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The 3 Minute Rule

WHAT IS THE 3 MINUTE RULE?

Simple: On your busiest days—I’m talking about those days stuffed with events, homework, deadlines or whatever else—even on these days, practice for at least 3 minutes. The rule stems from a universal musical truth: the best practice habits aim at consistency, not volume. How often you practice is more important than how long you practice.

WHY THE 3 MINUTE RULE?

Because your hands, fingers, mind and ears long for their old ways. It’s like a strong gravity toward the easy and familiar. If you miss a day or two of practice, you can quickly lose what you’ve learned. Think of a rubber band that snaps back as soon as you let it loose. That’s similar to what happens to your body and mind, and it’s especially the case for newer players. The shorter the time you’ve been playing your instrument, the quicker your fingers, hands, mind and ears will snap back to their original, untrained condition.

But the 3 Minute Rule will hold your place. It prevents musical backsliding or regression. We often think it’s not worth practicing at all unless we can practice for 15 minutes or more, but this is not true! Practicing/playing for merely 3 minutes is much, much better than not playing at all.

WHAT COULD I POSSIBLY ACCOMPLISH IN 3 MINUTES?

Turns out, quite a lot. You won’t improve in leaps and bounds in 3 minutes, but the cumulative effect of this rule is incredible. As a private music teacher of 15 years, I’d say the average student spends about 50% of their practice time relearning what they had once known or developed: rebuilding calluses, retraining and re-strengthening finger muscles and flexibility, memorizing, once again, how to play that D/F# chord or the Major Scale, and so on.

This is because the average student’s practice schedule looks something like this:

Student A

  • Monday: 15 minutes
  • Tuesday: none
  • Wednesday: none
  • Thursday: 15 minutes
  • Friday: none
  • Saturday: 1 hour
  • Sunday: none

 

Ideally, you will practice around 15 or 20 minutes every day, but if your schedule is packed and you simply can’t swing 20 minutes every day, an ideal practice week might look like this:

Student B

  • Monday: 15 minutes
  • Tuesday: 3 minutes
  • Wednesday: 15 minutes
  • Thursday: 20 minutes
  • Friday: 3 minutes
  • Saturday: 20 minutes
  • Sunday: 3 minutes

 

Though it doesn’t meet the 20 minute per day ideal, this is still a very healthy practice week, because no day was missed.

Now consider Student A and Student B after one year. All other things being equal, the difference in their abilities will be huge. Student B will be much more technically and musically proficient, every time. Student A will have logged more practice time over all, but Student B is still much better off—all thanks to those 3 little minutes, saving the day, every day.

DON’T SAY OR THINK THE WORST THING EVER

The worst thing ever is the “I’ll make up for it by practicing 2 hours this Saturday” excuse. I still have a tendency to promise myself this—but it’s a terrible idea!

    Just try it for anything else:

  • “I didn’t eat any meals this week, but I’ll make up for it by eating 12,000 calories on Saturday.”
  • “I didn’t exercise at all this week, but I’ll make up for it by running a marathon on Saturday.”
  • “I didn’t brush my teeth at all this week, but I’ll brush for 30 minutes on Saturday.”

 

You get the point.

Don’t miss a day!

If these valuable 3 minutes are focused, you can easily keep the dust off your playing, and as a bonus, on all the days you can practice 15-20 minutes, you’ll hit the ground running and make serious gains.

WHAT SHOULD I PRACTICE IN 3 MINUTES?

As long as it’s focused practice, it’s hard to go wrong. Sometimes students will use the time for review. I like to use the first two minutes for warmup/technique-building exercises, and use the third minute for a quick review of rhythms, chord shapes, progressions, or new scales I’m learning. Practicing with a metronome is also a great idea.

Another useful format is to alternate on different days. On one 3 Minute day, just do warmup exercises to keep your fingers strong, fast, and flexible. On the next 3 Minute day, just quickly review all the chords you know or the rhythms you are learning, and so on.

Ultimately, remember that it all comes down to consistency! Don’t let days go by without playing your instrument. If you play every day, even for just 3 short minutes, there’s nothing that can stop your progress!