I’ve never kept a practicing log before and so a lot of my practice today was distracted by meta-discourse. “I should remember to blog about the fact that today I’m focusing on XYZ!” of course, focusing less then, because I was thinking about writing and not about thinking. Fortunately this occurred to me at the time and I have some notes on optimizing productivity during a single session. This entry may turn out to be a huge splurge of thoughts I’ve had forever but never written about.
-Alexander Technique. For the unfamiliar, The Alexander Technique is a method for performing artists and anyone who engages in any sort of physical activity. In a nutshell it encourages you to be aware of the way you use your body and whether or not this usage is most efficient. (I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some outstanding teachers, Lori Schiff at Aspen and Pamela Blanc in L.A.)
I’ve been getting better at noticing weird things I do with my body that aren’t strictly necessary to play the clarinet. Until last year I never knew that I would scrunch my toes or tighten my ankles when performing. It’s pretty random, but the amazing thing is that I play better when my feet are relaxed. I’m also focusing on the relationship between neck tension and my embouchure. This is a tough one to pull apart because I think I’ve been tensing my neck as long as I’ve been forming an embouchure. However when I’m able to reduce jaw pressure, my neck feels much freer, my sound opens up, my intonation improves and butterflies fly out of my bell! It’s pretty amazing. Working on sustaining this for longer periods of time.
-On staying focused. Towards the end of a practice session (these range anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes) I often get distracted and will want to “just check my email really quick” or I’ll think of “a really great idea that I have to write down asap”. Email: ignore it. A great way to do this if you have a smart phone is to set Mail settings to Manually Retreive rather than Push. That way I can check email when I’m ready, rather than have email distract me when I’m busy. When I get those really good ideas, I use a program called Things to just type it down instantly, and get right back to my practice session. The last tip, for those who really need uninterrupted focus, is to just put your phone on Airplane Mode. Email can wait, people can leave voicemail, and this way there’s no temptation to check facebook, even for a second.
-During my practice in the last few weeks I’ve been taking a page out of the blog of the Bulletproof Musician. This blogger wrote a fantastic article on problem-solving in the practice room. I’ve had great success with this technique and have even jotted it down on an index card so that I see it every time I practice Aspen rep.
-The purpose of this blog is to help me stick to committing four hours of practice every day, because I know that if I can find the time to practice, only good things will happen. But even better things happen when I commit to recording myself. For that I use the Voice Memos app on the iPhone. I think it’s a free App. Recording myself (AND LISTENING) is like getting free lessons. I did a good bit of that today.
-Lastly, today I think I’m getting a better sense of how to divide up my practice time. I have this weird quirk where I like to have space between my warmup and my first practice session. This morning I did 25 minutes of warm ups, needed to take a 15 minute break, and then could jump back in for another hour and fifteen. I’ve tried just plowing straight on from my warmup to practicing but that always results in an early burnout, for some reason. So, 20-30 minutes, BREAK, then another hour or so. Then later in the day I can do 60-90 minute sittings. Ultimately it looks like my schedule will be Warm up, Practice 1, Practice 2, Practice 3. So far, so good!
Things are going well today. Going to get out of the house for a bit before I come back for my last hour.
For fun here’s a picture of the African masks my parents have in the basement where I’m practicing during my Virginia vacation. In high school I used to play for them in preparation for auditions. Doesn’t work anymore, I feel too comfortable around them.