A number of years ago I was teaching music in the public school system. I had several choirs. One of them, a medium-sized high school auditioned choir (45 members), rehearsed with me once a week for two hours. Another was a smaller jazz choir (20 members), which rehearsed twice a week, but only 35 minutes per session — roughly half the amount of rehearsal time the other choir received.
Most the members of my jazz choir were also members of the high school auditioned choir. But here’s the curious thing: the jazz choir, with its approximately one hour of rehearsal time per week, learned music quicker, and retained more, than the larger choir which had about double the rehearsal time.
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Education theory tells us that, most of the time, breaking one large task into several shorter sessions results in a more effective use of time. The longer we spend on any one task, the more we tend to succumb to boredom, and the less efficiently we work.
There’s a short article from about 12 years ago that describes this, which you may want to read: “The Science of Studying” on the “Study Hacks Blog.”
The Length of Your Songwriting Sessions
I would make the case that the same holds true for songwriting sessions. I really believe in scheduling your songwriting as a way of making sure that you give it the attention it needs in order for you to improve.
But a problem can when you set aside one large chunk of time per day: you become less efficient, your thinking slows down, and important abilities such as retention and creative thinking can diminish.
If you’re in the process of working out a songwriting timetable for yourself, try to schedule a couple of shorter sessions per day, rather than requiring yourself to work for one long session. Or simply shorten your existing session and take up the task the following day.
Shorter sessions mean:
- you help to prevent creative frustration from building;
- you keep your creative mind fresh and energetic;
- you allow downtime for musical ideas to develop in your creative mind;
- you prevent boredom;
- you make it more likely that you will stay focused on your creative tasks for that songwriting session.
Working out your songwriting schedule is a highly individualized task, and it may take some experimenting. You might find that 2 short sessions in one evening, with an hour-long break in between, feels right, while other songwriters might need longer breaks.
In fact, you may find that making the best use of your time means having one short session per day, with many hours of downtime in between. In the study referred to in “The Science of Studying”, scientific experiments revealed that a 1-day break was optimum.
If you’ve been doing all your songwriting in one long session per day, the 1-day break simply means that you should simply shorten your session. How short? When frustration begins to set in, you know it’s time to give yourself a break.
What I found with my jazz choir is that they learned faster, and retained more, when they had two 35-minute rehearsals. The 2-hour rehearsal was generally less effective, certainly after one hour of work.