guilty if progress is slow. Most people can’t practice for one hour a day right off the bat. Research published in the Harvard Business Review suggests that repetition drives over 50% of our daily life! Even brief practice windows increase the chance of blossoming into bigger windows, which will help you learn music over time.
2. Set specific and attainable goals
Another great way to help you make time for music is to create small, achievable goals for your music learning. This fosters a sense of achievement and progress that will motivate you. But since goals can feel daunting, consider gamification to bring in elements of a game-like competition, play, repetition, and rewards to a non-game arena. Having fun can equal progress! Why? Human brains are drawn to reaching new levels and milestones and celebrating success along the way.
Here are some examples of small, attainable goals that you can set for yourself:
- Sing along to your favorite Broadway song during your morning commute or in the shower every day
- Practice piano instead of watching TV two nights per week and reward yourself with something fun
- Set a timer for five or ten minutes of practice and try to do it every day
- Learn just the chords to The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ by the end of the month
- Sign up with an online music teacher by the end of the week, who can offer more ideas for turning practice into a game!
You may also be inspired by a longer-term goal such as singing at an open-mic by the end of the year. Whatever your goal, it’s important to make it concrete. This is much better than an abstract like “I’m going to get better at the violin this year.” With clear, simple objectives, you will find that making time for music is much easier to do.
3. Create the right environment
Sometimes, the reason it’s difficult to make time for music learning is that the environment isn’t ideal, especially if our space is shared, noisy, or has expectations for staying quiet.
The good news is that many of Tunelark’s students navigate these challenges with some planning and open communication. If you feel like there’s too much going on around the house, consider taking lessons and practicing when it’s most quiet. Could you practice from your bedroom or outside? Can you play in a car or basement? How about asking a neighbor or friend if you can use a room? Does your instrument allow you to play with headphones on?
Try asking the people you share space with to support your music learning journey and let you play while they’re around, even if they’re in the same room. Would they mind if you played for 20 minutes each day? Work out a schedule with them so that you have the peace and quiet you need while you’re practicing. Sometimes a conversation can give you the confidence to play while others are in earshot and feel supported.
If you make your learning space somewhere you feel comfortable, you are much more likely to fit learning into your schedule. Here are some tips to improve your learning environment:
- Try to practice in a space that is pleasant and devoid of distractions so you can focus.
- If possible, delegate a room or a space in your room (like a favorite chair) for your practice. This helps with getting the motivation to practice regularly.
- Make sure you’re comfortable in your space and have the option to regularly switch up your posture and position.
- If you have your own space, design your practice area in a way that motivates you to play each time. Make it colorful, fill it with pictures of your favorite musicians or song lyrics– whatever inspires you!
4. Prioritize music by pruning your habits
Hobbies are, ultimately, a zero-sum game. It’s hard to make time for music if you’re spending many hours a week scrolling on Instagram, gaming, or watching TV. No one is expecting you to have a strict study regimen—and we’re not believers in making music rigid or stressful—but the reality is that today, we are surrounded by more distractions than ever. Sometimes, we have to make a dedicated effort to free up our schedule and prioritize what we want most.
A good tactic can be to look honestly at how you’re spending your time. Ask yourself: which of these activities could I reduce to make time for music? Then, make the changes. Set app limits on your phone. Put the Xbox under the bed on weekdays. Whatever the change, the key is to continuously and intentionally sculpt your time so that music rises up your priority list.
5. Get a teacher
Accountability is powerful. Sometimes, when learning solo or relying on YouTube videos, our enthusiasm and commitment can wane. It can feel lonely and directionless.
Just like getting a personal trainer or joining a sports team, getting a teacher gives you a regular time for music learning and sets your weekly schedule. Having a teacher helps you become more accountable and motivated to show up and play. Someone is expecting you, and you develop a relationship with that person where you actively look forward to the time.
Music teachers provide a regular cadence for dedicating yourself to music. Good teachers will teach you how to practice in-between lessons and motivate you to improve with clear directions and next steps, so you don’t have to create your own lesson plans.
Learning music is a long-term pursuit and it can come with commitment challenges. Finding the time to make music consistently may sound simple, but it’s one of the biggest barriers to learning over time.
The good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of time—just consistency. Pick up that instrument as often as possible, if only for a few minutes. Practice your singing, even if it’s one song each day. In time, you’ll notice significant growth.
When you’re ready to take the next step and connect with a teacher to craft a learning plan that’s right for you, reach out to us at Tunelark.