Article by Mike Wark
Making the Most Out of Summer Practicing - And Being Prepared for September!
If you’re like how I was in my pre-teen and early-teenaged years, being motivated to practice in the summer months was roughly the same as my level of motivation to mow the lawn. There was grumbling, avoidance, arguing with my parents, and maybe if I was lucky a few practice sessions here and there. But once that last week of August arrived, I would be in my room putting in several uncomfortable hours of practicing in order to get re-acquainted with my saxophone, as to not look like a fool in the first week of band class.
I realize now, there were so many better ways I could have kept up regular practicing and even made significant progress in the summer. Once I was in high school and taking music very seriously, practicing was just a way of life at that point, but I really could have used a few tips in the first few years of playing to aid my own motivation throughout the summer months.
Leaving your instrument out of the case and having it in plain sight is a great reminder, and seems to make the “getting started” part of the practice session a little easier to deal with. Aside from that, here are a few great ideas that I feel can help both young and older experienced musicians.
1) Make music a social activity
Try to make music with others as much as possible. Part of the reason we enjoy music/band classes at school so much is because we are making music with others as an ensemble. Going to music camps, performing for family functions and community events, joining a local community concert or jazz band, making a band with your friends, playing duets with fellow music students, or even just getting together with a friend to practice together can really help get those hours spent playing your instrument to skyrocket. By creating a social situation for music, you will be less inclined to skip it or bail at the last minute. This is the same reason why people sign up for group fitness activities, we need others to help us hold ourselves accountable! Don’t waste potential opportunities that might be presented to you
2) Create a Practice Time Routine That Works With Your Other Regular Routines
If you have lots of free time available, but can’t seem to use it wisely, try to get into a habit of practicing before or after a certain meal or activity that usually happens around the same time each day. Dedicating a 30 – 60 timeslot after lunch, before dinner, or something else that is part of your daily routine, is an easy way of making practicing a daily activity that doesn’t feel difficult to achieve. Many times we avoid practicing out of a deep seeded feeling of guilt – guilt that we aren’t practicing enough! Try not to over-think or over-feel - just pick up the instrument and start the good habit right now! Make it no different than eating, doing your chores, homework, or brushing your teeth at night. It will be another daily thing that won’t take up as much of your time as you think it will.
If you don’t find yourself having much time available during the summer months due to ongoing summer camps (non-music related), or perhaps you’re working a full-time job, make goals in advance for the times you know you might be able to practice. If you are in camps for three weeks out of the summer, and then a week-long family vacation, try to aim for 5 days a week of practicing when you are home with a regular routine. Don’t worry about the weeks you don’t have your instrument with you, just focus on making practice goals and finding a routine for the weeks you do have available. If you’re working a lot and there is no regular schedule, try to make goals for what you want to learn each week. Focus on the accomplishments and not as much on number of hours spent. Maybe it’s learning a few new songs, honing in on technical goals, or even reading through pieces that you already know, whatever it is – something is better than nothing! Your body and mind will thank you once September rolls around
3) Take a Few Lessons
A few lessons can be extremely beneficial to help the music student stay on track and can even lead to major improvements before school starts. A few lessons here or there is not a huge commitment, but may create motivation to practice, and are providing an additional social situation for music to exist. Think of summer lessons as an excuse to work on the things we all know we should be working on during the school year, but cannot find the time for. The summer is great to try different things and be exposed to more fellow musicians and educations.
Hopefully these suggestions have given you a few ideas, but if all else fails, take the advice of a former band teacher: “Only practice on the days that you eat!