I’ve finally gotten a grip on how to practice! It’s been four years, and with changing productivity rates due to a Covid world, being on and off campus, off and back on campus, having ensembles and then not having ensembles, there have not been very many dependent variables in my practice routine. Let’s face it, there haven’t been many dependent variables in anyone’s practice routine. But based on how difficult it sometimes is to operate within a changing environment, I can say that I have gleaned a lot more from this time than I originally expected I would. This post comes at a time when I believe (and I could be wrong) that we might be turning a corner back into normality, or at least an adjusted normality, whatever that looks like.
There will be few things I miss about the last three years, but one of them is this: Having a routine sometimes looks like not having a plan at all, but just following where the artistic winds take you. I will miss being basically forced to spend time with the flute and nothing else, because I had all the time in the world to do it. Even though that sounds ridiculous, it’s true. With minimal time constraints, I could fully explore my sound. I can’t say I’m where I want to be yet, at least artistically, but I have now started to treat every practice session as if it is the only thing in the world to do. Disclaimer: reality dictates that my free time has died with a big fat DNR. But what I’m saying is this. If you have an hour, treat it like three. Feeling strained and pressed for time does more detriment to a person’s art than does spending all of the available time on a few small details. This may mean you don’t get to everything on your practicing list each day. For a while, I was not okay with that, but I think I’ve made up for it in the quality of the time rather than frequency. I can now spend three days a week working on a piece and get it to a place of comfort, whereas before covid started, I would need to do that piece every single day for a set amount of time before I felt okay about it. The fact is, musicians aren’t track stars, and we don’t train in intervals. Well, sometimes we do, but that’s usually done in solfege. Bad joke, okay…
Now that we’re entering a somewhat “back to normal” time, I can see how my mindset has changed. A mindset change can offer growth. By the way, I’m not advocating to spend zero time in the areas that are struggling while using all your time on the details you enjoy. Sometimes, a timer set for 45 minutes is necessary just to get your fingers moving. But by slowing down, zooming out, and listening to what we are hearing, quality time comes more easily than it does when we just keep our eyes and minds on the clock, when we just keep thinking about the next thing. This principle, of slowing down and not letting the to-do list get in the way, is one that my teacher has been trying to get across to me for many semesters. But I think I have finally begun to understand it during the last few months. The hustle and bustle and to-do lists stopped over Covid, and so I was forced to think about what I was really hearing in my playing. There are a billion and five other ways to practice, but probably a lot of those ways haven’t been discovered yet because we are too busy and task-oriented to notice them. I hope that when we reach a return to normal, there will be some positive revelations for all of us waiting on the other side.