On May 8, 2015, I gave notice at Wake Tech Community College where I had been teaching for five years. I wanted more control over how I spend my time and the projects I take on as a musician. One of the things I was looking forward to the most is having time for own music practice. I want to get my voice in peak condition and improve my piano skills. This prompted me to think a lot about how to approach practicing. Here are three strategies I’ve found to be essential when beginning a practice habit, or hitting the restart button after a hiatus.
When you haven’t had control of your time for a while (that’s me) it is very tempting to say, “I’ll do it when I feel like it.” It’s the old “wait for inspiration to strike” idea. In my experience, this does not work. We get involved in other things, time gets away from us and the next thing you know, the day is over or you just have no more energy to give. Scheduling time helps you be more realistic. Can you really manage an hour of practice in the evening consistently when there is so much to be done? Better to schedule thirty minutes and be consistent with it.
For me, I know that I’m at my best in the morning. My best time to practice is 9am to 11am. I’ve been up for awhile, I’m focused and ready to go. I find that top priority tasks have to happen earlier in my day. This may not be the case for everyone, however. How can you make scheduling work for you?
It is such a simple thing to keep a journal of what you do, but it is so powerful. People have found that journaling helps them be more aware of their thoughts and emotions, how much they are eating, exercising, etc. Keeping a journal of your music practice does two things. First, it’s a way of keeping yourself accountable. If you skip a few days it’s right there in black and white. If you are skipping many days, you know you need to do some problem solving there. Second, it can help you track your progress and acknowledge it. When you write down what you’ve done and what you notice it becomes easier to see the progress you have made. Progress often happens so slowly that it is hard for us to see it. Acknowledging the progress you’ve made is a powerful motivator to keep going!
When you are just beginning a practice again, keep your expectations open. Actually, this is an excellent practice wherever you are in your study of music! We can get overly focused and rigid, “I will get that passage right!” That kind of dogged determination usually does not get good results. Instead, observe without judgement. You may notice that one exercise is easy, but another is not; that your concentration is better at particular times; that a note sounds pleasing when approached one way, but in another context, that same pitch is difficult. Learn about where you are first, then make a plan to reach your goals and implement the plan gently.
Let’s get the conversation started! Do you implement these strategies in your practice? What have you found to be most effective?