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Take a Break to Improve

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Jørgen Oktober Storm, you can get in touch with him at oktoberstorm (AT) gmail.com

Bjørn Dæhlie is a former Norwegian cross-country skier. He has won 8 Olympic titles, 9 World Championships, and contributes most of his achievement to the time off between exercising: the single most important thing besides the actual practice/training is the relaxation. When you re-encounter your instrument after some time away — anything from taking a short break to a week off — you will often find that you’ve improved. This is partly because you have let your mind digest what you’ve put in earlier. Sleep works in the same way: you don’t actually learn anything before taking a break from it, pondering it and dissecting it. Practice is the act of chewing, the rest afterward is the actual digestion of the material, and this is when your body is nourished.

In some cases you are forced to take a rest. Scientists have proposed an explanation for clinical depression: it hits you when you have gone on overload for a certain time. Many instrumentalists will encounter a period of “depression” in their practice due to stress, a big workload, and/or negative feelings like underachievement. The overloaded the mind may answer this by making the practice session seem more dull, boring, and tiresome, thus forcing you to stop what you’re doing. This often affects everyday life, making simple chores seem like obstacles.

If you know you have enjoyed making music and taken great pleasure in practicing your instrument previously, but this feeling somewhat dwindled along the way, it’s a good possibility that your practice routine, your teacher, or your current situation in life are working against you. You never grow out of playing or enjoying music, but you surely can grow back into it once the obstacles are identified and dealt with.

This is a good time to take a day or two off to rearrange your practice plan (or anything related for that matter). In time you’ll benefit more from practicing an hour too little than too much. Everyone wants to practice as much as possible, of course, but taking care of your body, hands and mind are significantly greater responsibilities. A good idea is to revise the schedule/practice to be sure that the practice is performed correctly. In short, seek efficiency and manage repetition.

Back to our skier: “According to those who have seen him in action, Dæhlie is an absolute master of knowing just how hard and how long to push his body during training.” The key sentence here is, “Knowing just how hard and how long to push.”

It’s easy to forget about the music, and drive yourself into blame, guilt, over-practicing and never taking rests. Also the risk of never giving oneself credit for anything before one reaches “there.” Where is “there”? Everyday of practice is a little achievement in itself and every classical guitarist owes themselves credit for that. Because of the nature of the practice – repetitive and day in & day out – we may find ourselves caught up in dangerous routines and ways of thinking that can take double the time to un-learn. It’s important that we maintain good mental hygiene towards practicing and making every session a positive one.

“Dæhlie has responded by dropping out of several races, including the Norwegian National championships, in order to return to a comfortable training environment, and give his body a chance to recover.” In other words, knowing when to say, “no,” and to treat yourself with respect.

I hope this is useful for everyone out there and I look forward to hearing your hints and tips about practicing in the comments.

3 Responses leave one →
  1. 2010 April 22

    I’ve always likened practicing guitar to exercising. You have to practice consistently and not try to do it all out, once on the weekend. Be aware of boredom or staleness and make yourself take a break.

  2. 2010 April 22

    I agree with your point about giving ourselves credit. It’s hard to keep a balance between striving to play better and more and giving yourself a pat on the back for what you can do already. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. 2012 September 8
    Jake Steele permalink

    Wow! you really opened my eyes to what was happening to me! Thank you for the information, it was very helpful!

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