The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to readdress our practice habits, but whether our new year's resolution is to practice more or to get more done in our available time, the first thing we should alter to promote the success of our new resolution is the enjoyment we get from the work we are doing.
After all, a new habit that feels like a punishment is bound to burn out within a couple of months in the minds of even the most dedicated of workers.
Here are 10 ideas for how to make practice more enjoyable in 2023.
1. Plan your practice time in advance
As Dwight D. Eisenhower is quoted to have said ‘plans are nothing; planning is everything’. There is little harder at the end of a long working day than deciding to get our instrument out and start working.
The moment we start to negotiate we are destined to choose the easiest option and whilst tapping into how our bodies and minds are feeling and avoiding overwork is super important, it doesn’t get us closer to where we want to be in the long run.
Dedicating time to plan the week ahead of us helps to remove the emotional effort of planning spontaneously, sit down with your agenda and plan in your sessions just like you would plan with friends or work meetings, and simply show up for yourself when your agenda tells you to!
Taking the decision making out of every practice session means that you can invest that emotional effort into the work ahead of you instead!
2. Optimize your practice space
Nobody wants to practice in a dark mess. Whilst most of our perception during practice is focused on the haptic (feeling through the body) and auditory (listening to the sound we are creating) sensations, our subconscious is always picking up messages from our surroundings.
Paying attention to the space we work in can therefore have a huge impact on our happiness during work.
To make a practice space that optimizes focus, make sure to practice in a space without an abundance of visual stimulation and if possible find somewhere with exposure to sunlight as this increases the brain’s release of the hormone serotonin, associated with boosting mood and helping us feel calm and focused.
3. Vary your practice styles
When we think of practice, we often imagine somebody slaving away at the same couple of lines for hours on end until they eventually manage to ‘get it right’.
In reality there are so many types of practice, each with a different type of goal in mind. To keep practice interesting and mentally stimulating it is helpful to vary our styles of work, we might perhaps start with working at technical elements reduced to their basic movements with or without the instrument and then move on to testing our memorisation or sight reading of a piece throwing in some fingering problem solving at the end.
4. Be stricter with your breaks
Taking breaks is absolutely essential during practice, not just to avoid physical injury, but also to help us refocus our minds on the task at hand.
Make a resolution this year to take at least one five minute break during each practice session no matter how short your planned session and use it to stretch your hands, sit up straight, roll your shoulders back and meditate on how the practice is going so far.
Getting your head out of the sand during each practice hour is invaluable in realigning your short term actions with your long term goals.
5. Be audacious with your goals
On the topic of goals, it is important to make some big ones and not limit yourself based on insecurity or fear of failure this year! Nothing is impossible.
Dig down deep into what it is that you want to achieve ultimately, it might take some thinking, and really visualize everything that is part of your picture of success with music.
If it helps to write this down then do so, but make sure to keep it to yourself, so often we limit ourselves based on the judgment we think we will receive from others, knowing that this will not be seen by any eyes other than our own helps to remove the expectation stimulus that can cloud our true desires.
6. Be realistic with your method
Once you have been as audacious and honest as is possible with your goals, take a moment to meditate on how many things would have to be changed or improved to get you to that place. In a world where we are required to ‘sell ourselves’ often, be that in job interviews advocating for ourselves through our previous experiences, in a friend group talking about how wonderfully everything is going or sharing an online impression of our lives, we don’t have much occasion to look in the mirror and honestly estimate our current reality regards where we want to be in our wildest dreams.
The new year is the perfect time to take stock of where we currently are and plan forward for the future.
Plan your steps as incrementally as possible towards your goals, it's always better to make a plan that is definitely sustainable than a plan that requires a future you will constantly be over achieving.
7. Keep your work in perspective
Some days we sit down at the instrument with all of the best intentions, but we just don’t feel that we are getting anything done, or we might play something through and feel that we really haven’t improved at all.
In these moments it is so important that you trust the process, not every day is going to feel like we’re making active progress, but we make the most progress on the days that we sit down anyway and find ways to get around our feeling of not being or doing good enough.
Consistency is the key to getting where we want to be, so try not to let your mood or feelings around the perceived ‘success’ of your practice get in the way of you chipping away at your goals for the day, week or month.
8. Welcome outside inspiration
Practice doesn’t only happen in the practice room, it is a mental fine-tuning as much as it is a physical training, so be on the lookout for inspiration from the outside world, it might just give you that push or tip for how to achieve your goals that you didn’t know you needed.
9. Become part of a community
Practice can feel isolating, it is after all a singular activity that requires deep attention and focus. In a world where the internet allows us to connect with people from all walks of life, it would be silly to not take advantage of the communities of like-minded-people that have been created.
Whether it be to lurk on a forum and glean information from those going through the same motions as ourselves, or to take an active role in a community and ask questions or offer support to other pianists, take as much advantage as possible of our connectedness. There are people going through that exact practice slump like you are, and people who have been through it offering advice, you just have to find them and engage!
10. Make time for play
In my writing I talk a lot about goals and how to achieve them, how to optimize practice, how to play better, because I really truly care about people getting to where they want to be, in my opinion that is where happiness lies (not just in achieving your goals but in the process that gets you there).
It is, however, just as important to make time for play as it is for fine-tuned efficient work.
The reason we picked up the instrument in the first place was because we thought there was something inside us that we could manifest to express ourselves, and we deserve to explore that side of our work on a daily basis, the side that is selfish and self indulgent and only focuses on being completely enjoyable to ourselves.
So happy playing, and a very happy new year from everybody here at tonebase, it’s going to be a great year!
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