Why You Need a Practice Partner

Grace Lam
I no longer believe in New Year’s resolutions, nor diets, nor intensives bootcamps. Anyways, only about 8% of resolutions are successful and the odds have never worked for me. It’s a crutch, really, for laziness.

When travelling in Asia, I ate everything in sight and staved off my nightly limb-stretching routine — due to cramped space — and told myself I’d work extra hard in the new year. Do you hear that flimsy excuse?

Fast forward to the new year. My left knee, in the aftermath of years of ballet and gymnastics and sports, is sore more often than it usually is. I wriggled in my chair and the joint snapped and I didn’t fall off, but man, I thought you had to be a pregnant hippo to break a chair.

I am so far off the track that I’m laying in the bleachers.

So I guess this is kind of a story about how I’m trying to put my life back on track by not sticking to a resolution — and I invite you to follow along.

Why You Need a Practice Partner in Music

It starts small. It starts with feeling good in your own skin.

Coming home to Canada, I am often tired and my arms feel weak just lifting groceries; I thought I was going to pass out when sprinting across the airport in Taipei. My clothes now fit differently and are mostly unflattering (that photo is from exactly one year ago, and I probably cannot squeeze into those pants anymore).

For weeks, this was my catchphrase:

“I should go to the gym.”

I hadn’t been to the gym in over a year and just stepping through the door was out of my comfort zone, let’s not forget the stares from sweaty guys. So I never went. I’d passively given up the gym idea and started to jog around the block every few days, until one friend told me the times and days she was going to the gym. I checked my calendar, jackpot, no excuses.

“Alright!” I say. “I will join you on Friday morning.” I set it in my calendar.

We did cardio and stretched and I will spare you the details but it was fun. I was just catching up with friends while being mildly more productive. We planned to go again and she bailed twice, but by then, I was determined. I loved running and exercise–I just needed to get the engines flaming.

Another friend agreed immediately to gym with me — we are going to wear crop tops this summer. “Let’s go on the machines,” she says.

“Alright,” I say. “But I don’t know how they work. I’ve only done body-resistance exercises, like handstands.”

“Just copy me. I took a course called Women in Weights.”

I gymmed three times that following week. I hadn’t realized how bad my posture had become, but working back muscles will improve posture. This is great for playing piano.

 

It takes longer to get back on track, than to veer off. That is one danger to postponing change. We say, “It will be my New Year’s resolution.” “I will start next month.”

And in that time, we are sliding downwards. If you spend three months getting out of shape, you will spend more than three months getting back in shape, because you also have to convince yourself to get your butt moving again and that will take a few weeks at least.

There is research that says you regain muscle more quickly than if you were developing it for the first time, so you might be lucky and the timing will almost even out. This is the same with practicing piano.

I am phasing in small snippets of practice a few times each day. There was an out-of-tune piano in Hong Kong which I rarely touched, save for composing during stormy days and the occasional Hanon stint. While I’m no longer on par with a concert pianist, I’d like to be able to play the third movement of Pathetique again.

That takes effort, and I’m starting small.

 

Set benchmarks where you will know that you are on track.

I don’t believe in resolutions because they are often drastic and intimidating and that’s not how humans tick, so we tend to quit in February. We like comfort and ease.

I never used to weigh myself because I didn’t think it was an accurate representation of my state of health, on account of the muscle I built as an athlete. But I jumped on the scale the other day and decided that since I had no muscle to speak of right now, I’d use the scale to set benchmarks (and it was quick).

I have a friend whose benchmark is to lift three times her weight.

In music, simple benchmarks might be sightreading a new piece, or fluently playing until the end. My benchmark is memorizing Kiss the Rain and recording a video of it. In the time that I stopped practicing, I realize I’d reverted to almost all of my bad practice habits.

“How was the gym?” My friend texts. “How was your day?”

My cousin goes to the gym everyday in Toronto, and encourages me to find my own outlet.

Those little check-ins keep me moving — someone cares so that I don’t disappoint.

 

We want to change our habits, rather than “stick to a resolution”. We are changing the way we practice music, or the way we eat, or the way we exercise.

Sticking implies that you’re following for a period of time, like a diet. But we really want to take small steps to changing our habits so that you are still on the upward trajectory in a year — steadiness and consistency wins.

Put music practice, or gym (or dance), on your schedule. Do it for yourself, because you will feel better than ever when you take care of your body and your needs, and you deserve it — never for anyone else.

Don’t wait for the perfect moment to start. When we postpone change, we are letting ourselves fall off the track. Don’t let yourself slide too far downwards. I will be at the gym this week, then the practice room.

I will be changing my habits.

Start now. Start small. Because any time is as good as any to create change.

6 Comments

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6 Comments

  • Reply Dan Garrett February 16, 2016 at 7:23 am

    In December (2015) I started working with a personal trainer at a small gym. He has a small operation, deals with many different ages and body types, and always has small groups (1-5) working. The number one thing he focuses on is conditioning — then strength training. This has been the first time that I feel good coming out of the gym and not so sore the next day or so that I dread going back. As the weather turns nicer, I will return to bicycling several times a week. Having a trainer makes a difference.

    So . . . as I get to know my fellow gym rats (male and female, 45yrs to 67yrs) I get support from them. The trainer keeps me on pace and watches that I don’t over do. This combination works for me. Having a regular support group makes a difference.

    • Reply Grace Lam February 16, 2016 at 10:33 am

      Sounds amazing, Dan. Wishing you the best. I’m using NikeRun and MyFitnessPal to track some of my activity – it certainly helps to see progress in numbers.

  • Reply Peggy BeVille February 16, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    Very timely. I’ve been retired for six weeks. Practiced daily the first three weeks and have gained 7 lbs. Time to change my ways agains.

  • Reply Mike February 16, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    This is right on the money, and your timing is absolutely perfect as I just decided to start off with a bang today — did 2 miles via treadmill and 4 miles on the street. Same for tomorrow. You’re exactly right: it’s the habit that counts. (And hilarious, too: “a pregnant hippo” to break a chair. I’ve been laughing at that all day!)

    • Reply Grace Lam February 16, 2016 at 11:23 pm

      Great to hear! 4 miles on the street is one helluva jog. Okay, in my experience pregnant hippos only find that funny after it has given birth. (I think it’s a food baby)

  • Reply Tanja February 16, 2016 at 10:05 pm

    My hubby is my exercise buddy! I would never be able to make it on my own, haha. Great points!!

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