Tips for Practicing at Home
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:
1. Ask your roommates/neighbors/landlord for permission
This one is really important. I am lucky enough to live in an apartment where my landlord has no rules about music except that it only occurs between 9:00 am and 11:00 pm. And, I have a roommate who I communicate with about when I practice at home, since sometimes they need a quiet environment to study in. However, some of my friends live in buildings that don’t allow any loud music (even the sweet sounds of practicing the violin) so they make their way to the music building to practice in their designated practice room-- after obtaining building access and a negative COVID-19 result, of course. My advice is to figure out what your situation is and go from there, because no one wants to deal with neighbors you’ve bothered by making too much noise, or a warning from your building that you’re violating their rules, when all you’re doing is trying to practice the skill you went to college to study.
2. Have (a) designated practice space(s)
In my apartment, I practice in one of two places: a specific corner of my room, or a specific corner of my living room. The regularity of going to one of these spaces is similar to going to a practice room, because I only go there when I am going to practice. It’s like that rule about not doing homework on your bed, because your bed should be a place of rest! It’s been hard enough for our brains to adapt to so many changes in our lifestyle due to the pandemic, especially involving less time spent going from place to place and more time in our homes, so we might as well make it as similar to a “normal” routine as possible.
Another thing that I’ve found works for me is a tip from Professor Schleicher, our orchestra director, and it’s a really great one. He recommends compartmentalizing the elements of your practice to different parts of your space. So, my room is where I practice technique and slow, detailed work, and the living room is where I do run-throughs of my repertoire. I’ve found this also compartmentalizes the experiences of practicing vs. performing really effectively, even though it’s only in another room of my house.
3. Structure your time
This is just a general recommendation for practicing, regardless of where you’re doing it because it’s always more productive to go into your practice room with a plan. I’ve found it even more essential to making use of my limited time because now, technically, it feels like I have more time! Not having to walk a couple of blocks to class means that I can practice for longer and then jump onto Zoom only minutes before the class starts. But, I’ve found that I am being too hard on myself, equating “more time” with an expectation of having to be more productive. This is especially hard on the weekends when I might have a whole day to practice but I end up procrastinating, doing anything but that, and then playing for an hour or so before bed. By making a plan at the beginning of the day, and blocking out several blocks of practice time in a day, I can get more done in two 3-hour blocks, separated by eating lunch, getting on a Zoom class, and doing homework, than in an unstructured 8 hours. And, I’m mentally better off for it.
4. During practicing breaks, find what works for you
After I use my tuner on my phone, and unless I’m using it as a metronome, I push myself to plug my phone in, check if I have any urgent notifications, and leave it be until I’m done practicing. I used to look at it a lot during practice session breaks (and I sometimes still do) but it has served me the most to read a book instead. It provides a mental and physical break and still keeps my attention. Lately, it’s been quite difficult for me to get into the flow state of practice, where I’m just focused on my body playing my instrument and on the music in front of me, and I’ve found that the concentration and flow I get into while reading is similar to what I find when practicing. So, for me, it just works better than looking at a screen! If this isn’t your experience, and the idea of picking up a book just sounds unpleasant, then try something else-- get lost in a crossword puzzle, journal for a couple of minutes, draw in a sketchbook, do some mindful stretching...honestly, do whatever provides you some mental space and physical rest, and prepares you for the next part of your practice session.
5. Ask for feedback from your colleagues, teachers, and yourself.
As part of my FAA James Scholar Honors Project this semester, I am recording myself running through sections of my repertoire for my Junior recital. If I wasn’t doing that, it would take a lot of convincing and willpower for me to take regular videos of myself playing. Although it is at times painful to watch it back, it really is 100% worth it– especially now that we are expected to be our own teachers, even more so than usual! It’s also a good practice in giving constructive criticism, which we are able to do for our colleagues in-studio class each week, but I think we don’t always structure it with the same care for ourselves, which we deserve. And then, if you’re comfortable, find someone to send these videos to whose opinion you value and trust! Or, Zoom-call them and play in real-time! Another fun thing I like to do is ask whoever is in my apartment with me at the time, whether it be my roommate or my boyfriend, and play a section in two different ways and ask for their opinion. It’s usually a section I’m struggling to make a decision on, or something that I think sounds off and I just can’t place it, or to see if they can hear the difference in the bowing I’m choosing to use. They might not even notice what you’re talking about, or, even better, they might notice something entirely different. Even if you don’t live with a musician, their opinion can be very useful, as they will hear things probably more aesthetically and thus will inform you on the way you’re perceived by those outside your field. Finding ways like these to step outside yourself and check-in are powerful opportunities for change, and I encourage you to try this last one out for sure, wherever you’re practicing.
I wish you all the best! Happy practicing.