bored of practicing? stop and watch tv*.

Bored of Practicing

*and justify it with the pomodoro technique, a time management method championed by productivity experts like

in college, i got a lot of hassle, for a variety of reasons. one was my peculiar habit of watching entire baseball games and tv series while i was practicing - learning notes on a marimba or doing technique work on timpani, etc. my juilliard '05-'09 colleagues can attest. however, now that i get paid to do percussion, i can now authoritatively say that it is ok to watch tv during a practice session, and it actually can make a long practice session palatable, compared with the alternative.


the phenomenon of lack of focus, explained

while practicing for an extended period of time, i've often experience a phenomenon of ever-increasing boredom. my ability to clearly think through problems and solutions is significantly affected by the amount of time my brain has been engaged. after about a half hour of focused work, i get super-bored. i think it's a reasonable assumption that i'm not alone in this experience.

in college practice sessions, after doing as much focused practicing as i could for maybe about a half-hour, i would start feeling zoned out. normally i'd bite my tongue, remember how much school costs, and just keep practicing. this resulted in a long practice session with not that much to show for it.


and then i got lazy.

percussion hacker

as i got lazier, instead of trying to power through that fatigue, i'd just give up completely, turn on netflix, and watch tv. while watching tv, i'd completely forget about whatever had been exhausting in the practice session. i'd become engrossed in the show. after about 7 minutes of passive tv watching, i'd realize that my head was clear and i'd begin to feel anxious about practicing. at that point, i'd pause the tv show, and start a new round of highly focused practice.

although i didn't realize it at the time, it turns out that i was actually experimenting with the productivity method the pomodoro technique. once i realized that i could recharge my focus after taking a break like this, i started doing it all the time.


the pomodoro technique

Pomodoro Technique

invented by francesco cirillo, the pomodoro technique is a time management system. it takes into account the human tendency to become overwhelmed with too much work, which adversely affects productivity or the ability to get things done. instead of doing a giant task, it says to break the project up into manageable, smaller tasks and do those. separate them by taking appropriate resting breaks, to recharge your batteries. this helps you stay at your maximum level of productivity by allowing you to focus your concentration into shorter amounts of time. you also are more likely to work harder doing these work periods, knowing that you have a break to look forward to.

it's called pomodoro because the kitchen timer used by the inventor francisco cirillo was an actual pomodoro kitchen timer.


go ahead, try it.

here's how the pomodoro technique is explained by muggles (non-musicians):


and here's my method, which is a variation for musicians:

1. choose an amount of work that should last around 35 minutes. 

if you're learning notes, that might be 5 or 6 measures. if you're recording yourself, that might be 3 or 4 measures. or, it could be to read through a couple bach violin sonatas on marimba. 

2. work on the task until you feel boredom coming on.

that's when, instead of trying to analyze your playing, identify problems, test solutions, listen to playbacks, etc., you start thinking about baseball, sufjan stevens, girls, or diablo iii. 

3. stop immediately and watch 7 minutes of tv.

conveniently, that's exactly 1/3rd of a family guy episode. 

4. repeat.

wash, rinse, repeat steps 1-3 until it's 3am and the security guard is forcefully removing you from the practice room.


experiment for yourself

the specific timings might differ for you - you might need more or less time in your practice session or your break. this should be highly personalized. you'll need to experiment by trying different things and reflecting on how well it worked for you.

have you tried it? help other readers by sharing your experience in the comment section below.

want to see my complete snare drum setup?

here’s my 8-piece snare drum setup, including every piece of gear and accessory you'll need. (and it's totally audition-ready, too.)

rob knopper

hailed by @nytimes and james levine as needing 'louder triangle notes'. recorded delécluse: douze études for snare drum, percussionist in @metorchestra.