Tag Archives: motivation

Go practice!

Pick a Time!

I woke up yesterday to find the air had changed – the fresh, damp air of autumn had appeared. Summer is definitely on the way out, especially now it’s September.

Of course, September also brings with it that return to routine. Schools here have been back two weeks, and the English schools are about to kick in.

What, ask you, has this to do with music? Well, I’m sure you, dear reader, have practised diligently every day throughout your holidays, but I’ll be honest. I haven’t!

It’s so easy to make excuses as to why you can’t practice. I have a seven month old baby. My husband works long hours. My students have ever increasing homework piled upon them. Then, before you know it, it’s been months and you’ve not done anything.

So what’s the solution?

The only solution I know is this: Pick a time. Stick to it. Even when it sucks.

First thing in the morning can be a good time. A key part of lots of self-care advice is to have a morning routine that includes some ‘quiet time’. You want to start your day doing something that focuses your mind, and helps you prepare for the day. A few minutes at your instrument can be just that. Even for singers, it might not seem much fun to begin with, but adding a few vocal exercises to your morning routine can help to limber your voice up for the day. This probably isn’t the time for working hard on your pieces, but don’t discount singing some scales in the shower on principle!

My personal favourite used to be the “when I get home” slot. Come in, don’t sit down, go straight to your practice space, via the kettle if need be! By avoiding distractions, and going right to your music, it’s more likely to get done, and you won’t find the guilt eating into your free time. You might find you’re a bit vocally tired, but gentle warm-ups should help to ease your voice into things.

Some people prefer the evening. This can be risky if you have light sleepers in your house, or don’t want to bother the neighbours. However, I find it can be quite a relaxing time to practice – I’ve done all the housework and now I can do something for me. It’s much easier to focus on working through that tricky pattern, or memorise the words.

Image by monica liu on flickr

My challenge this week is to put my vocal practice back on the agenda now my daughter is settling into a bit more of a routine. I need to sing, so my pick is vocal exercises in the morning when my daughter is calm and happy, and then to do a little bit of work on my current project pieces in the evening a few nights a week.

To give myself a little motivation, I’ve set myself up with a star-chart and the reward that I can buy a new vocal selections if I can keep up some practice five days a week for the whole of September.

 

 

What about you? When do you like to practice? What are your tips for avoiding distractions and getting on with the music? What motivates you?

Need some ideas on what to do during your practice time? Try the macro-micro-macro method.

Why You Need HARD Goals

I’ve written before about SMART goals, but last year, I came across the idea of HARD goals, and it was a bit of a revelation.

What are HARD goals?

HARD goals are big goals. They’re not manageable, or realistic; instead, they’re:

  • Heartfelt – something that you really want to achieve. It’s a goal which you feel strongly about in a way that motivates you.
  • Animated – something that you can imagine achieving. You can really see the day that you’re going to get there.
  • Required – something you feel you have to do. It’s something you need to rather than have to do.
  • Difficult – something that’s beyond your abilities right now, but you are going to go for it anyway.

Think about the great songs from the musicals – none of the big dream songs are realistic, or time-bound. They’re not measurable or specific. They’re big, expansive, imaginary dreams that drive our protagonists forward. Think about Elphaba at the start of Wicked. In the song, The Wizard and I, she describes her heartfelt desire to meet the Wizard. It’s fully of animation with her imaginary conversation. It’s clearly something she feels is required for her future happiness, and it’s definitely difficult! This HARD goal is what drives her through the whole first half of the show (and if you want to know what happens in the second half, you should definitely try to see it!).

HARD goals are what we really find motivating. Why else would humans have climbed Everest, circumnavigated the globe or travelled into space?

Setting HARD Goals

Let’s face it, you probably have a HARD goal or two already. Perhaps it’s a life-sized HARD goal, like wanting to become a professional singer. Or maybe something a little smaller, but no less challenging, like singing in public. One of my HARD goals is to learn to accompany my students on the piano (I’m a first study singer, and only started piano lessons a few years ago).

The first part of setting a HARD goal is to work out what HARD goals you already have. What do you dream of? It might feel stupid, or impossible. It might seem ridiculous. That’s ok. Remember this is supposed to be a difficult goal.

If you don’t already have a HARD goal that comes to mind, try thinking about what you’d like your life to be like in five, ten or twenty years. Where does music fit in? What place does it have? Is it your career? A valued hobby? A way you are volunteering your skills? What kind of music can you play? What qualifications do you have? Are you in a choir? It should provide some inspiration!

Using Your HARD Goals

HARD goals are all about inspiration. They’re the things that drive us forward. Why not write them down? Keep them in your music notebook or on the wall in your room. Keep them in your mind so that when you are struggling to practice, or wondering why you bother, you can remember the goals that make you feel alive.

Our HARD goals can help us to make SMART goals too, and this is what I’m going to talk about next time.

