What Is Mindless Practice, and Why Is It So Bad?

When your young musician is spending precious hours practicing their instrument, you want to make sure they’re actually making progress, using their time well, and enjoying the process.

With the right approach, music students can come on leaps and bounds, but practicing mindlessly can reinforce mistakes and poor technique. Worst of all, it can affect a student’s interest in their music lessons and encourage them to quit. Read on to discover exactly what mindless practicing is, and why you should start looking out for it in your child today.

What Is Mindless Practice?

Mindless practice is very common. It’s one of the main culprits when music students grow bored with their practice. Students are usually required to play a piece a certain number of times, merely checking off items on a list. If a teacher simply directs them to “play this piece 10 times” or “practice this piece for 30 minutes,” there are no specific goals to achieve beyond counting down the minutes or repetitions. The budding musician plays the piece 10 times, or until 30 minutes has passed, and then practice is over. But what did they actually learn?

To better understand what mindless practice is, let’s look at the other end of the spectrum: mindful practice. Mindful practice is an active, thoughtful process that incorporates clear goals. It often involves going slowly and experimenting with small, specific passages of music – perhaps just a few notes or measures at a time. This allows the musician to play in a way that creates the desired effect of the piece. Rather than playing the entire score repeatedly and stumbling through problematic passages, a mindful practice emphasizes focus and training, so that each part is played deliberately and correctly each time. Eventually, the whole piece comes together in the student’s mind.

How Can You Spot Mindless Practice?

It’s easy for your young musician to start playing on autopilot and only pay attention at a difficult section of the score. Maybe your child pushes through these sections to complete the piece. Perhaps they stop each time a problem comes up to repeat the passage until it has improved. These are both hallmarks of a mindless practice.

A mindless practice may last hours as your young musician plays a piece over and over again, but once they’ve finished the practice, they still don’t feel like they’ve truly improved. They may even feel that their playing is getting worse. If your child can practice their piece while daydreaming about other things, they’re not properly engaged – they’re practicing mindlessly. To paraphrase the great violin teacher Leopold Auer, they must practice with their head, not just their fingers!

Why Is Mindless Practice So Bad?

While it may seem harmless, a mindless approach can backfire, reinforcing your young musician’s mistakes and bad technique, rather than correcting them. Some music teachers have a saying: “Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.” Learning the wrong lessons from a practice is a waste of time and energy.

Even worse, mindless practice is boring. If your child does not enjoy the time they spend practicing, it will quickly become a chore. Their mind will wander and they will start thinking about other things they would rather do than playing their piece again. That means they simply won’t improve or enjoy their music lessons.

Another reason why mindless practice can damage your young musician’s development is because it makes them less confident about performing. Practicing at home or in a music studio is one thing, but playing a recital in front of an audience is quite another. When your child walks onstage, their brain concentrates much harder than usual on what they are doing. If they have been practicing mindlessly, and are not sure they can play the piece perfectly every time, they will begin focusing on potential problems areas. If they make a mistake, it can rattle them even more.

One of the main goals of studying music is to be able to perform it, so you should make sure your young musician’s practice methods are giving them the best possible support to achieve that goal.

How Can I Prevent Mindless Practice?

The key to preventing mindless practice isn’t to practice harder – it’s to practice smarter.

If you notice your child is frustrated during their practice, tell them to stop playing for a moment. Instead of repeating the same section using the same method, ask your young musician to try some problem solving. Provide them with a practice journal where they can write down their challenges and ideas for solutions. You may find that when they return to their practice, they play more mindfully.

Mindless practice can also arise when a student is tired, so think carefully about when you encourage your child to practice. If they have plenty of energy in the morning, for example, they will more likely enjoy a mindful practice before school and not after a long day of learning other subjects.

Mindful practice is also much more intense than mindless practice, so it can become quite draining in itself if extended for long periods. It’s advisable to reduce practicing to even 10 to 20 minutes at a time for young children. Although it may seem like less, your child stands to gain a lot more from a shorter yet mindful practice.

At California Music Studios, our teachers are matched to musicians to ensure the ideal approach for every student. Contact our friendly team today to learn more about our lessons and services.