The approaching New Year gives us a chance to assess where we are as well as where we want to go. Although any day is just as good a day for making things better, there is an undeniable psychological boost to starting anew together with the calendar. Here’s a few music-related resolutions to make the most of 2012.
Practice More Technique
To a lot of people—myself included—strict technical work can get old fast. On the other hand, the benefits of consistent and determined technical development to one’s playing are self-evident. A great resolution for those who don’t work on technical aspects regularly would be to incorporate one twenty-minute segment into their daily regimen. Whether you work on right-hand string crossings, rasgueados, or scales, you will find that your increased technical confidence will make your overall playing much more secure.
Keep a Practice Log
Keeping track of what you practice, how much time you spend doing things, and how quickly (or slowly) you meet your goals can be a truly powerful tools. Lack of focus and time managment skills are perhaps the most tangible dangers to a guitarist’s progress: Conversely, making the most of whatever time you can dedicate to practicing will yield surprising results. Consider breaking up your time into shorter segments with frequent breaks, and working on one thing, and one thing only, for the duration of each slot. You’ll accomplish more and the variety will help you keep a fresh perspective.
During the first year of my Ph.D. I had a hard time keeping my performance schedule up. I was overwhelmed with readings, seminars, and papers, felt like I had not enough time to practice, and didn’t dedicate enough energy to finding more and better gigs. Eventually I realized that this lack of performance was actually impacting my overall well-being, and vowed to make gigging a priority once again—with supremely satisfying results. While you don’t have to be in such an extreme situation, anyone but the most over-worked concert performer can use more stage time. If you’re dealing with stage-fright, booking a monthly or weekly performance can work wonders in easing your nerves. Check out local hospices, convalescent homes, pre-schools, and churches for an opportunity to share your passion. You’ll find the audience to be extremely appreciative of your time, and it will be a very rewarding experience for yourself as well. You don’t have to present full programs—two to four pieces with a few introductory words will easily make for a twenty-minute mini-recital.
Expand Your Knowledge of the Repertoire
I don’t mean the guitar repertoire (although that would be a worthwhile and noble effort), but rather that you spend some time exploring some other music, classical or not. You could start from the canonic works described in every anthology, and then focus on whatever vein or sub-genre strikes your fancy. You can be a comlpetist, getting to know as many of Sibelius’s or Davidovky’s works as you can find, or you could focus on the non-guitar works of composers you already like. Especially if you have access to a library and its databases, this resolution can be a free one: use services such as the Naxos Music Library, the IMSLP, and borrow study scores from your local branch.
I don’t think you are actually allowed to have a New Year’s resolution list without this item. Let me come clean and confess that I am guilty as charged, but in all honesty there is no excuse for a musician to not give his or her body the care it deserves. You don’t have to turn into a competitive body builder (although it did work for Scott Tennant), simply choose an activity that fits your needs and inclination and stick with it three-four times a week. Being in better shape can help you avoid injuries and keep your mind in focus. You can also use the time you spend running or working out in the gym to do visualization exercises, listening to a recorded practice session, or checking out new repertoire. Some activities like Yoga and martial arts can also help you get the best of performance anxiety. For obvious reason, be careful with your hands and nails—basketball and rock-climbing are probably not the best choices.
Editors note: I’m a huge fan of lifting weights. Lifting is, in my opinion, one of the best physical activities anyone can do. That said, there is more to it than throwing a few plates on a bar and benching. Train smart. This article is a good place to start: it’s about “computer guys”, but we classical guitars are very similar (hours sitting, etc). -CD