Throughout my entire cello journey thus far, I have struggled with figuring out just how much to practice and actually doing it. The first four months I struggled to integrate it into my life and was lucky if I managed to practice for a half hour three days a week. My progress suffered for it, until I thought to find fool-proof ways to get myself practicing. I brought the cello to my old bedroom at my parents’ house and used it as an escape from the craziness of my own life. At the time, my husband and I were living with my in-laws and his brother, with two Snowshoe Siamese cats as well. At my parents’ house I could hole myself up and not hear a sound except those coming from my cello. I’d practice for hours, without breaks, even for water. I’d only stop when my fingers looked about ready to blister or bleed and I was thoroughly exhausted.
Needless to say, when my teacher found out about this, I got in a bit of trouble. She wanted me to take breaks, excessive breaks. Warm up for five minutes, take a break. Pick a scale to work on for 15 minutes, take a break. Work on a song for 15 minutes, take a long break. Do yoga or something. Pick another scale, take another break, and so on. Set an alarm she said, so you don’t forget. By this point, my BIL had moved to New Zealand and my husband’s parents were living in their second home up north, so I ended up moving the cello back to my own house such that I’d have more to do when I break. It was very difficult at first and I would frequently forget to start the alarms I’d set. I’d be very intent on something and hated the intrusion on the alarm, but I’d break anyway because of my teacher’s insistence that breaks would benefit my practice.
I began to see her way of practicing as the best way. Start a load of laundry, practice 10 minutes, do a few dishes, practice 15 minutes, stretch, practice 10 minutes, switch the laundry, practice 15 minutes, turn on the computer and get a glass of water, practice 10 minutes, check my e-mail, practice 30 minutes, start a blog or e-mail, practice 10 minutes, check on the dryer, practice 20 minutes, finish the post/e-mail, practice 15 minutes, whip up a Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Bread Mix, practice 30 minutes, take pumpkin bread out of the oven, practice 10 minutes, start folding laundry, practice 15 minutes, put laundry away, practice 20 minutes, wash dishes again, etc. That may have taken up most of the day, but the end result is 3 1/2 hours of practice, a lot of completed chores, and zero exhaustion. Practicing is integrated into my daily routines and it is no longer a battle between needing to do chores or practicing. Plus, they each act as a relief from the other such that I can accomplish more of both and be less tired in the end.
Unfortunately, I do work, though not very much, and I will be starting a class next week. I have less time to do everything, but I try to maintain the same principles. Sometimes those days turn into marathon practice sessions, with very few or zero breaks, because I can’t bear to sacrifice practice time. I really should learn that those marathon sessions don’t do me much good, but I’m stubborn and still feel it’s better to practice more, not less, even at the sacrifice of quality. But, I learned to take breaks when I never had, and so I think I can learn this too.
Then there are other days, like today, when it’s 4:30 in the afternoon and I’ve done nothing more than eat and drink and read a book (and blog!) Here’s to seeing how much and the quality of my practice today!