Looking to Remove Bad Habits? Two Strategies You May Not Have Tried

Too much pressure. Incorrect mouthpiece placement. Too much “smile” in the embouchure. Lousy right-hand position. Too little attention to intention.

These are some of the bad habits I’ve had in my playing over the past 20+ years of playing the horn.

These bad habits weren’t learned overnight, and moving past them also didn’t happen overnight.

One of the most important things I learned was from (I believe) the Arnold Jacobs book Song and Wind. Essentially, habits aren’t ever completely gone – they are merely overwritten by newer habits. So the “unlearning” of a habit is a constant and ongoing process – as is the forming of new habits.

With that in mind, though, here are some ways to think and strategize about the process for forming new habits.

On Forming New Habits

Over on the RescueTime blog, they’ve put together a 5-step method for breaking bad habits and forming new ones. While this is primarily geared to non-music professions and habits, the 5 steps are easily adapted to any musical instrument or habit.

The always-great BulletproofMusician blog also has some really interesting advice on replacing bad habits by exaggerating them. I’ve touched on this technique of purposeful mistakes in a previous post, but the “Method of Amplification of Error” as it’s called, encourages the students to be more conscious of what is wrong by exaggerating it to an extreme or almost-absurd degree. Once the student is aware of what the precise error is (after exaggerating it), then it’s easier for the student to maintain awareness of it during their own self-guided practice sessions.

Try It Out!

Summer is a great time to work on fixing bad playing habits (or even bad habits in other areas of your life).

If you’ve hit a rut in your playing, or have a specific technique that you can’t seem to get past, instead of trying to fix the error, try to exaggerate it – the more you understand about how you make the mistake, the easier and more efficiently you can go about fixing it!