When you aren't in love with practicing
Even if you have no interest in practicing, scroll to the bottom for a quick feature of four wonderful musicians!
Performing is the cherry on top of practicing — hours upon hours of thoughtful, thorough work, alone with our instruments for the majority of many years, even decades.
As I mentioned in Frequently Asked Questions, I'm one of those people who function best in the practice room when I have something to prepare for, whether it's a concert, lesson, or a unique collaboration.
Practicing for its own sake, regardless of any upcoming performances, doesn't always come naturally to me.
When it does, it takes a very particular mindset — one that, with all of my performances cancelled, I could certainly use these days.
So here is my formula for a healthy mindset towards practice:
1) I'm willing to be where I am in my playing.
One strategy for practicing is to record yourself, then to listen back several times — once for sound, once for rhythm, etc. While effective in pinpointing what needs work, I struggle to make these recordings.
As short as they are, the recordings manage to be so brutally honest about how I sound, that sometimes I have to take a deep breath and tell myself, "Okay. This is going to sound horrible and you're going to hate it, but do it anyway. You'll learn a lot from those thirty seconds that could save you thirty minutes of practicing."
Usually after that, my recordings don't sound as awful as I've made them out to be, and I gain a clearer picture of where I can improve.
The first step to a joyful, productive practice session is to know that regardless of how "bad" I might sound on a given day, I'm okay with it, because I'm about to put in my best work and that alone will take me far.
Trusting the time and energy that I invest has worked wonders for me, particularly in maintaining a routine.
2) I find a way to be excited and curious about what I'm working on.
This goes back to what I wrote about live music, and how creating music offers an escape into an alternate reality.
If I can find one thing (maybe a certain quality of sound or articulation, or a moment where the harmony changes) about what I'm practicing that delights or intrigues me, then I'm more likely to stay focused and productive for a longer period of time.
Why? I'll have grounded myself in what I'm ultimately practicing for: greater flexibility within a realm of creative expression, in which music is less about being "adequate" or "inadequate," and more about the discovery and exchange of meaning.
3) I listen to recordings that inspire me.
When it comes to recordings, I'd rather listen to music that relaxes me, whereas the thought of listening to recordings of classical music immediately conjures an elusive standard of perfection — followed by a reminder of how I fall short.
Yet listening is essential to our growth. It informs how we practice, shaping our concept of what's possible for our instruments without limiting it.
When I listen to recordings, I also find it strangely reassuring to hear so many people who have mastered your instrument — no doubt because they are exceptionally hardworking and talented, but also because the more virtuoso flutists I hear, the less statistically improbable it seems that I will reach that level.
4) I don't take myself too seriously.
Being able to laugh when I make mistakes in the practice room has been one of the most healing developments in my life as a musician.
Far from the discouragement and frustration that would otherwise come so readily, laughing at my mistakes frees me to say, "I'm not perfect, but I'm doing my best, and that gives me peace." It frees me to take risks and explore different approaches to my technique, to be open-minded and curious about how to play something.
Drawing from Alexander Technique, it means not "end-gaming," or grasping after a certain vision of success, but doing your best in the present moment and accepting what it is.
Most of all, it means having the compassion and patience to persevere in my growth.
Admittedly, I have different stakes than my colleagues who are auditioning for professional orchestras, for whom attaining perfection is a matter of livelihood.
Maybe they don't need these four elements, or any formula at all, because they practice regardless of how motivated they feel. Sometimes, this is me.
But now, I am stuck in my apartment where I've never really practiced before, struggling to find an entry point back into the headspace where I loved to practice.
If you are a musician, what are your thoughts? How do you approach practicing, especially when you feel uninspired? (Feel free to comment, direct message me, or write up your own post on this!)
Entirely unrelated to being a musician (and as a way to record this erratic moment in history from the lens of a college student) — I miss the sound and taste of fresh air, the poetry of sunlight sinking into my skin, and the rhythm of stepping across the earth. Opening the window, however wide, cannot replace these things.
If you know me, you might know that little else matters besides being outdoors when the city I live in finally decides to have pretty weather. Lately, there have been some remarkably pretty days.
There is little for me to complain about when the global situation is dire, so I share these thoughts only as a way to be vulnerable. And I pray for the people who are severely impacted by this crisis.
As one last note, I came across this stunning collaboration by my classmates in the School of Music: William Torres (top) and (left to right) Aldrich Ronquillo, Alyssa Vieau, & Reuben Meyer.
Please do check it out! I am overjoyed to see my fellow musicians relishing the beauty of creating music together when the ground has fallen from beneath us, in many ways. (Thanks for letting me share this, Will!)