Wednesday, June 1, 2016

5 Practice Habits to Avoid

There aren't many other calming moments than the tranquil, blank mental space that accompanies those first few days at the end of the school year.  Suddenly there is so much time, assuming we can stop feeling exhausted.


Time can be our friend or our enemy in terms of our practice.  In preparations for TAPS East Coast, which starts this weekend, I find myself examining my thoughts about practice.  Since many of us are now in a limbo stage, somewhere between relaxed and feeling guilty about it, I'm hoping we can bond over these ideas.

Playing Cold – Some people warm up, some don’t.  Though some rep doesn’t require it, if we’re coming in from cold weather, just woken up, playing after a multi-week break, or about to run a complicated recital program, we have to warm up.  Cold muscles don’t move as well, which means the work goes elsewhere, like the tendons.

Cram Practicing – Sometimes life only gives us 2 weeks to prep a half recital, but if there’s any way to avoid it, we should. 
            If we’ve not practiced for days and think that 4 hours before a lesson will do any good…nope. And that's for several reasons, from induced anxiety to poor recall.  Even those of us that can learn music quickly shouldn’t rely on those abilities: it’s much smarter to begin preparations far too early and maybe feel “bored” in the process than potentially injure ourselves.

Taking Too Much Time Off – Though time off can be good for our mindset and attitudes, it’s not always great for our hands.  Just like athletes lose speed and strength with every day they don’t work out or practice, so do we.  Plus, the danger of taking too much time off is that we will cram practice once we’re back to it.  There’s the saying that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master an instrument; presumably, the healthiest way to log that time is to do it evenly, not in spurts.

Mindless Use – Musicians are often told that we feel pain because we overuse our muscles.  But I wonder if what has to happen is we become more considerate of how we use our muscles in other ways.  For example, if you want to practice 4 hours a day, play Xbox 4 hours a day, spend hours on the computer, and then do an upper body workout you’re probably going to feel pain in your forearms as each of those activities work the same muscles. 
            Perhaps we have to accept that being a musician means prioritizing our muscle use: as silly as it sounds, on days when I’m playing marimba and piano for many hours, I know I can’t go home and crochet, though it’s a pastime I cherish because my great-grandmother taught me how.  I can only crochet on days when I don’t practice as much, otherwise my fingers get over-fatigued.

Rep Jumps – We’re all guilty of wanting to play something cooler and more difficult.  Be that as it may, it’s careless to skip levels of rep, and though our minds can handle something harder, perhaps our hands aren’t ready.  Much motivation for practice comes from exposure to difficult pieces, but I don’t think there are many piano teachers who would suggest their students go from Bach’s WTC straight to Chopin’s Revolutionary.  There are steps in-between, and it’s healthy and necessary to take them.

Do you all do any of these things?  The above list includes some of my bad practice habits.  There are good ones, too, but those are for another time.

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