How to Clean Up Your Practice Routine

Detritus.  Waste.  Debris.  Flotsam and Jetsam.

If you don’t clean your house, it fills up with junk.  It doesn’t appear by magic, though.  You brought that stuff into your home because at some point you either wanted it, needed it, or it served you in some way.

The same is true of our routines, our style of working, even our musical repertoire.  Our parents rejoiced when we finally took Hot Cross Buns out of the rotation.

Last week we talked about how to create a rock solid habit in the new year, and this week we’ll take a look at the other side of the equation.  We’ll KonMari some of our old habits, routines, and other tools to make some space.  The question we’ll ask is not “does it spark joy?” but instead, “does it spark growth?”

Here are some places to look:

Warm-up Routine—It should be well within your capabilities, but it should also demand focus and reinforce fundamental skills.  If it warms up the muscles but not the mind, it’s time to find a new one.

Technical exercises—Do you play through every exercise every day just to eke out a little more speed?  If so, these probably aren’t what you need to work on.  Discard them in favor of exercises that focus on the specific weaknesses you’ve identified.

Repertoire—Piece by piece, consider: what place does this have in my repertoire?  Does it still inspire me?  Does it show off my best abilities?  Do I have another piece that fits the same role?

Teachers—It can be difficult to let a teacher go, especially if you’ve built a bond over the years, but at some point you will outgrow them.  We’ll talk more about this in the future, but for now, realize that teaching is a different skill from performing.  Think about what you need from a teacher, what they bring to the table, and whether they might be holding you back or discouraging you.

Practice Style—How do you choose your etudes? Is it just the next one in the book, or does it address a particular challenge?  Do you play from the beginning and fix problems as you encounter them? (Don’t do that!)  Do you use the same approach to fix each problem?  Sometimes even when we know a better way, we still stick to bad habits.  Now is the perfect time to let them go forever.

A couple caveats before we leave the subject:

Caveat 1: Old routines comfort us and settle our mind when we’re under pressure.  That can be valuable from a self-management (i.e., psychological) perspective, so don’t change your warm-up routine right before a high-stakes audition or performance.  But otherwise, comfort is often the enemy of improvement.

Caveat 2: Some exercises don’t serve us only because we haven’t put enough focus or challenge into them.  That scale that you’ve played ten thousand times might seem stale, but play it against a drone and make sure each note is in tune, and it will become a challenge again.  Be careful not to discard a valuable practice or teacher due to lack of effort and focus.

I hope this helps.   Less waste means more space for growth, and growth is one of the most fulfilling rewards.

What do you need to discard this year, and why?  Please tell us in the comments.  It helps us learn from each other.


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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Emily (Tuesday, 05 January 2021 18:10)

    This is a great reminder for all of us. Thank you so much for this wonderful advice.