Keeping your musical skills fresh when life gets in the way

This is such a busy time of year that it’s difficult to stay on top of everything. The school year seems to rev up just before it winds down, vacation time is looming, there are proms, graduations and recitals, and finding the time and the focus for productive practicing can become a challenge with all of those distractions. Yet you’ve worked so hard on developing your skills that I am sure you want to protect your investment from the inevitable loss that can occur due to neglect. In short you want to do what you can to keep your skills fresh!

If at all possible, resist the temptation to put your instrument aside or to take a little break. Taking time off is the surest way to have some of that carefully honed skill, technique and newly acquired dexterity deteriorate.  Of course it is always possible to gain back lost proficiency but nobody likes to have to re-do something that they’ve already done if they don’ t have to. As it turns out, there are ways to avoid it.

The first thing to do is to step back and take a breath. Most of the time the situation does not require an all or nothing approach. Of course an hour of daily practice is better than 30 minutes and during an occasional busy time, even 20 minutes a few times a week is better than nothing.

The second most important thing you can do is to keep your instrument visible so that it is always on your mind and  accessible so that the simple act of getting ready to practice does not take up all of the time you have. At the same time, please keep your instrument safe! If your instrument is left out of it’s case be sure that it is not in harms way especially if there are very young children or rambunctious pets in the house.

Most of the students we teach are pursuing music as a hobby, for enrichment, self fulfillment and enjoyment. If you are pursuing music as a career than you are in a different situation that requires you to put a higher priority on making time for serious, daily practice. Either way, keep in mind that stepping away from all of the stresses in your life to play your instrument can actually be therapeutic.

If you have a recital coming up then at the very least sit down and review the piece you are performing.  You are already comfortable with that piece so playing it should be a source of comfort, satisfaction and enjoyment. Reviewing it as often as possible will keep it fresh and actually reduce the stress of worrying about your upcoming performance. A few daily repetitions with a bit of concentration on the remaining rough spots should not take all that long.

Another really nice way to keep fresh is to play scales. They are easy to memorize and to play.  They keep your fingers moving and allow you to maintain your dexterity and practice your technique. Even if you have time for nothing else temporarily, beginning or ending your day with fifteen or more minutes of focused scale practice can actually help you to unwind, relax and feel good about not neglecting your instrument.

The same can be said for any simple etude or other piece that you can play easily. Rather than stress about not moving ahead enjoy the fact that you are at the very least not going backwards. It is satisfying to feel that you are accomplishing something and protecting your investment.

Finally, if for some reason you cannot access your instrument remember that it is actually beneficial to engage in “mental practice” (The Science Behind Practicing, published here on March 10, 2017). Simply put this refers to practicing in your imagination in vivid detail when for one reason or another you must be away from your instrument. Physical motion can be reinforced just by imagining it!

If all else fails, engage in lots of focused listening. Find every opportunity to relax with the music you enjoy. Listen while you drive, while you exercise or while doing chores around the house but most importantly listen while you are doing nothing else but listening. You will find that it is a very different experience. (Passive vs. active listening to music, published here on March 28, 2016)



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