By Diana Ladio
This is an unprecedented time for our world and for each of us personally. While we’re grappling with uncertainty and fear, many of us are also facing a new challenge: free time.
While you might be delighted to finally have time to practice, be creative, learn new pieces, etc., the complete lack of structure can be very challenging. Without upcoming rehearsals, lessons, or gigs to guide your time, you are faced with a deluge of decisions each day that you don’t usually have to make. You’re actually asking yourself, “What do I want to play?” For many, this is a first, and it can be paralyzing.
One glance at social media and the situation worsens. While it is wonderful to stay connected, seeing others’ daily accounts of musical productivity can leave you feeling discouraged and unmotivated. But take heart: it is natural to feel exhausted, stalled by indecision, especially if you haven’t discovered the necessary tools to adapt. With a little help, you can find your own way to musical growth.
As a musician who spends her life on and off tour, I am strangely well-equipped for this time; it resembles the mental unrest of every “first week home” off the road, going from extreme structure to no structure at all. Here are my suggestions for handling this time.
Here is a guide and quick links to the sections in this article:
- Do something to start the day
- Build a routine
- Set attainable goals
- Make a schedule
- Be well
- Be kind to yourself
First, let yourself rest—both your mind and your muscles. It is a valuable use of your time. Hold yourself to no standards, schedules, or rules. Just succumb to it. Even if the rest phase lasts the whole time we’re in quarantine, I bet you’ll come out of the gate ready to take on your music in a rejuvenated way.
When your rest period feels sufficient, and the musical “shoulds” begin to take their toll, only then take the next steps.
2. Do something to start the day
A feeling of accomplishment, however small, goes an incredibly long way. So find a way to feel like you’ve achieved something musically, and do it as early in the day as possible. Some days this is just taking your instrument out of its case, and other times it’s a full, intentional warm-up. Starting out your day this way will change your whole outlook.
Ideas: Tune your instrument; put a new piece on the music stand; do 10 minutes of easy sight-reading; pick one scale to play
3. Build a routine
Build it, however small, and stick to it. Let it eliminate some of your daily decisions and offer you support throughout the day. A routine could be as easy as working on the same piece for 10 minutes every day after breakfast, or listening to something musically inspiring while you take a walk after lunch. (Remember when you would have killed to take a walk after lunch?)
4. Set attainable goals
Make a list of all the musical projects you’d love to get done sometime in your life. Which ones could be fully completed during this time? Be honest. Don’t sabotage yourself with unrealistic expectations. What larger projects could you start during this time? Give yourself loose goals with no deadline. Start with the smallest step just to get the ball rolling.
Ideas: Pick a new Bach suite or partita to learn; brainstorm virtual recital repertoire ideas; learn a fiddle tune; search for an online course
5. Make a schedule
Self-structuring involves being intentional about scheduling, even in your own home. Make a practice plan the night before, and set your phone alarm as if it’s an appointment. During your practice session, designate specific time blocks to spend on scales, excerpts, learning new pieces, etc., to combat the decision paralysis.
Include social time in your schedule as well. While social media can add quite a bit of stress, it is also providing lots of opportunities to take classes, see live music, and feel connected. Unfollow anything that causes more stress, then find some fun new accounts and allow for some designated scroll time.
6. Be well
This is an opportune time to prioritize your physical health. The day-to-day consistency of this quarantine gives you a chance to experiment with variables that may cause or relieve pain.
Ideas: Practice standing vs. sitting; stretch daily before or after practicing; try a new strengthening exercise; try yoga
7. Be kind to yourself
This is a stressful time, and we all handle uncertainty and fear differently. Your stand partner may be playing four-octave scales to cope, and you may find Netflix is your source of comfort. That’s OK. Explore your needs curiously and have no shame or judgement in what you find brings you solace. Whatever you do during this time is what you need to be doing. Go easy on yourself.
This article was originally published in April 2020 on stringsmagazine.com. For tips on practicing in a more focused, constructive way, read another installment in our Shutdown Skills Series, “Practice Mindful Musicianship,” by Diana Ladio.