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Defeating the Holiday Music Madness

The holiday music season is in high gear!

Black Friday is not only the beginning of the holiday shopping season; it’s the start of the holiday music season. There are church programs, student recitals, parties, concerts, music gatherings of all kinds. The holidays are a special time and what makes that festive gathering extra special? Live music.

And what makes live music? It’s not a what; it’s a who. It’s you.

And now your music stand has overflowed into piles of music on the floor, all of which has to be practiced and performed in the space of a few weeks.

But this is not the time to panic. It’s time to plan and strategize so that you can practice, play and still enjoy the holidays. Yes, it is possible.

Read on for my tips to help you prepare to play well this month without stressing out or having to forgo holiday festivities.

  1. First, take care of yourself. Eat well. Sleep enough. Stick to your usual exercise routine. Read or meditate. You are the engine for your music. Keep your engine in peak condition.
  2. Set aside a small block of time as your “minimum required practice.” It could be as little as 15 minutes or as much as an hour. It should be time that you can count on almost every day. Plan ahead to use this time for the most critical practice that you have to do. This might be a solo you have to play, exercises to keep your technique in shape, reviewing the stack of music for the coming weekend, or some tricky passages you need to woodshed. Planning even a few minutes each day to get to the music you most need to practice will keep your playing on track and keep the guilty feelings at bay when you choose to visit with friends rather than do another hour of practice.
  3. Prioritize your music. What is most important to practice? Likely you have pieces on your stand that only need a run-though while others need more in-depth work. Choose to spend your time where it will be most effective. Give yourself permission to ignore music that doesn’t need much attention. One warning – every few days check through all the music you need to prepare just to make sure you’re not forgetting something. It’s easy to lose track of the pieces at the bottom of the pile!
  4. Don’t grind out the notes. You may have a lot of music to practice but sometimes the shortest route to getting a piece ready to play is by looking for the music behind the notes. Focus on the music you want to make, not just the notes you have to play. Keeping the music in mind will help you know what notes are critical to learn and what you might be able to gloss over or even edit judicially. Glossing over notes is NOT what I recommend as standard practice procedure, of course, but it can work as a survival technique when there isn’t enough time to make everything right.
  5. Watch your language. At this time of year, it’s easy to fall into the mindset of music as a burden. I try to catch myself each time I start to say, “I have to play this concert,” and correct it to, “I get to play this concert.” Every time I make the correction, I find that I smile, and I can actually feel the stress lift. It’s a small thing that makes a big attitude shift.
  6. Take time to enjoy the music. Making music is a big part of your life and a big part of the holidays. Be sure you set aside time to play a favorite piece or listen to your favorite holiday music. There’s magic in the music; remember to listen for it.

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