The Importance of Rest as a Musician
Being in college as an undergraduate or a graduate student is a lot more difficult than people like to think it is. Especially in the school of music, where what we do as musicians isn’t necessarily always physically taxing. But, music takes a lot of skill, effort, time, and mental focus to do well, and that can take a toll on your mental health.
If you peek at your class syllabi, you might find a sentence or two on excused absences. This is something that can be easily overlooked, but is so important to see what your specific professor’s policies are. Sometimes professors allot a couple days for unexcused absences, while others expect an email beforehand if you know you’ll miss class. Whatever the case may be, use these to your advantage! You won’t be able to be fully present in your classes if you need to rest, whether that be physically or mentally.
Again, college is hard! It can be stressful, especially when you factor in your personal life, your social life, romantic relationships, etc. If you feel that you need time to rest, take the time to rest. Something my violin professor Dr. Koo said in a studio class recently is this; “resting is more important than practicing”, and that is so true! How many times have you gotten into the practice room, opened your instrument case, and realized you are having a hard time focusing because you are exhausted? I’ve had my fair share of those days, and it really does make a difference to rest instead of forcing yourself to practice in those instances. I am a huge proponent of napping (much to my parent’s chagrin), but also rest is super important because during the school year you are playing your instrument a lot. Various ensembles, your lesson materials, auditions, among many other obligations take up a lot of your time and can take a toll on your body if you are not careful. I’ve seen violin performance majors have to switch their major by the end of their degree program because they sustained an injury from playing too much, or pushing through pain. Especially if you feel any pain while playing, stop and make sure to discuss it in your next lesson!
Rest is productive, and it is necessary as musicians to make sure we are being kind to our minds and our bodies. Bottom line; if you need to rest, rest!
Leaving Hustle Culture Behind
Over this past winter break, I really struggled with having nothing to do.
For the weeks leading up to it, I was spending almost every second I could finishing projects and studying for finals. Then, it all just stopped.
I spent most of my days rereading old books, playing games on my phone, or watching tons of movies back-to-back. And every day that I did this I told myself “you’ll start doing stuff tomorrow.”
I had plans to go to the gym, to start writing essays for new scholarships, and to go to the store. But every day I felt so exhausted I couldn’t convince myself to leave the house.
It was hard for me to accept that staying on the couch was probably best for me. College kept me on a routine, and every day that I worked made me feel productive. But the work piled on quickly and felt overwhelming, and I never gave myself a second to rest.
By the time winter break came, I was completely drained.
It all came from this assumption that work is the only form of productivity. When I have a long day of classes or spend hours in the library until most of my class work is done, I feel like I couldn’t have spent the day any better.
Yet when I accomplish the same amount of class work while waking up at noon, I perceive the day as already being over, if not “ruined.”
I attribute much of this attitude towards the hustle culture promoted on social media, where people romanticize their 9-5s, business trips, and all-nighters of studying, and they never forget to include the dozen chores they completed in the same day.
This lifestyle balance is no doubt impressive, but it pushes the narrative that work is the only way to have a well-spent day, and it fails to account for the times that the workload is too much. After 5, 6, or 7 days of constant work, your body needs a break.
With hustle culture, spending a day hardly leaving your bed is seen as a day wasted. But pushing past that expectation allows you to see it as a chance to rest. You can feel pride knowing that, even when you are so drained from work that you can hardly get out of bed, you still took the time to make lunch or shower or take care of yourself somehow. That can still be a day well spent.
Letting your mind and body decompress and relax for a day can be as beneficial to you as working through your assignments. That time to refocus can even help you work with a better head on your shoulders.
College provides an incredible community of passion for education, with hundreds of resources for new information. It is a hub for anything you would ever want to know, and I absolutely love it. But when school becomes all work with no time to breathe, it can feel overwhelming.
Scheduling even an hour or two into your day or week to do something fun or close yourself off from the world can make college that much more manageable and enjoyable. Treat those moments of nothingness or “wasted time” as moments of self-care, to breathe and recenter away from all the work coming in.
Fall Back Into Fitness
Musicians spend a lot of time practicing their instruments every day. Although it is an indispensable daily routine, being sedentary and maintaining the same posture for a long time can bring about various body aches, or more seriously even irreversible pain and sequelae to the body. So far, I am glad that I have not experienced such troubles, perhaps because I have maintained the habit of exercising. Whenever I become tired after practicing piano or doing homework, I can always rejuvenate myself by exercising.
This is not something to fool around with! As a person with an autoimmune disorder that is directly affected by healthy (or unhealthy) eating, I can tell you that the energy you get from food does count. There was a time when I was drained, exhausted, unable to complete my work, and unable to focus in the practice room. This was in part due to family stress and managing hypothyroidism, but another cause was food health. Now, I’ve made a few tweaks and paid more attention recently, and it’s a whole new world. I can achieve twice as much on a healthy day than I can on a day when things are rushed and what I eat is a hodgepodge of junk. Exercise is great, too, but sometimes it’s not enough. I love to run, but no matter how much I do or don’t run, healthy eating always comes into play. It can be so hard, especially when you’re doing your own cooking, to make time for health. With crazy busy schedules, musicians often don’t find time to take care of themselves. But eating and cooking healthy can be for everyone, so this applies to musicians, too!
The Essentials in my Daily Life
As a junior, I have learned key aspects in my life that help me keep going and ensure that I am healthy. Of course, I am still learning and there is no perfect routine out there, but I have come a long way in figuring out some things that work for me. As long as you are willing to learn and experiment with what brings you joy then that’s all that matters. I thought I might share some things I do every day that make life a bit easier.
As both an instrumentalist and vocalist, the care in the instrument is very much different. An instrument, such as the cello, is separate from your body and being. Stringed instruments you have to be aware of during the changes in season, cracks, bending of the bridge, the hair on the bow, etc. But when taking care of the voice, it teaches you what your limit is and how to be patient. Of course as an instrumentalist, no matter what your instrument is, you learn your limits and patience, although I have learned that as a vocalist, there is a different sense of limits and patience for yourself.
As a college student, mental health is crucial to ensuring that you succeed in your studies and making the most out of your college experience. I think that as a performance major there is even more at stake when there is always a constant reliance on emotional, physical, and mental well-being.
Hey! I just wanted to give a brief anecdote and share a couple of reminders having to do with my recent experiences of practicing mentally, without my instrument, and coping with recital preparation stress through mindful awareness.
At the end of my last rehearsal on Friday, I noticed an ache in my elbow, where the forearm meets the joint, specifically when I moved my pinky finger. I knew I had been playing with some tension, as I was nervous about giving my recital in a few weeks, and I was playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto, which is filled with sixths, octaves, and tenths, so a little ache in my hand wasn’t surprising. The pinky is most likely a player’s weakest finger, and I was giving it a hard workout with this repertoire. So, I did some cool-down stretches and didn’t play for the rest of the day.