In a Practice Rut? 7 Ways to Make Your Practice More Creative

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practice rutAre you in a practice rut, feeling a little bored, unproductive or unchallenged?

We all get into a rut occasionally. Usually it’s not from lack of discipline. Actually, often the diligent workers are the first ones to feel stuck in the practice mill.

Sometimes our practice can feel directionless or purposeless, like we are practicing in circles. Sometimes we simply don’t know what to do next. Other times we are just plain bored.

Music practice is hard work, and unless you have a deadline like a performance in the near future, it can be hard to maintain your focus and momentum. I understand this all too well, being by nature a reluctant practicer.

So over my years of practicing, performing and teaching, I have developed a number of strategies to make practice more creative and interesting. The ones I share with you in this post are ones that have been particular favorites because of their high “engagement factor.” They bring the “play” back into your music making. They utilize your imagination and stretch your musical creativity, keeping you engaged in the creation process.

The practice that happens feels almost like a by-product rather than the main focus, so it’s easy to reconnect with what you love about playing your instrument. And an additional bonus is that since your attention is directed to a different aspect of the music, you are likely to find technical and musical solutions that you couldn’t have discovered by sticking to your usual practice routine.

So let’s get you out of your rut! The strategies are below.

Strategy #1: Imagine yourself in a different time and place.
Think of your favorite time in history or a magical place in nature. Or imagine yourself as a legendary figure either in music or not. You can set the mood if you like with a prop, a costume or décor. Then play (not practice!) as you picture the setting in your mind’s eye. Does it change how you play the music? Can you feel a shift in your relationship to the music?

Strategy #2: Theme and variations on a favorite melody.
Choose one of your favorite melodies or perhaps just the first line from a song you like. Then use that as your “theme” and create some “variations” on that theme by using different rhythms or left hand accompaniment patterns. Or perhaps you could play the melody with the left hand and an accompaniment with the right hand. Borrow some ideas from an existing theme and variation piece.

Strategy #3: Arrange a favorite piece for you and a friend to play.
Turn one of your solo pieces into a duet for you and a friend. Start with one of you playing one hand, and the other playing the other hand. Switch it up. Add some special touches. Music is always more fun with a friend!

Strategy #4: Create the right atmosphere.
Sometimes the right backdrop can be inspiring.  Maybe a relaxing, self-indulgent atmosphere with soft background light and a soft pillow on your chair would help you focus. Or you could try bright colors and artwork as an invigorating and motivating environment.

Strategy #5: Imagine how your favorite harpist (or other musician) would play it.
Remember when you used to use your hairbrush as a pretend microphone? It didn’t matter how you really sounded; you felt like a rock star. This is the same idea. Close your ears and open your imagination and play. No recrimination or self-criticism. Enjoy your moment in the imaginary spotlight!

Strategy #6: Turn a technical exercise into a beautiful piece of music.
Start with the basic idea of the exercise. Add an accompaniment or a melody. Experiment with it until it sounds like a “real” composition. Why not? After all, it worked for the rock group Kansas with their hit “Dust in the Wind.”

Strategy #7: Play an old piece in a new way.
Why limit yourself to what is on the page? If the piece is in a major key, try making it minor. If it is in 4/4 time, try turning it into a waltz. If the rhythms are predictable and even, add some syncopation.

Which strategy will you try next time you’re stuck in a rut?

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