3 Ways to Deal with Practice Guilt (Aside From the Obvious)

how to deal with practice guilt

I was never particularly enthusiastic about practicing. Even into my grad school years, I probably spent more time every day creatively procrastinating and avoiding practicing than I spent actually practicing.

Case in point, one of the reasons why I was so well-read as a kid, was that reading was a parent-endorsed activity (vs. watching TV). I learned that being in the middle of a book seemed to reduce the frequency of reminders to practice, so I always had a book handy. Until they wised up to my tactics, and started hiding my new/favorite books during the day (a move I’d counter by re-reading books that weren’t quite so interesting…and you can probably see where this went).

But at the end of a long hard day of avoiding practicing, the guilt would be pretty substantial and I’d go to sleep feeling not so good about myself.

In the years since, I’ve learned that it isn’t just me that has experienced practice guilt. Whether it is musicians and practicing, athletes and training, or writers and writing, we all experience guilt when we aren’t doing enough of the thing we think we “should” be doing.

But we can’t be practicing 24/7. Sometimes we really do need a break. And even if we do have to practice, guilt-motivated practice, at least in my experience, isn’t especially fruitful.

So…what are some ways to deal more effectively with “practice guilt”?

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Why I’d Spend a Lot More Time Practicing Scales If I Could Do It All Over Again

Why I'd Spend a Lot More Time Practicing Scales If I Could Do It All Over Again

Like every good student, I dutifully (though grudgingly) practiced my scales from an early age.

Of course, once I was old enough to practice unsupervised, I happily avoided scales as often as I could get away with it. Like taking my vitamins, it was something that I knew would be good for me, but I wasn’t sure exactly why.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20′s, that the lights went on, and I discovered why I should have been practicing scales all along.

So why are scales and etudes worth our time?

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Why I Should Have Paid More Attention in Music Theory Class

intuition vs. logical analysis in music

For much of my life, I thought that being “musical” was a matter of operating by intuition and instinct.

Playing louder or softer because it felt right. Taking more or less time because it seemed to make sense.

That served me pretty well for a while, until one day I had to learn an unfamiliar piece of music for which there existed no recording, and I struggled.

For once, it seemed that simply feeling the music and going with whatever naturally came out wouldn’t get me to where I wanted to go.

I wondered…had I reached the limits of my musical intuition?

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How to Keep Performances of the Same Piece from Getting Stale

How to keep performances of the same piece from getting stale

Earlier this year, I stumbled across a restaurant which serves the best chicken tikka masala ever. It was so good, that one day, I ate it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Of course, I quickly ruined things by eating it so frequently that it ceased to be the magical concoction of chicken and spices it started out as, and slowly turned into blah. Chunks of blah, garnished with julienned blah and finely chopped blah, in a sauce of blah.

We’ve all experienced something like this in our lives. Whether it’s your new all-electric car, buckwheat-filled wonder pillow, or piece you’ve started working on, at some point, everything loses the fresh, shiny luster of newness, and starts trending towards blahness.

Nobody wants to give a stale, uninspired performance of course. But when we have to perform the same piece over and over again, how can we keep things new and fresh so that we don’t bore the audience (or ourselves) to tears?

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The Learning-Performance Distinction and Why Gains in the Practice Room Don’t Always Stick

the learning-performance distinction and why gains in the practice room don't always stick

You know those happy moments in the practice room where the stars and planets align, everything falls into place, and we sound pretty darn great?

Where we feel like all is well in the world, and we walk out of the practice room with a spring in our step and smile on our face?

But why is our awesomeness so temporary? Why does sounding great one day often fail to translate into sounding great the next day, or the next week, or in our next performance?

Sure, there’s our nervousness of course, but it also has to do with the fact that there’s an illusion of sorts at work when we’re learning or improving a skill in the practice room – which can lead us to rely on suboptimal practice strategies. [Read more...]

Is This the Key to Being Less Distracted on Stage and in the Practice Room?

is this the key to reducing distractions and being more focused on stage and in the practice room?

Take a moment to go wash your hands (yes, really).

I’ll tell you why in a minute, but either way it can’t hurt – your keyboard or smartphone is probably disgusting.

So…when you were washing your hands, what were you thinking about? Were you paying attention to how nice the water felt as it washed over your skin, how the soap felt intriguingly slimy at first, but then gradually washed away into a refreshingly clean feeling, and how it felt to dry your hands off on a clean, dry, towel, and notice the last bits of moisture evaporating from your hands?

Or were you wondering why the heck you were washing your hands, thinking about how the rest of the article better be worth it, or pondering the germ-iness of your phone?

Our monkey minds spend an awful lot of time wandering to future, past, and task-unrelated thoughts.

About 47% of the time, we’re actually thinking about something other than what we’re currently doing.

“Practicing” scales, but thinking about lunch.

Counting rests in orchestra, but thinking about how someone put on too much cologne.

Taking a test, but having to re-read the question multiple times because you’re too busy worrying about whether you’ll know the answers and have enough time to finish.

Mind-wandering seems innocent enough, but can significantly degrade performance.

There are strategies and tactics that can help (like deliberate or interleaved practice and setting more specific practice goals), but what if there were a way to target something deeper? Like your core ability or capacity to keep your focus on-task and reduce mind-wandering in the first place?

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