Music Practice V Passive Leisure

 I did not wish to find when I came to die that I had not lived. – Henry David Thoreauremote_tv

The systematic time investment required for musical progress can be stolen by time thieves, and television is one of the great offenders. After work and sleep, television consumes most of our time and attention. On average, people watch three hours per day. For most people, this is half of their available leisure time and amounts to ten years spent in front of the television in an eighty-year lifespan. People who watch television feel relaxed and passive. When they turn off the television, however, the sense of relaxation ends, but feelings of sluggishness continue. “The television has absorbed viewers’ energy,” says Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “leaving them fatigued, disheartened, and after large quantities of viewing, slightly depressed”. People also report having more difficulty concentrating after watching television. It’s not just watching television that’s at issue. One American study found that children are exposed to on average of almost four hours of background television each day, and the youngest – under the age of two – 5.5 hours per day. The impact from such an environment includes a growing tendency to become bored easily, and an inability to pay attention. Australian health regulations recommend no television for infants under the age of two, less than one hour per day for older children, and two hours for adults.

I find television very educational. Every time someone switches it on, I go into another room and read a good book. – Groucho Marx

For children, television is a wonderful multimedia art form capable of educating and amusing us. The problem lies in the vast number of hours’ people spend watching it; television viewing can turn into an addiction. When television interferes with the ability and desire to learn new things, to participate in active life, and to commit to music practice, there is clearly a problem. Excess television viewing dehumanizes; it acts as a parasite of the mind. Not only does it dull the mind, but it also steals time from our lives, including precious music-practice time.

Children who choose to stop watching television show an improvement in concentration and mood and behave better in school. They also become more involved in activities such as music, sports, and reading.

It is in the improvident use of leisure that the greatest wastes of life occur. – Robert Park, American sociologist

Television is not the only time thief. In one Australian study, eighty percent of secondary school students reported distraction and procrastination due to the time they spend on Facebook. Some older teens are recognizing the problem, and desperate for productivity, are asking friends to change their Facebook passwords for them, locking them out of the site. Other students are activating temporary website-blocking programs such as SelfControl. Not only are the students frustrated, but also educators and teachers at major institutions such as Harvard and MIT are becoming increasingly exasperated with their students’ distraction from being constantly online. Harvard Law School’s Jonathan Zittrain labeled the phenomenon ‘demoralizing,’ and the University of Chicago turned off wireless networks in classrooms. Some educators believe the present generation of teenagers will adapt to multi-tasking but a 2009 Stanford University study found that this is unlikely. Multi-taskers make more mistakes because of the shifting of attention between activities. They are distracted more easily, have poorer concentration, work less efficiently, and do not write as well. We can’t parallel process. We can only think about one thing at a time. What we do is switch between thoughts very quickly causing us to divide our attention. Put aside distractions and focus on one task at a time.

Attending to e-mail, inseparable in many people’s business and social organisations, is another time thief. An Australian investigation found that “Workers spend on average 14.5 hours per week checking, reading, deleting, arranging, and responding to e-mail”.

The future will belong not only to the educated, but to those educated to use leisure wisely. – Charles K. Brightbill

Computer games are more interactive than watching television, but the creative aspect is mostly reactive and responsive rather than self-initiated. This is because most computer games generate play content that must be followed. A Carnegie-Mellon study found that by the time a boy turns twenty-one he is likely to have spent about ten thousand hours playing computer games. This is the same amount of time the average student spends in school from the fifth grade to twelfth grade. This is also the same amount of time required to develop an expertise. A Ministry of Japan study that found an 18% differential in math results for students playing computer games for four hours in comparison with those who played for one hour. Japan now recommends no-computer-games days for students. Similarly, a Cambridge University study linked more screen time with lower school grades. Most people underestimate their phone touching. The average person touches and swipes 2617 times per day, equating to 145 minutes in 76 separate sessions a day, and the top 10 percent 5427 touches per day. 80 percent of phone interaction is with games.

Including television, computer games, and social networking sites, children aged eight to eighteen spend approximately 6.75 hours per day in front of a screen. What is the return on this time investment? Success requires time. I have students conduct an inventory of their time usage. Not only do they analyze where their time goes, but they also commit to shifting some of that time to more important activities, such as music practice. Children often are amazed at where they spend time and how unrelated it is to their life goals. A time inventory can provide the necessary wake-up call.

This can be a matter of balance. We all need to wind down. To relax and just be is important. We are, after all, human beings, not human doings, but if passive leisure is the single object of recreation, its pursuit can become meaningless. The effects of passive leisure are ephemeral, but recreation has meaning for the long-term. It is surprising that with so many opportunities for recreation and leisure, enjoyment can be elusive. Studies indicate that many people find more meaning and happiness at work than in their leisure time. For a world obsessed with work, leisure is a serious matter, and learning how to use leisure time has become a significant challenge.

From ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’ by Michael Griffin. Reviews below.

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The Music Trust 


American Music Teacher

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“Super book. I am so impressed!” – Donna Michaels, USA

“Fantastic book, simply brilliant! – Ian Cooper, Norfolk, UK

“Don’t miss this opportunity!” – Mary George, USA

“Rarely do I come away feeling so inspired. Incredibly beneficial.” – Music Matters Blog

“A must buy for every music teacher and music student” – William Bruce, Teacher of Strings, UK.

“Deeply impressive, the breadth of research is fascinating!” – Robert Chamberlain, Team of Pianists and Monash University Piano Staff, Victoria Australia.

“I have read your book and it has made an amazing difference in my teaching and in my studio.” Beth Cruickshank, Past President – Ontario Registered Music Teachers Association.

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Also by Michael Griffin


Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Fundamentals of Notation is a unit of work for general music middle school classes. Designed around the mastering of practical skills, it integrates theory, aural and history, and allows students to progress at their own rate. View Table of Contents.  “This has been a great buy; the books are just superb! Interesting topics with a wide range of pieces. Great content with clear progression of learning. Fascinating teaching philosophy! BRAVO!” -The Grieg Academy, London. Available at

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Music and Keyboard in the Classroom: Let’s Get Creative! is the fun and creative extension to ‘Fundamentals of Notation’.

View Table of Contents. “We have been using your keyboard course and the results have been amazing!”  – St George College, Australia

Available at

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‘Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs’

Second edition. Bumblebee! is more than just a wonderful collection of 130 choir exercises and rounds. The author shares timeless wisdom to help you get your choir – primary or secondary – into shape.
View Table of Contents.

“Will prove useful for almost everyone”- Rhinegold Music Teacher Magazine.

“This is a great resource to add to one’s library of rehearsal tricks.”- Anacrusis, ACCC, Canada

harmony bk cover

Modern Harmony Method: Fundamentals of Jazz and Popular Harmony (Third Edition, 2013) is a clear and well organised text suitable for students of arranging and composition, and for classically trained musicians wishing to grasp the beautiful logic of jazz harmony. Essential understandings include chord selection, voicing, symbols, circle of 4th progressions, extensions, suspensions and alterations. Included in the 107 pages are explanations, examples, exercises and solutions. The course can be started with students in year 9 and worked through to year 12 musicianship, composing and arranging.  Available at

Public speaker, music education trainer, conductor and pianist. Author of 'Learning Strategies for Musical Success', 'Bumblebee: Rounds & Warm-ups for Choirs', and 'Modern Harmony Method'.

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Posted in Emotional intelligence, Multiple Intelligence, Music Education, Music psychology

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