Create a SYSTEM for practicing.
One of my greatest talents has been to put off practicing.
Piece too hard? Eh, I’ll get to when I’m a better harpist.
Exercise doesn’t make sense? I’ll just wait ’til my lesson to ask the teacher.
Not inspired by the piece you’re practicing? I’ll just practice it less.
Procrastination is a battle most of us fight. But losing it has greater consequences on your harp playing than putting off laundry, or not scrolling through social media for an hour.
Years ago I began taking harp lessons (*cough* 26 years ago). The routine of practice didn’t come naturally right away. I had my teachers and parents to guide me with all the tricks and helpful hints in the book to make it a daily habit. Some days were better than others.
As I ventured in to adulthood the task became harder. With all the adult distractions, I now had to re-learn establishing a habit to practice. Despite all the time I was putting in to being in the practice room, my practicing wasn’t efficient and I wasn’t getting anywhere. Why? Because I wasn’t doing the uncomfortable work— the difficult, tedious, and sometimes unsatisfying tasks that come with good practice.
To be truly productive in the practice room, you first need to develop your own sustainable system: a set of routines that serve as the foundation of WHY you practice.
This system is two-fold: 1) Create a routine before you get to the practice room, and 2) Create a routine once your butt is behind the harp. Here’s my system and how it’s worked for me.
1) Creating the routine before the practice room.
I read my daily affirmations out loud. Create a list of affirmations that empower you, build you up mentally and spiritually. Things like “I have the right to change my mind”, or “I have the right to be uniquely myself.” For my list of daily affirmations, see blog on affirmations.
I breathe deeply for 2 minutes. That’s right, 2 minutes of silence and breathing deeply. If one can scroll through social media for an hour, one can sit still for 2 minutes and just breathe. As I breathe, I focus on my shoulders, and releasing tension in my body. Oxygen to the brain has so many benefits!
I create a list of small, but important tasks I want to accomplish during my practice session. Yes, I write them down. The physical act of pencil to paper makes a special connection with the brain. I write down “goal with this piece is to learn hands together up to repair point “x”. I write down where I left off with tempi with each piece/exercise so I’m not wasting my time.
2) Creating a routine once your butt is behind the harp.
Sit behind the harp. Sounds easy and ridiculous to say, but the hardest thing for me to do was to physically put myself behind the instrument. Once I did, I was present and focused on a good practice session. But the hardest part was getting there. So, make the very small (but in the end big) decision to just sit behind your instrument. You’ll be amazed by what follows!
Start with exercises and limit your time. I don’t have all the time in the world (who does?!) so I will limit the time I spend doing my exercises. I make my practice efficient so that I’m not wasting time. I practice slowly and mindfully with each repetition.
Be mindful in your repetitions, not mindless. To keep your practice sessions efficient (again, time management), aim for mindful repetitions. Instead of floundering mindlessly and not feeling any progress, be mindful and move on. For my notes on mindful repetition (and your habits of excellence), see blog on Daily Affirmations.
Do the hard work necessary. So many harpists will skip the hard stuff, and it shows in their playing and focus. This is the work that is uncomfortable, difficult, tedious, and sometimes unsatisfying. We can’t achieve our dream from a genie in a bottle (although that’d be nice!). At the end of the day you have to do the dirty work to get the results you want. What is the hard stuff? Multiple repetitions, mindful practice, practicing 1-3 hours a day, taking your time on the challenging repertoire to understand it inside and out.
Get to the harp early, not late. Whenever I sat behind the harp early in the day, I was bound to get back to it later in the day. This gave me at least two sessions of practice, instead of just one evening practice. This way I wasn’t scrambling to get done, nor was I exhausted from my day. Start early so you are clear-minded, fresh and ready to begin on a strong footing.
You may always want to procrastinate, but if you have this system in place, you’ll be setting yourself up for success.
Use my system as inspiration and create one for you today! Yes, right now!