Motivation: Rust Proofing Your Practice

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motivation“She just doesn’t have the motivation.”

I remember hearing a performance many years ago by a young musician who seemed to have it all going for her: the kind of talent that makes everything seem easy and natural, and the poise to let her audience see how much she enjoyed performing.

Later though her teacher confided in me that this student was not really making progress. She just wasn’t motivated enough to put in the effort it was going to take to move to the next level.

Many of the students I work with now are adults whose main purpose in the harp study is to play for their own pleasure. That’s a fine goal and one I am happy to support. But it can be hard for these students to maintain their motivation to learn, practice and play without the kind of external pressure that performance deadlines can exert.

I will share with you the secret to keeping your motivation strong, and it’s not having a goal or taking lessons or scheduling performances. All of those external things can help, but there is one small but crucial thing you must have to stay motivated on your own.

I have seen how easy it is to lose focus and let the joy of learning music slip away as motivation ebbs. When we don’t have someone or something prodding us, nudging us toward a goal, we tend to put our music on the back burner, yielding to other demands on our time. When we are used to putting other people first, our harp playing will come last.

Motivation Killer Scenario

I imagine something like this has happened to you. You practice, play and enjoy making music on your own terms. Then you encounter a busy season and you need to take a break from your harp “just for now.” There are more immediate and pressing obligations.

Then comes the time when the dust has settled and you are ready to get back to the harp. Now you see that the dust has actually settled on the harp, so you get a cloth and polish it up. How terrible that you could let your harp go so long without playing, you think.

Suddenly it occurs to you that while there are no broken strings (thank goodness!) the harp is going to be dreadfully out of tune. You summon up the courage to plink out a few notes. Yep, this will be no two-minute tuning check. This will be a marathon.

Assuming that you have time left after you tune, you sit down to make some music and feel a kinship with the Tin Woodsman in Oz. Your fingers don’t want to move; they won’t do the most basic playing fluently. Where’s Dorothy to help you put some oil on your rusty fingers?

You had so looked forward to this reunion with your harp and it’s just not fun right now. Of course, you will get back in shape but it’s going to take some work. Sigh… This is the moment that motivation begins to die.

Keep Motivation Alive

Motivation is a peculiar thing. It is an inner flame, one which is sometimes like the warm, steady glow of a single candle and other times like a bonfire that dispels the dark chill of an autumn evening.

But we hold the match that lights the flame and we dare not let the match go out. Our secret weapon in the quest to keep motivation alive?

Consistency.

Our music can’t survive a long distance, “once in a blue moon” relationship. It requires regular nurturing and attention.

Inconsistency results in rusty fingers, forgotten pieces and backsliding. It can be disheartening, eventually to the point of frustration. It can feel as if you’re continually climbing out of a pit only to fall back in.

The good news is that consistency can be easy to achieve. It is just a series of small “touches” that keep you connected to making music, connected to playing the harp, on a regular basis.

Of course, the ultimate rust-proof strategy is daily practice. But if your schedule doesn’t allow for hours of time at the harp each day, I’d like to offer you a very minimal plan that will give you the maximum connection and motivational energy in a very short time.

It’s a five day streamlined practice plan. My recommendation is that you use it as a sort of checklist to help you keep the dust off the harp and the rust off the essential aspects of playing so you can enjoy playing more. You can spend as little as 15 minutes on each of these strategies or as much time as you want. You can use it weekly or less often, if you must, but doing each of these steps at least twice a month will give you the necessary consistency.

Rust-Proofing Your Practice

Day 1: Maintenance Day
Tune the harp, dust it, and strum a little. Also replace any broken strings.

Day 2: Finger Day
Play some scales and arpeggios, or exercises, or etudes or all of the above.

Day 3: Favorites Day
Play through your most recent favorite piece or two.

Day 4: Review Day
Play through some “old friend” review pieces.

Day 5: Explore Day
Read through some new music.

Simple, yes? That should be all you need to maintain the consistency you need to stay motivated, energized and loving playing the harp.

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  • Nanci

    I recently had a couple of weeks where I cicnt, couldn’t practice. My dad had been hospitalized and I had been ill. I lost all desire as I was mentally and physically exhausted. Going to my lesson put a spark back in and writing down a practice plan helped to give me steer the ship back on course so to speak. I agree that we should give ourselves permission to do less than what our “perfection self” tells us is ok. Just 5minutes can sometimes be enough or it might lead to more. Also reviewing why you play the harp in the first place is also helpful. Listening to some harp music on a favorite CD can be motivation as well.

    Reply

    • Rob Stone

      You’re right Anne! As an older harp student, the motivation for practicing is not the same as a young high school or college student. My own experience is that sometimes I will play a piece over and over, don’t make the kind of progress I want. Then I go into the areas that are slowing me down. All of this requires a lot of concentration and practicing technique or a piece I already know feels like a relief!

      Reply

    • Anne Post author

      Well said, Nanci!

      Reply

  • Karen DeBraal

    If it helps anyone, I look at tuning as a fun thing. Really. I find it an exercise in zen. I get to pluck the notes and really listen. And then once it is all done — wa-lah! I feel like a track-star ready to take off!

    Reply

  • adrienne fortnum

    Anne,
    It has been at least 2 months since I s at down at my harp to play or practice. I moved to an apartment which is quite small from a home that had 1802 square feet in it. It is taking way too long for me to get settled and I still have a long ways to go. My harp just sits here in the corner and I hardly know how to get restarted. Then I open your Harp letter, and lo and behold, there is a real answer.. I plan to get started tomorrow, or even this evening. I have missed playing it and want to start on my Christmas music. Thank you, Anne!

    Annie Fortnum

    Reply

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