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Cool Down Properly: Your Best 5 Minutes of Practice

What do you do to begin your practice sessions?

I’m certain you have a routine to warm up your fingers and your focus, one that helps you prepare to do your best work and to play beautiful music. You probably have given much thought to this and carefully crafted it to serve you well.

Have you given as much thought to how you finish a practice session? You may not have considered the last few minutes of your practice as anything special; when your time is up, you put the harp down and get on to your next activity.

I believe that the last few minutes of your practice can be extremely powerful if you use them well. They can help you consolidate the progress you made that session, so you retain what you learned and can pick up the threads quickly the next day. They can refresh your mind, body and spirit after the intense focus of practice. And those last few minutes can actually make you look forward to your next practice session with renewed spirit and energy.

Five Cool Down Techniques

  1. Release. You’ve been working hard, possibly trying to get a piece up to tempo or woodshedding a tricky passage. Take a few minutes and play that piece or passage just once more, taking it very slowly and easily. Free the music from the tension and frustration surrounding it and play it with a calm, unflustered approach. Your aim is to make it relaxed and correct, even if you have to play at a snail’s pace to do it.

  2. Review. Use the last few minutes of practice to play a piece you love. You can review a piece you want to keep in your repertoire or just play a piece you haven’t played for a long time. Don’t feel compelled to practice it or even correct the mistakes. Use this time to just play for yourself.

  3. Journal. A moment or two for reflection is not only healthy but it’s helpful too. Review what you did today, noting what worked and what didn’t. Use those notes to create a plan for your practice tomorrow. But journaling has an additional benefit beyond daily strategizing; over time your journal entries will be a record of your progress and growth.

  4. Calm your fingers. Do an actual “cool down,” the way an athlete would after training. Your objective is to remind your fingers of what solid, relaxed technique feels like, apart from the frenzy of grabbing at notes or working out twisty fingerings. You might try repeating your warm-up routine very slowly, staying relaxed and using full finger motion. 

  5. Stretch your body. Before you stand up, put the harp down and sit straight and tall on your bench, feeling your body come back into alignment. Then stand up, breathe deeply, reach your arms upward and then across your body, one arm at a time. Bend over and dangle your arms and head downward, if that feels good to you. Taking a moment to release the physical tension that may have built up during your practice will help you move to the rest of your day with more relaxation and ease.

Any of these cool down techniques will help you make a calm transition after your practice. Choose one to try out after your practice today.

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