After a long day at work or school, we yearn for the plump softness of our beds, the relaxing sound of our favorite TV show, the serendipity of kicking up our feet and reading a good book.... Sometimes, the last thing on our minds is the "daunting task" of practicing a musical instrument.
It's strange, though. We love our instruments. We invest money, time, and energy into our musical journey. However, the primary ingredient for progress and success - practice - we seem to runaway from it. Why?
There are a few reasons:
1) Laziness and procrastination
2) Frustration and discouragement
3) Priorities and disorganization
For one, it's simple. Some of us are too lazy to practice. We find ourselves putting it off until the last minute, scrambling to perfect problem passages before a lesson or recital, even though we had ample time prior. More often than not, culprits such as Facebook, mid-day naps, online games, TV, and everything else distracted us from clocking in a good practice session.
The second is common. Many people spend weeks, months, and sometimes even a year or more, trying to perfect something, and progress comes at a sluggish rate. We get angry with ourselves for not being able to execute certain techniques. For string instruments, it's also discouraging to hear the squeaks, scratchy sounds, poor intonation, lack of control, and other difficult aspects of playing and learning. We may even hit plateaus, feeling further stunted in our musical growth. Practice, then, becomes a chore with painful reminders of the challenging journey we've chosen to embark on.
Opposite of laziness, we may have so much to do and learn in our daily lives; fitting in practice seems impossible at times! For children, school, home responsibilities, extracurricular activities, fun with friends and more might take precedence. For adults, work, family, chores, and other obligations are on the plate. Finding ways to priotritize and organize a steady practice routine into a busy schedule is not always easy.
So, what is the answer? How do we motivate ourselves to practice, overcome frustration and organize our time? Here are five major ways.
Approach playing and practice with a positive outlook. "What do I like about my playing?" Focus on these aspects. Praise ourselves when we do get something right. Don't dwell on the negative. Do not let the inner voice scold and abuse us. My violin teacher once said, "We must not be a tyrant over ourselves."
Change our perspective. Think of practice as a private time to unwind and relax. It's our happy time, a breather away from the responsibilities of everyday life. It's a time to learn to communicate in a very powerful, unique, and beautiful way.
Last, draw up a mental list of why we practice. For me, I know it's the only way to improve. Even if my progress is slow, tomorrow will still be better than if I hadn't practiced today. For others, recitals, jam sessions, and other events are great motivation to keep in musical shape. Some might want to learn a particular piece, song, or tune.
Sign up for the local community orchestra. Take formal music lessons. Start a garage band with friends, or take on a practice buddy. Enroll in a competition. Go to a Summer chamber music camp. These programs establish accountability, not to yourself, but to others. Playing in an orchestra or smaller group means polishing music so as to make everyone sound great together. This will encourage consistent practice because we don't want to let down our peers, teachers, and audience.
Get Organized and Stick to It!
Schedule, schedule, schedule! Set aside a specific time each day for a doable amount. Commit to it. Don't make excuses. Even if it's only five minutes, practice efficiently, and don't put it off, unless there's a legitimate emergency. Leave the instrument out in plain sight as a reminder. Place a sticky note on the fridge. Set an alarm. Do whatever it takes. Once it becomes routine, it'll feel weird to miss even one session.
Keep a journal of goals. What techniques do you look forward to learning? What pieces do you want to play? Large and small, think about where you want to go and where you want your musical voice to take you. This doesn't just apply to career or professional aspirations. Maybe you'd like to play Pachelbel for a cousin's wedding, or a more advanced version of Jingle Bells at the next family Christmas dinner. Listing goals both big and small will help us look forward to a practice sessions.
Keep It in the Forefront of Your Mind
There are a few ways to keep the instrument on the mind. Listen to recordings. Join online forums to discuss and ask questions. Hang out with people who also play. Read books, magazines, catalogues, and other publications on the instrument. Go to concerts. Host musical parties with other musicians. Discuss progress, goals, frustrations, and successes with friends, family, and teachers. This is a great way to maintain a high amount of enthusiasm for the instrument and to continue looking forward to one's own potential accomplishments.