We all take breaks, sometimes for weeks or months.
People give up practicing music because “it takes too much time”.
But really, it’s just a choice to practice smarter.
Wouldn’t it be fun to show off your playing, anytime?
Here’s how to play your favourite pieces– without sounding like a train wreck– after your break.
1. Leave the balls (of stress)
Okay, you’re out of practice and stressed at the daunting task.
Good news: You can cheat.
Your body remembers the practicing, so you haven’t lost progress. Scientifically, you’re detrained, not untrained.
You’ve built myonuclei in your fibres, meaning you’ve been set up to retrain these muscles later. Rebuilding skills is easier than learning them for the first time.
You also have muscle memory, where actions you’ve practiced in the past are always easier to do.
The Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps got tired of swimming after winning a ton of gold medals in 2008, and smoked questionable substances.
In the next Olympics, Phelps kept winning medals to decorate his house– some swimmers trained for all 4 years.
Dolphin status to smoker, then back? Shut the front door.
You’re built to last, so treat yourself right.
This isn’t new territory; you’ve been better, so there’s no question that you can venture farther.
Look, one lovely reader, Marla, magically played a piece she hasn’t touched in 12 years.
Your mind and body know what it’s doing, so don’t stress.
2. Start somewhere
There are two types of practicing: mindless and deliberate.
Think of mindless practice as wandering around a gigantic city, exploring the streets. Deliberate practice would be buying a plane ticket to the next city.
Mindless practice is not paying attention, when there’s no goal.
Sometimes I play piano when I’m in pain; last time someone heard me in the studio, in my pain, she begged me to stop.
Deliberate practice is the efficient way to progress.
People get frustrated when they don’t improve, but it happens because they haven’t switched from mindless to deliberate practice.
Mark up the score, get invested. This is the type of practice that gets you onto a stage with a slippery wood floor.
Before you smack your butt on the bench, ask yourself where you’re going:
Do you want to explore, wander mindlessly– or deliberately polish a few pieces?
That’s where you start.
3. Crack your joints
Most people miss this:
Play something easy and repetitive for 10 minutes, before you start practicing the pieces.
Warming up gets your mind and body into the mood. It speeds up your circulation, so you don’t waste time de-stiffening later on.
It should be something mechanical, where you don’t think too much. Mix it up.
Ballerinas often warm up by froggy jumping— it’s called sauté in second but the basic idea is pretending to be frogs, hopping around with knees out to the side.
Except, not naked like real frogs.
That’s how easy a warm up is.
4. Grab a friend.
You’re more likely to succeed if you have a friend who’s doing the same thing.
Recently, my world-view was shaken. I learned the consequences to giving my heart out, but I still can’t help doing it for everyone.
Kat is the opposite. She’s abrupt; the longest greeting she’s ever given me was last week’s “Why are you here.”
She wants to work in media arts, so I helped her get a design internship; she says it’s slack, but I see her portfolio improving.
She brings colourful pens everywhere and her notebook is a rainbow of apparently nothing.
“Where did you get them?” I ask. The ink is delightful.
“My mom got them. I don’t even know what to do when these run out.”
I examine a light green pen. “They’re from Staples,” I say, passing it back.
“How do you know?”
“The clip says Staples.”
If you’re stuck, know that you’ll survive somehow.
Make the best out of situations that aren’t ideal. When it feels impossible, break it into smaller steps.
These experiences form a person who’s uniquely you.
Someday, you’ll cherish the not-so-joyful moments because it was a time when you were growing rapidly.
Have you taken a break from piano recently? Have you gotten back? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.