Why I’d Rather Clean the Toilet Than Practice (Some Thoughts on Priorities)

After my cold-of-doom which inspired the post a few weeks ago, I have been slowly building back to my normal routine. Or, possibly, a new and improved normal routine. When you get a cold that results in taking steroids for your asthma, it makes you reconsider what is important in your schedule and how you can prevent yourself from having to repeat the experience. I’m try to focus more on the important things, and worry less about the urgent, but not important things – the things I can let go.

One of the things which is important to me is music (duh!). I want to make more time for practice, but it always seems to drift down to the bottom of my list, somewhere below cleaning the toilet and taking out the bins. The question is, why is that? Why don’t I value my practice time more highly, so it’s at the top of my list?

As I began to think about this, I had a startling revelation: what if I don’t practice regularly because it’s too much like having fun.

Image by poison-yvi at freeimages.com

Image by poison-yvi at freeimages.com

See, my to do list is usually arranged so that the “horrible, but necessary” tasks are higher up the list than the “fun, frivolous” tasks. Doing the washing up comes higher than watching the latest episode of my favourite TV show. Calling the utility company comes higher up than calling my mum.

If practicing is so onerous, and so much something I don’t want to do, why doesn’t it come higher up the list? If it’s so hard to practice, and so boring, why will I take out food waste before I’ll sit down at the piano? Perhaps it’s because I actually like practicing!

Maybe sometimes I’m not practicing for the same reason I don’t eat chocolate every day – I don’t think I should be allowed. But, here’s the secret. Practicing isn’t like chocolate. It’s much more like eating a rich, ripe peach – sweet and juicy and it shouldn’t be good for you, but it is! Eating a whole punnet of strawberries seems luxurious, but I bet most doctors would rather we did that every day than eat so much ice cream, or even pasta.

We can get so busy doing other things – the things which feel urgent, or which seem pressing. It can be easy to say that music practice doesn’t matter because it’s fun – it’s a thing we do for pleasure. But can we really say that because something is pleasurable, it’s not important? Music boosts intelligence and memory, it calms our minds, it releases hormones that make us feel happy. Aren’t these things worth something?

Hands Play the Piano - an image from Robert Couse-Baker on flickr

Image from Robert Couse-Baker on flickr

Surely, the things at the top of our to do lists should be the things that make us alive. At the top of our lists should be the things that make life worth living. Yes, we need to clean so we don’t die of food poisoning, but that isn’t why we let all the pleasurable things slip down the list. We let them slip because we worry that we aren’t good enough – our house isn’t clean enough, our inbox is too full, work is left undone. We worry we’re letting others down, and we’re trained not to put ourselves first.

And yet. Will we really call our lives a life worth lived if we hit “Inbox Zero” every day, but at the cost of the things we enjoy?

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider how you manage your to do list (be it real or imaginary). Perhaps it’s time to say it’s ok to do the things that give us pleasure. Perhaps, it’s time to let music practice come before the washing up from time to time. I know which one I’d rather be doing!

Five Tips to Make Your Practice More Effective

Struggling to get back into the swing of practice after the Easter break? Here’s five ways to make your practice more effective.

1. Make a date

Decide when you’re going to practice. Some people are routine practicers, but some of us need to plan it day by day. If you’re a routine person, pick that time and stick to it. If you’re day-to-day, decide on the next practice time at the end of the last one. I set myself a reminder at the end of my previous session for the time I can fit in my practice the next day.

2. Make a plan

Practice is always more effective if you have a plan. Do you sit down and flip through your books aimlessly? Do you only ever play the easy things? Or play everything once from start to finish? Make a plan that’s specific. My plans for my next practice are things like “run the first page until it’s fluent”, or “focus on the last eight bars working backwards from the last bar”. I write these down in a notebook and have that open and ready for my next session.

3. Small chunks

It’s easier to eat a steak if you cut it up, right? Practice is just the same. Break down each peice into sections. Usually phrases are better than bars, even for instrumentalists, as you want to develop a sense of continuity. Sometimes, of course, you have to break it down even smaller – that Bach run is much easier if you take three notes at a time! You’ll improve much faster if you can focus on one small thing at a time.

4 Take a break

Is it all getting too much? Are you feeling stuck? Take a break. Breaks can be different lengths. Sometimes, we just need ten minutes to regroup. Sometimes we need ten days to refocus. Breaks are good – your brain keeps on learning long after you stop practicing, so there’s no need to feel guilty. Of course, if you’re taking more break than you’re doing practice, you might want to think again.

5. Have big goals in mind

Where are you going? Why are you learning music at all? Big goals are really important. Are you aiming for music school? Or an audition for a local choir? Where you’re going affects how you’re going to get there. If you’re feeling unmotivated, why not spend your practice time answering the question “where do I want to be in five years’ time?” When you know where you’re going, write it down and remind yourself of it whenever you feel like you don’t want to practice.

What do you do when you’re struggling to practice effectively?