By Kevin Janisch
Practice is necessary to grow as a musician, but what if you are feeling unmotivated to practice? It’s common for musicians to have the occasional “dry spell.” This can be caused by feeling overwhelmed by a difficult piece, feeling like your practice is not yielding the progress you desire, or maybe another reason. If you find yourself in this situation, here are a few helpful suggestions:
1. Make sure you have an adequate practice space. Set up a quiet, well-lit place away from distractions where you can keep your instrument, music, and accessories. Invest in an instrument stand so you don’t have to un-pack every time you want to practice.
2. Keep some fun music around. If you are feeling stressed and frustrated, rather than stop practicing, play something you enjoy to break up the practice session.
3. Don’t feel like you have to tackle the whole piece at once. You may want to work a phrase or even a single measure. Also, rather than always practicing from the beginning, try starting in the middle of the piece or work backwards from the end.
4. Practice intentionally. It’s not enough to just play each piece five times and say “I’ve practiced.” Work with a metronome and tuner, find trouble spots and work through them. Practice slowly! This may not sound like fun on the front end, but there’s nothing like a sense of progress and accomplishment to boost motivation levels.
5. If you are working on a piece and feel stuck, look it up on YouTube. This gives you the opportunity to see and hear your piece. Pay attention to fingerings, bowings, articulations, dynamics, etc. In most cases, you will find several videos within a search – listen to as many as you want. Sometimes, you even find famous performers giving master classes or tips and instructions – these are invaluable.
6. Attend performances. There’s nothing like seeing the pros in action! A great performance can leave you feeling exhilarated and ready to go home and practice.
7. Tell your teacher. Be honest. Your teacher may have ideas or suggestions from their personal experiences as a teacher and musician. If your teacher knows you are struggling with something, they can better help you to overcome the issue.
Approaching practice thoughtfully and making it a healthy habit rather than dreaded chore will help you grow and progress as a musician.
Kevin Janisch works in White House of Music’s purchasing department and teaches cello at White House of Music Waukesha and Wauwatosa.