My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Keeping the practice hat on when it counts the most

We all try on many hats during our lifetime.  Some stay on our heads our entire lives.  Some we wear briefly, tossing them aside when it no longer fits or suits our current needs.  And some we take on and off as the need for them arises.  I often feel like the gentleman in the picture to the right.  And who doesn't?  Most people I know are constantly juggling hats and roles.  Dare I even say that this is one of life's greatest struggles?  

It seems to me that I find myself in the milliner's shop all the time these days...first the mommy hat, then the wife the chef hat and then the housekeeper hat.  When it comes to music, there's the soloist hat, the accompanist hat, the chamber musician hat, the performer hat and the most important hat for this particular post, the practice hat. 

Ah, the practice hat.

When I was younger, that practice hat was a naughty little fellow.  Thankfully I had a mother that was very good at placing that hat back on my head, at least for a short while.  When I went off to college and I was on my own, more or less, I struggled to find the time and desire to practice.  I am a good sightreader so I managed to squeak by for a while, sightreading my way through lessons and coachings until something dire like a jury or a performance was staring me down.  Then the practice hat would go back on and I would hold it there in a death grip until the performance was over.  In the middle of my stay at the Eastman School of Music, I switched piano teachers and found myself in a studio where I was expected to play by memory at all of my lessons - that was a shock and a terror, quite honestly.  But I'm glad to have had the experience because it forced me to add a little structure to my practice hat.  

Looking back at my pre-family years, before husband and daughter, I realize that I wasted a lot of time because I often had several hats on at once when it came to practicing.  Yes, I had added structure to the practice hat thanks to my piano professor, but it was often worn along with the sightreader and performer hats.  My practice was made up of lots of run-throughs of pieces because that's what I like to do - play music.  I practiced so I could perform; I didn't perform so that I could practice.  

I can't do that anymore.  I don't have the time.  I don't have the energy.  And I simply have too many hats to wear.  Sound familiar?

Now, when it comes time to practice, I am very conscious of my practice hat.  At the beginning of my scheduled practice time (yes, I really do schedule it ahead of time, for the most part) I go to the closet, reach over the performer, sightreader, and music-lover hats and grab the one I need the most.  Then here's the important part - I close the closet door!  Doing this practically ensures a successful practice session.  I use every minute that I have in a more calculated way simply because I have no other choice. Are there days where this doesn't work?  Sure there are - there are days when I can't concentrate, I'm distracted, I'm bored, or things just aren't working out right.  Are there times when I allow myself just to play music for the fun of it?  Yes, of course.  And isn't there value in practicing performing, in running through music to get an overall sense of it all?  Yes, of course.  But these days, those are the exceptions to the rule and in these special cases, I feel that it's fine to wear whichever hat I wish to wear.  Sometimes I wear several at once since that's what I'm doing most of the time anyway.

So if you find yourself in a practice rut, take a look at what's on your head.  If you've got a stack of hats a mile high, try tossing them all into the closet and picking out that trustworthy hat of yours - the practice hat.  Don't have one of those?  Find someone that can help you dust one off or build you a brand new one.  I'd be happy to help if I can.  Or read some books or articles on the internet.  Talk to some musician friends or your teacher.

It's worth it.  

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