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Changing up your routine

When I originally conceived of this topic, it was meant to be interpreted as a way to keep players on their toes during practice sessions. But life has provided me with an alternative view of a regimen change, one that accommodates the larger work/life balance as well as the practice routine.

I am now the proud, exhausted parent of a nine-week-old puppy named Riley. Most of the time, I call her Schmoop.

Photo credit: Jim Krauter

Now, I’m the kind of person who tends to over-research a topic when I’m excited about a prospect. For months I researched reputable breeders, training methods and schedules, things to expect… the list goes on. I knew I would have to make some changes, whether temporary or permanent, to my daily routine in order to give the wee beastie the best life possible. I knew there were going to be accidents in the house, that my ankles and hands would get nipped at, and that for the first few weeks I probably wouldn’t be able to sleep through the night undisturbed. I was bringing home a big, furry baby.

What I didn’t anticipate was how much she would interrupt my daily schedule. Suddenly my time is not just my time anymore. If I want her to do her business outside, I have to take her out every hour or two. And often this does not mean a quick five minutes, but rather 30 minutes of me waiting outside in the rain hoping she’ll stop eating the grass long enough to remember why she came outside in the first place. If I need to practice or teach, I need to crate her (she has not always taken kindly to this) or keep her locked in my room (highlights include being a delightful distraction and pooping on the floor in the middle of a lesson). This is in addition to waking me between 2 and 4 a.m. every day and deciding that at 6 I’ve slept in long enough.

All this to say I mostly walk around these days like a zombie, with barely enough energy to feed myself. Two weeks into the big new change and I’m just starting to figure out how Riley’s schedule will fit into my own. On a good day, I practice for maybe an hour. Figuring out how to maximize my limited time and energy has been my mission for the last week as other things start to settle down.

These are the questions I asked myself, and the answers I provided to get the most out of a big schedule change:

  1. What needs to be on my stand? I suppose it’s a blessing that Ontario is going into its third lockdown, as it means there’s a big fat nothing that I need to prepare by a certain time. My Genzmer Tuesday series has already come to a close so I can focus on technique and start a new project.

  2. What do I want to improve? I’ve been working my way through Trevor Wye’s Complete Daily Exercises for the Flute. It’s been an eye-opener for me. Improving my finger technique, especially in the third and fourth octaves, has been the priority. I can absolutely continue with this, but the time commitment must be reduced. Going through everything I had previously been doing in a single session could take easily 75-80 minutes. For the foreseeable future, I do not have that kind of time luxury. Instead, I can break one day’s work into two. One day major scales, one day minors, that sort of thing.

  3. What am I going to work on? I’ve had a concerto sitting on my shelf for a year now. I was anticipating a solo opportunity in 2020 that, for obvious reasons, did not occur, so the piece went to the wayside. There’s a golden opportunity to work on the one thing that terrifies me the most: memorization. Bit by bit over the coming weeks and months, I can use various techniques and document my progress. What worked, what didn’t, dry runs, etc.

  4. What am I going to play for fun? With Covid restrictions being what they are, musicians all around the world have had to prepare auditions without being in the same room as anyone else. While that lack of collaboration totally sucks, it has brought forth a wealth of quality accompaniment tracks, many available for free. Time to go through my library and do a little karaoke! Once a week, drop all the work stuff and just play for fun.

After the dust settles a bit more I’ll be able to expand this practice into something that better resembles my previous regimen. But for now, I can maintain a connection with my instrument, maintain some structure, and slowly build up Schmoop’s tolerance to the loud squeaky noises.

There are many other reasons someone would have a major change to their schedule. A global pandemic, for one, but new pets, babies, job changes, household moves, new priorities, all of these can change how much time you have to practice. If you have a teacher, consult with them to come up with a plan—how much time do you have, and how do you divide it to get everything accomplished? Do you have to redefine what your musical goals are and the timeline in which you plan to accomplish them?

How have dealt with major changes to your practice? I want to hear from you! Leave your solutions and strategies in the comments below.


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