How did we get so serious? In classical music, it seems to come with the territory. All black clothing, expensive equipment, analytical studies, and some very serious practice. Scientists, however, are clear about the data: a playful approach makes any endeavor easier, more enjoyable, and more likely to be repeated frequently. And play pushes fear to the backburner.
In other words, playful is the perfect approach to practice.
According to research, play for adults is not trivial fluff. It stimulates the imagination and relaxes the body – good news for our technique. Play is kindling for our passion. It allows us to explore within our practice sessions rather than relying on endless repetition. Most importantly, it imbues our most daring and difficult tasks with a sense of lightheartedness. Engaging in play lets us dig deep without feeling overwhelmed. It invites us to be patient.
Here are some of the characteristics of play:
Tips for Cultivating Play in Practice
Incorporate goof-off time in practice. Let the last 10 minutes of practice be any fun jam or song you want to play. We tend to remember experiences based on how we end them, so well-placed goof-off time can be key to feeling positive about practice.
Use a randomizer app like Daily Decision Wheel on on IOS or on Android. Let the randomizer decide which scales to play or which practice challenges to present (like "get to the frog as often as you can").
Play with virtual accompaniment like on Tomplay or play along with a YouTube accompaniment. You can adjust the tempo!
Make a Zoom practice date and meet a friend virtually to practice (muted) side by side, followed by some happy hour social time.
Use apps like Rhythm Sight Reading Trainer (on iOS) or Complete Rhythm Trainer (on Android) to help game-ify learning rhythm. For links to my favorite apps, head to the Favorite Apps Tool on my website.
Play along with YouTube and have your own back up orchestra. The trick is to use different performers, not just one, and elect the custom speed tool in the settings. (You may need a speaker to hear it well enough.) Why play alone when you can play along with the Concertgebouw Orchestra?
Pick a daily practice theme to lighten your work and become more efficient. For example, on "backwards day," practice all your hard licks in reverse. On "dancing day," move around like crazy. Think of themes that address your to-do list, but in a lighthearted way.
Use timers to make sure you’re not practicing something into the ground. When time's up, move on! End your practice when you’re feeling good about it.
Journal your sessions to add a some playfulness. A sense of play and spontaneity is one of the things I tried to imbue in the prompts of my practice workbook/journal called Practizma.
Remember, being a serious musician doesn’t mean you always have to be serious!
Want to learn more about play? Here's a fun (pun intended) Ted Talk I recommend.
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