Are you not practicing today?
Those are the most powerful words that anyone can ever say to me. They are the ultimate reminder – or possible kick in the pants – that as a musician my job is to practice. Daily.
When is it okay not to practice? Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, founder of the Suzuki method, had a very clear philosophy. When he was asked by his young students when they should practice, his reply was invariably, “Only on the days you eat.” Of course, that’s a rule more suited to creating proper habits in young students than to adult students with busy schedules and myriad responsibilities.
Whether you’re an amateur musician or a professional musician, you understand that practice is important. If you don’t practice, you don’t make progress. So how do you balance all the responsibilities and schedule upheavals that happen in a typical week? When is it safe to skip your practice, and when do you really need to practice anyway?
My answer might surprise you. I think that is perfectly okay to skip practice sometimes. Occasionally you might need a break, or you might be going through an extra busy time at work. It’s important to give yourself permission to alter your practice schedule when necessary.
Necessary, however, is the key word here. Skipping practice isn’t always truly necessary. And sometimes it’s downright self-sabotage.
Daily practice accomplishes three important things. First, it keeps us connected to the instrument physically, mentally, and spiritually. It’s like keeping in touch with loved ones; if you don’t do it often enough, the relationship can suffer.
Second, it helps us maintain our skills. Maintenance practice is some of the most important practice we can do, but it only benefits us if we do it regularly. Why should we give up ground that we have worked so hard to gain? This is why 1 hour of practice over each of 5 days is better than 5 hours of practice one day and no practice over the next four.
And most importantly, regular practice allows us to grow. It is how we develop our skills and our musicianship and how we keep improving and moving forward.
Clearly, we all have times when daily practice isn’t possible. The trick is to figure out when you can safely skip practice and when you absolutely MUST practice, even if it is difficult. These are the times when not practicing is not an option.
Not Practicing Because You Don’t Have Time
When you’re extremely busy, no matter the reason, you must find time to practice. You will find it calming and soothing, a powerful relief from stress. Don’t try to make progress or do intensely concentrated work in these times. Instead, create a 10-15 minute mini practice routine, including whatever music or exercises you choose.
In my “Practice for the Finish” course, I call this “Promise Practice.” It’s keeping your promise to yourself that no matter how complicated life seems, you will find a few minutes to relax and make music you love.
Not Practicing Because You’re Avoiding Something
Is there a piece of music you know you should be working on but you just can’t muster up the courage to practice? You know which one – it’s the one behind all the other music on your stand, or at the bottom of the pile.
It’s critical not to let that one piece come between you and your harp. Create a plan to conquer a small part of it, even just a single bar. And then reward yourself by playing something less challenging or more enjoyable. Don’t let your procrastination on this temporary obstacle turn into a more permanent condition.
Not Practicing Because You Don’t Feel Like It
Not in the mood?
I get it. Practicing isn’t all that much fun, even when you feel like doing it. Add to that some beautiful sunny weather and a touch of spring fever and practice becomes something you can put off until later. Or maybe you feel you can’t muster up enough energy to practice after a long day.
I think this is a great time to practice. When you overcome your initial resistance to sitting down to practice, you can find relief, relaxation and pleasure in your practice. If you begin by playing one of your favorite pieces, you can quickly find yourself absorbed in your playing and able to practice with concentration and even enjoyment. It doesn’t have to be a long session; even 15 minutes will relieve tension and ease the stress of a difficult day.
Are you not practicing today?