This semester, I’ve been trying to streamline my practice time, especially when it comes to orchestra music. Being in an ensemble is required for most music majors, and it can really take up a lot of your time, even outside of rehearsals.
Before this semester, I was never someone who scheduled my practice time. Sure, I knew what blocks of time I had to practice on any given day, but I didn’t have a plan on what I was doing exactly. I’m also a person that can start a habit no problem, but never keep them up. But once I switched to an iPad for my sheet music and for taking notes in class, I started to use Goodnotes to my advantage.
Even the most seasoned of practitioners need to refresh themselves on how to practice, and that includes something as simple as how to divide up your time. In my last post, I discussed the importance of adopting the mindset that we have all the time in the world when we are in the practice room (even though we don’t!). But for more methodical thinkers, there are some ways to make our time feel more manageable.
This week, I had some trouble with my flute. Actually, the problems have been very slight for about six weeks now, but it got worse this week. This comes at a shaky time for me, because my recital is in under two weeks! Yikes! The question for me was whether to chance playing on my flute with its leaks or sacrifice a few practice days without it. Thankfully, the repair person, Tom Peterson of Flute Asylum, loaned me a flute for the days mine will be in the shop. Here are some things I’ve learned through this experience:
Let’s talk recitals. They’re really hard and also really fun. In my time here, I’ve gone through the process four times. And I’m lucky enough to say I’ve experienced a miracle of sorts with recital prep: Each recital has gotten progressively less scary for me!
Opening the violin case is a very hard process at times. It often means you are about to focus extremely hard for a long period of time. It is much more convenient to just swipe past the Google Docs tab I’m writing on, to stop on Netflix about two slots over, or go grab lunch with friends. In musical communities, these negatives exit the mind, because everyone else is going to rehearsal/practice as well. It’s inspiring, because you see the hard work and great music of your peers, and also competitive because odds are the person you are listening to will be competing for a job or ensemble seating in the future. However, that practice room inspiration got taken away recently due to the epidemic. For a long time, there were no ensembles, no summer camps, no concerts, and no trips with friends to the practice rooms. How does a musician gain the motivation to practice during the pandemic?
Today, a university-wide non-instruction day, I was struggling to begin practicing my violin. The thought of it seemed overwhelming like it was too daunting of a task, and my mind began to throw evaluative statements at me, like “it’s not going to be good enough, you should’ve started earlier in the day, why aren’t you being productive?”, which made it even harder to begin. So, around 5:30 pm, I forced myself to stop watching Youtube videos, trying to distract myself from the stress, and took my roommate’s puppy on a walk around the block, focusing on breathing in the cool spring air. Then, I decided to sit down and write this blog post!
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.
If you’re like me, practicing at home for you is, at times, difficult. I LOVE the peaceful nature of a blank, quiet, room at the music building, with no distractions but the sound of my colleagues practicing. It’s taken me a while to adjust to practicing at home during this difficult time, but it just has to be done. Here are some things that have helped me figure it out along the way: