Overcoming the Practice Slump
Ah practicing. The wonderful, wonderful part of being a musician. I actually thoroughly enjoy it, but that’s just the inner music teacher in me speaking, and I must profess my love of practicing, so my students will also come to love it as I do, right?
Honestly speaking, practicing used to be a chore for me. In fact, my mom used to have to force me to write it into a schedule that I had to follow each day, because let’s face it, most kids my age would’ve rather been running around outside or watching TV instead of doing homework and practicing. So for awhile it was a chore, until I made the conscious decision to become a professional, but even a professional faces practice hurdles.
While tackling a particularly lackluster lull in practicing, one of my friends posted this Bulletproof Musician article. In it, Dr. Kageyama explores the question “how many hours a day should I practice” and comes back with an in-depth analysis of what makes effective practice, mainly quality of practice over quantity. This was an eye opening article for many reasons: 1. I had always thought the longer I practiced, the better. 2. I realized how poorly I had planned out my practice sessions. and 3. It forced me to rethink my entire approach towards practicing, and really helped me out of the practicing rut. It even sparked the keeping of a practice journal. The journal itself had been recommended by a graduate student, but really did wonders. Suddenly, practice sessions made sense. I was able to track my goals better, as well as take notes about pieces, so that specific practice targets would be made and met by the following practice sessions.
Around this time, I also developed a set of personal practice rules. While rules will differentiate between people, it did help to solidify ideas into something simple to achieve by the end of each session. It also helped create more structure, and gave specific markers to look for while practicing.
It also helped immensely to listen to recording of pieces before playing them through. The first time you tackle a piece may feel overwhelming, but a certain amount of preparation should go into it, so you know what to lookout for. Namely, listen to the piece with your score out, and make markings along the way. The markings should make sense to you, and help you interpret the music. If it’s an orchestral piece, it’ll help you see how your part fits in, if it’s a solo piece, it’ll help you see what certain passages can sound like.
Other things to keep in mind: it’s just a practice session. Make it as fun and engaging for yourself as possible, it’ll only help you get over the slump. Find what motivates you, and what methods will help you organize your session better, and stick with it. It’ll help those extra awful practice days go by better.
These things helped me not only visualize a session going in, but also helped put the grueling amounts of practice into perspective. You only have 2 hours to practice? Formulate your plan for that. You’ll be surprised by what you can accomplish in that time, and I promise, the more you can do to organize those thoughts and help engage yourself better, the less likely you’re going to hit a major practice slump.