Practice Tool: Don't Break the Chain!

[If you can't see the video below, click here.]

I was reminded by a couple students' cello lessons this week to share with you this fancy and not so fancy little tool/app/website/video concept called "Don't Break the Chain."

There are many reasons why I love the video above. One of which just has to be listening to a British accent. Duh. But I love this video because Charlie not only does a great job of introducing the concept of "Don't Break The Chain," he also reminded me how easy it is to overlook your successes simply because the process doesn't look like the product. So remember that. Inch by inch, everything's a cinch.

Because in 5 years from now, it's not going to matter how many hours you've practiced the cello. What will matter is how many days you've touched your cello and the steps (however small) you took to get there. 

I say this all the time...

It's not important how long you practice, it's how & how often you practice.

So Don't Break the Chain...


Don't Break the Chain is a concept that Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian, created for his own use. (Thanks for sharing Jerry!) This concept totally supports cello practice and a bunch of other stuff too! did a great article on this productivity approach. They explain the basic steps as follows... (But be sure to read the whole article here as it's really helpful!)

  1. Figure out your goals. Start with no more than three, and add a fourth goal after three weeks if you can handle it.
  2. Set daily minimums for each goal. Things like "I will run one mile" or "I will put away 10 stray items" work better than setting a time limit.
  3. Set your boundaries and rules. Because this process expects you to work every single day, you have to figure out what you're going to do when you're sick, on vacation, or just find yourself in a situation where you won't be accomplishing your goal that day but don't deserve the punishment of a broken chain.
  4. (Download or print out a calendar for each goal and label it with that goal. I prefer a series of monthly calendars because there's more room to make a big X, but traditionally "Don't Break the Chain" uses one year-long calendar. Either way, put these calendars up on your wall where you'll see them regularly.
  5. (Use or buy a fat red marker, or any marker—the fat ones just make bigger and more rewarding Xs.
Transient is an online motivational tool (and FREE iPhone app!) based on the "don't break the chain" method that helps you stick to your good habits and break bad ones. Each day you complete a task you want to keep up, you mark it in your chains. The chain will grow longer with each day and soon your main motivation is to keep the chain from breaking. Your chains are shown visually with several great looking skins to choose from. Pretty cool!

A Practice Paper Chain For The Guilt-ridden...

Come on. I know some of you are thinking, "But I'm gonna feel terrible about myself that epic day that I inevitably do break the chain." So if that's the only thing holding you back, then by all means, avoid the guilt!


How 'bout making a paper chain?! You could even have different chains for each song you review! This way the goal is to just have a really long chain (without the guilt of breaking the chain.) Maybe if it gets long enough, hanging it around your bedroom or someplace that you can be reminded of how proud you are of your efforts. 'Cause you should be proud, really proud.

Remember that practicing an instrument has to work for you not everyone else too. 

These ideas might not work that wonderfully with your lifestyle... but do you have another method of motivating daily practice that works? Do share with us all in the comments below!

Happy Practicing!