Motivating Music Practice Through The Feel-Good Practicing Revolution #FGP

Earlier this week I read a social media post written by a cellist complaining about how difficult the cello is, and about how her practicing never seems to reliably lead to progress but instead to frustration. Relatable for me, and likely for many other cellists and musicians out there!

I replied by sharing a personal trick that I’ve learned from 33 years of cello playing: try to plan a second practice session every day, even if both sessions are super short. The reason? The second session almost always feels better than the first. Indeed, the first session can be brutal. My muscles feel stiff, and ignorant. But if I return to the cello in the evening, things feel much better. Perhaps my mind and fingers have been working on the music subconsciously throughout the day. My fingers feel good when I pick up the cello a second time, and I always have a much better experience.

But sharing this little tip got me thinking. There’s something much bigger here, and it relates to the problem of practicing. Why is it still such a monster? Why do so many of us struggle with it?

The “something much bigger” hit me today, during a lesson with a seventh grade student. She’s a talented young cellist, and also a fairly anxious perfectionist. She’s been struggling with practicing recently. We started talking about practicing, and I tried to put myself in her shoes, to imagine how practicing makes her feel. And that’s when it hit me: the whole problem is the way we musicians approach practicing. We approach it from a technical standpoint; our goal is always to improve something, master some new skill, or learn some new song or passage. What we generally *don’t* do is approach practicing from an affective, emotional standpoint — how it makes us feel.

So here’s what the Feel-Good Practicing Revolution is all about: every practice session *must* leave you feeling like a beast. You know that feeling when you’re playing music you know really well, and your fingers are just nailing the notes, and the rhythm is fully locked in, and it feels like the notes you’re playing on your instrument have become your personal theme song right in that moment? Yes, that’s the feeling that you need to plan to tap into *every* practicing session. Because if you don’t tap into that feeling, of course practicing feels like a drag! Especially if your next gig is a long way off (a problem with which we musicians are sadly all-too-familiar in 2021), you have, have, have to make sure your practice sessions include actual *playing* that leaves you feeling good.

This feeling of positivity will help motivate future practice. What’s more, neuroscience continues to emphasize the deep connections between emotion, learning and the brain. Feeling good literally helps us learn!

Of course, this is not to say you shouldn’t set technical goals, or work toward improving skills. But any such goals should be subordinated to the goal of feeling good.

So I suggested tapping into this positive feeling to my seventh grade student.

“I never have that feeling.” she responded flatly.

Taken aback, I replied, “But you love sight-reading! What about when you’re sight-reading?”

At this her face completely lit up. Huge smile. “Ohhhh yeahhhh!”

So that’s what she’s going to try — always including some sight-reading in her practicing sessions so she can leave the instrument feeling like a beast. We’ll see how it goes. I’m optimistic! Maybe better, now I’m looking forward to my own next practice session. It’ll definitely include some jamming along with backing tracks on Youtube. This always puts me in a good headspace, and makes me feel like a musical beast.

What ways of practicing, activities, exercises, or even specific pieces or songs could you include in your own practice sessions so that you always leave feeling good? Please share your ideas! Time to kick off the Feel-Good Practicing Revolution!

#FGP #feellikeabeast #playlikeabeast

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