When Not To Practice

As musicians, we're always told 'practice makes perfect' and, by keeping to a regular routine, to keep up and improve our skill but it's also good to know when not to practice, so that the enjoyment doesn't become frustration.


A BAD DAY


We've all had those days where the practice just isn't going the way we want it to. That one section we need to get right keeps squeaking and the more we play it, the more we anticipate it which leads to more mistakes. It's at moments like these where we need to stop playing, take a step back, breathe, and perhaps have a break. If that hasn't worked then perhaps that's enough practice for today. Don't feel bad, it's okay to have a bad day, just try again tomorrow.


It's important to know when to stop because if you don't, the mistake that kept happening will keep happening and become a habit. By stopping and giving it a rest, you're allowing yourself the time to forget that mistake before it becomes ingrained.


Even before you start practicing, sometimes it's worth asking yourself 'Am I in the right mindset to practice?'. If you've had a bad day at school/uni/work or wherever you've been, practicing in a bad mood can have detrimental effects on your playing, bringing out more mistakes than there were before or, something I've seen in my younger students, even causing bad posture. Obviously, you can't put off practicing forever, so if you've left it for a day or two but still feel bad, just try a little practice, starting with something fun before getting into the hard stuff. It's good to be cautious, since we need to keep the practice regular.


UNDER THE WEATHER


How many of us have felt poorly in some way and yet still tried to practice, simply making ourselves feel more poorly? I know I have but I learned from that experience that it isn't worth doing. If you're a singer, for example, the last thing you want to do with a sore throat is to keep singing. That throat needs rest and, by practicing further, you extend the time it'll take for the throat to heal and, ultimately, you could cause permanent damage.


This applies to all instrument practice in a similar way when we're ill. By pushing yourself instead of resting, you extend the healing process. The practice you do while you're poorly won't be worth it anyway and could mean the potential for more embedded mistakes. We're only human and need rest for a reason when we're sick. By looking after yourself properly, you'll be healthy and back to practicing in no time.


BEWARE OF NERVES


It's recital day and your nerves are starting to get the better of you. Perhaps it would be a good idea to run through the songs a few times before you go on-stage, just so you know for sure that you can do it. Nope, not a good idea. You see, if you do that and start making mistakes during those run-throughs, you'll begin to panic, which could make for a terrible recital. If you've done enough practice beforehand, you shouldn't need those last minute run-throughs on the day to prove to yourself that you can do it.


If you're someone who struggles with nerves, a better use of that time before the recital could be to - distract yourself by doing something different away from the instrument; to do some breathing exercises; or if you are going to pick up your instrument, I would recommend keeping it simple. Do some warm-up exercises and long notes but do not look at your recital pieces.


IT'S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD


Ultimately, while practicing every day is a great way to improve your musicianship, you still need to listen to your body. Being in the right mindset when practicing is a must. We don't want something fun to become frustrating and a chore, simply because we're in a bad mood. We also need to give ourselves time to rest when we're not feeling well. That way, we'll heal quicker and be back to playing in no time. Controlling those nerves before a recital in a calm and collected manner will give you a better command of your playing during the concert, making for a great performance. At the end of the day, we're not robots, we're human and, sometimes, it's good to take a break from practicing.


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© 2020 Ed Brown