Summer Practice Schedule FAIL: What To Do

A recent article by Erin Doland reminded me that summer is fast approaching.

Do you have the same problems I do with summer practicing?  Shhh! I’m not supposed to admit that as a teacher, but … news flash!  The whole practice organization problem doesn’t necessarily go *POOF* and disappear when you hit “Song of the Wind” or the Fiocco “Allegro” or Mozart’s fifth violin concerto (Suzuki Book 9) or a Master’s degree.  Case in point: nearly every summer, I make this detailed plan with many things to investigate, work on, drill and perfect, and tons of questions to research.  And a few days into it, I miss a day.  Or two. Or thirty.  It’s OK, though.  I’ve got Plenty of Time.  August is still a long time out.

Um.  Sure.  Too bad the audition committee doesn’t see it that way.

Even though I am “supposed” to know better, I encounter the exact same issues that any other student does.  The art of practicing is a balance among several skills, including listening, discernment, planning, implementation, and time management.  None of us is perfect; therefore none of us has the perfect balance of these skills.  The problem happens when one or more parts of the balancing act go awry and we run out of time or motivation to repair or restart it.  Some students find themselves experiencing icky mental issues like feelings of panic, depression, or worthlessness.  They take their failure personally, instead of assessing the Plan.  In my case, judging by the amount of Serious or Epic practice FAIL over the years that resulted in rejected auditions, if I took it all personally and decided I was a worthless person because of it, I’d likely be in a mental institution.  There will be other auditions.  I will do a better job preparing next time.

A wonderful benefit about summer is that you can be more relaxed or a little less intense with the scheduling.  It’s one thing to be relaxed to the point of not having a set schedule — I have tried this before, but it is a little too relaxed for me — but it’s another entirely to fall off the wagon.

Erin writes, “…eventually your organizing system will fall apart. How you respond when this happens, however, will determine how much anxiety, stress, and clutter paralysis you will feel.”  I hope Erin won’t mind if I share her ideas with you, substituting the word “practice” or its variant when she mentions clutter and adding my own observations and comments in brackets.

Remember these four things when you are dealing with practice schedule FAIL:

Keep Things in Perspective:

  • Failure only happens if you never recover. You only fail when you give up entirely and abandon all practicing for the rest of your life. You’re not failing; you’re learning.
  • Being organized takes practice.  Don’t expect professional practicing results without years of practice.
  • Who cares?!  Unless your health or welfare are at risk, not practicing is not the worst thing in the world.  Watch 30 minutes of the national news to help put things in perspective.
  • Embrace the mess.  Since you will eventually get off your bum and get back to practicing, take a day (or seven) and enjoy the chaos.  Let go of the stress.

Find Motivation:

  • Determine why you want to practice.  If you don’t know why you want to practice, you’re going to struggle with every attempt you make to stay on track.  [You must have a goal.  It is non-negotiable.  And the discipline to build a habit.  Practice is a habit, a learned behavior.  If you don’t know why you’re practicing, why are you wasting time on it?]
  • Ask for help. Call a friend. Call your teacher.  [Call a different teacher. Look at online message boards and violin student groups.  Join a newsgroup or mailing list.  There are as many options available as there are excuses.]
  • Plan a performance. Nothing gets me moving faster than knowing there will be people coming to hear me play.  [Or having a performance planned for me, such as an orchestra concert.  Many people come just as much to watch as they do to listen.]
  • Acknowledge that you’re procrastinating.  Simply admitting to yourself that you’re avoiding a task can help get you motivated to change.
  • Plan your entire schedule using a single piece as your “project” focus.  Pull out your calendar, determine the scope of your project, create action items, and block off time each day to reach your goal.  Being specific (and realistic) about what you will want to accomplish helps to alleviate the overwhelming Cloud of Doom and realize you can get things back to normal.

Get Started:

  • No excuses.  Follow your project plan and just do it.
  • There isn’t an easy way.  You will have to do the work.  However, the end result is definitely worth it.

Maintain:

  • Create a routine.  If you don’t have a chart of your daily practice routines and responsibilities, now is the time to establish one or evaluate your old one.  [If your plan isn’t working for you, change it.  Take away your excuses.  Aside from basic physics, there are no absolutes in violin practice.  Whatever works for you is the right way, even if it doesn’t work for anyone else.  Your teacher will be able to tell if it’s working by the amount of progress you’re making.]
  • Try a weekly plan.  One of the easiest ways to practice and keep from stressing out about what you need to do is make a weekly plan that spreads your tasks out so you can see how what you do today affects what’s on the schedule for tomorrow.  [Remember to schedule a regular day off once a week or so.  Your body and brain will thank you.]
  • Declutter your time and your practice space.  [The less you have to do, or feel like you have to get done, the more time you can spend concentrating and listening to yourself.]  The less stuff you need to practice with makes less you have to clean, organize, store, and maintain.  [Minimum equipment is preferable, but make sure that whatever you have available is stuff that you actually use.]
  • Enjoy the calm.  [Way too often, we focus on the failures.  Regurgitating mistakes tends to make the average person cranky.  Focus instead on the positives.]  Take some time to reflect on how different you feel when you feel like you’ve actually accomplished something. Remembering this feeling, and enjoying your time with the violin, are great motivators to keep you on course in the future.

Here’s hoping that your summer is filled with happy, relaxing, joyful, positive progress!

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