Five Minute Practice Sessions

Hour glassDo you have five minutes of free time? Yes, you do. You may say that you don’t, but really, you do. It’s easy… wake up five minutes earlier than you usually do and pick up your bass before work. Or, go to bed five minutes later. Or, DVR your favorite TV show, watch it and fast forward through the commercials, and violá, you’ll probably have anywhere between 7 and 15 minutes of extra free time. Forget the excuses. Make the time.

Now I know what you’re thinking… it’s not worth picking you bass up for five minutes. I beg to differ. Realistically, you may not get much “accomplished” in that time. You probably won’t make much headway in the piece of music you’re reading through, or be able to play the latest technique exercise at every tempo. Nevertheless, five minutes can make a difference in your playing and may influence your feeling towards the instrument… here’s why.

In five minutes, you can…

  1. Play along with your favorite song. You may not be learning or working on anything, but you’re having fun. This is just as good a reason as any.
  2. Have one more rep on a tune that you need to learn for a gig. Hey, guess what, you need to remember that the bridge goes to the A and the bass drops out on the following chorus. Good thing you picked that up on this listen.
  3. Sight-read a short piece of music. Maybe you’re reading through two bars or two pages… either way, you’re putting that skill to good use.
  4. Get your fingers moving with a technique exercise. Hello pinky finger!
  5. Play through the major scale in a few keys that you usually neglect practicing in… F#, Ab, C#… the fun ones.
  6. Find all of the Bb’s on your bass.
  7. Discover a musical idea.
  8. Groove.

None of these qualify as amazing musical feats, but honestly, that’s not the point. Your goal isn’t necessary to practice, but to play, if just for five minutes.

If you don’t believe me, try this experiment on for size. Set your alarm five minutes earlier and go about your morning routine. Before you leave for work (or wake your kids up, or begin making breakfast), take five minutes with your bass and groove. Move your fingers, get your brain working, enjoy your instrument, and have a moment to yourself. If your day seems better afterwards, then the experiment is a success. Just remember to set an egg timer or keep your eye on the clock ;-)

Once you start this experiment, you’ll probably discover a few things. First, that five minutes isn’t enough. Once you start playing, you probably won’t want to stop. This is a good thing! It means that you still enjoy your instrument and that you have a strong urge to play. At the same time, be prepared to be frustrated. We all have to get to work on time, and knowing that you’re giving up bass time in order to sit in traffic is not the most convincing argument to jump in the car. Try not to think of this as torture or as a tease, rather as a good reason to return to your instrument later in the day. If you can leave your house thinking, “I can’t wait to get home to my bass,” then you’re intensifying your desire to play and giving yourself something to look forward to.

Let’s say the morning doesn’t work for you. How about after work? If you’ve had a long day, come home and spend five minutes messing around. Don’t worry about playing anything in particular, just have fun, relax, and try to make it part of your routine. You may be rejuvenated by just a few minutes of “me time” and you’ll feel better about having to make dinner, do laundry, or get work done at home.

Ok, ok, so morning doesn’t work, neither does early evening. Bedtime it is. Before you go to bed, give yourself some groove time. Forget about the events of the day, let everything go, and just enjoy your instrument. Who knows, by playing for a few minutes and giving yourself time to clear your head, you may have quieted you mind down enough to get to sleep.

Whether or not you chose to find time in the morning, afternoon, evening, or during the commercials of your favorite TV show, the point is that you’re giving yourself a few minutes to enjoy your instrument. Remember that music, and playing bass, is supposed to be fun. Why else do we obsess over it? More often than not, five minutes may even turn into more. And then, who knows, we may even get to practicing!

What do you do when your time is limited? Tell us about it in the comments!

Photo by Satendra Mhatre

Ryan Madora is a professional bass player, author, and educator living in Nashville, TN. In addition to touring and session work, she teaches private lessons and masterclasses to students of all levels. Visit her website to learn more!

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  1. I practice stuff that I’m not good at. If you play stuff you already know, you’re not improving.

  2. It took me more than 5 minutes to read this article. Ryan is absolutely on point. I work the afternoon shift so I get my practice in the morning and for a few minutes late at night. The thing is, in the morning I sometimes lose track of time and at night I often stay up too late, but Ryan’s point is well taken.

  3. Good article. There is a variety of things you can do for five minutes. Example, practice a scale using one string, and say the note names out loud so you remember them.

  4. I sometimes practice during my lunch break too. I take my Kala U-Bass with me at work and practice in my car for about 30 minutes. Usually once or twice a week :-)

  5. Is it normal that my 5 minutes last like 2 hours?

  6. Great stuff! Five minutes of real, focused energy can go a long way.

  7. I usually do this several times a day. balance is important for me, in terms of how much mental energy goes into learning something and how much goes into just having fun. my problem is with loving to learn and to face a new challenge on the instrument…the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know squat!

  8. I’m fortunate. I work at home (no, this is not an ad – I telecommute, and do tech support.) 15 minutes? Break, use the restroom, grab a drink… and my bass and amp is in my “office,” ready to go. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes of 12343212343-next string-212343212343212-skip- etc. to work on my left hand… which still needs work, after so long not really playing it’s “stiff” at times – or I start just noodling around or playing. The days I don’t do this definitely feel wasted.

  9. In Feb 11th, 2010 Evan Kepner wrote here an article entitled “Efficient 20 minute practice” and that is quite fair, but the time goes by and 20 minutes are not enought. That´s our problem: when you get your “baby” in your arms, you don´t want to leave it. We don´t need find excuses for not having time: the guilty will rise in a momento or another. The dust in your “baby” will bring to you a “time lost” sensation… 5 minutes is the must! Chords and scales can work fine in this short having fun time. Good article, thanks!

  10. and always (where possible) have a bass within arms reach. thing i do at times is play all the tunes of the ads so when someone plays an unexpected, unpracticed song its easier to pick up the tune and join in

  11. I do this every day in the morning, afternoon and evening, aside from regular practice times that I set aside when learning new musical ideas, songs, techniques.

  12. Rob Jenkins

    I did this with Chuck Pfieffer’s Daily Grooves. One year of short grooves every day. It really brought me out of a long slump and rejuvenated not only my playing but my reading and sight reading, too. Great advice.