Know your "practice personality": chunkers and nibblers

Frustrated with your practice time? Not getting the results you want? Lacking motivation to woodshed your music? Perhaps the underlying problem is that you’ve not identified your “practice personality.”

I’ve noticed that most musicians are either “chunkers” or “nibblers.” Chunkers have determined how much practice time they need to log today, and they do it all in one big chunk. Nibblers work better by getting their practice time in shorter installments throughout the day. Both are valid methods, and both have advantages and disadvantages. The important thing is that your practice style accords with your “practice personality.”

Let’s dive in a little deeper:

Chunkers like the feeling of accomplishment that comes with getting a big swath of practicing done. They would feel uneasy having practice time “hanging over their heads” the rest of the day—better to just do it. They may also “chunk” because of their particular life situation—perhaps their class or work schedule does not allow for “nibbling.” The primary issue that chunkers face is “vocal load”—in order to stay vocally healthy, they must ensure that some non-vocal practice modalities are interspersed within their practice time (e.g. writing in translations, writing out lyrics for memorization purposes, playing melodies on the piano to solidify pitches, etc).

Nibblers feel overwhelmed / bored / less productive when “chunking.” They would much rather do four 20-minute practice sessions than one 80-minute session, for instance. They feel more alert, more productive, and more vocally fresh when they split up their practice. Their schedules have small gaps between classes or between lessons that they teach, but finding an 80-minute block of continuous time—are you kidding me? The pitfall for nibblers is that they must ensure they get all of their practice time in. It’s not so hard to get that first 20-minute session in, but they must be certain that they’ve planned the other sessions into their calendar, or else they will come up short from a quantity perspective.

For ALL practicers, I heartily recommend scheduling your practice into your calendar. Whether you’re a music student or a voice teacher or a freelancer, schedule your practice and honor that commitment just like you would honor a class time / meeting time / lunch date, etc. Students, I found great success with “accountability buddies” in college—I often had friends with similar schedules, and we would agree to go practice after a certain class or rehearsal let out. That sort of social aspect was very helpful. [In fact, one of my practice buddies became my wife!!]

Also: when it comes to practicing, both quantity and quality matter. So whichever practice personality you are, make sure that you’re getting quality practice, but enough of it! Students, talk to your teacher if you’re unsure what your quantity goal should be.

Alright, gotta sign off—time to practice!