I've written a lot about effective practice and efficient practice, creative practice and deliberate practice. I believe that practice, the right kind of practice, is the number one contributor to every harpist’s success. Harpists who practice correctly and consistently are able to play the music they want to play.
Today, however, I'm going to look at practice in a different way. I'd like you to consider making your practice healthy practice.
Healthy practice isn't about eating right and exercising, although those are certainly important factors in any endeavor. Healthy practice is practice that is fun, enjoyable, creative, satisfying and sustainable, in addition to being efficient and effective.
We've all started new practice habits from time to time; we feel a rush of new energy and focus and for a while, we get results. But then the energy begins to dwindle and the motivation dies. Our practice habit has not proved sustainable.
When we practice well, when our practice satisfies us musically, mentally and emotionally, our practice is not only sustainable, but it becomes something that we look forward to. We have no trouble finding time to practice even in a busy schedule because it brings us so much calm, satisfaction and fulfillment. Practice becomes a necessary and joyful part of our daily lives. It's not a duty, an obligation or a frustration. It is healing and refreshing. It is inspiring and rewarding. It is healthy.
Three Forms of Healthy Practice
Healthy practice begins with relaxation. If you’re holding tension in your body or your mind, you won’t be open to the change and growth that you want. Your hands, shoulders, back and face should be relaxed. Your mind should be calm and focused. Gritting your teeth, literally or figuratively, to get through your practice won’t help you play any better.
You can use visualization or breathing exercises to relax your mind and muscles as you practice. Try focusing on your tone or on the expression of a piece, rather than just the technical difficulties. You can even use your technique warm-up to remind your fingers to relax.
Be an Observer, Not a Critic
Next, develop an attitude of non-judgmental observation when you practice. Negative self-talk or harsh self-criticism will sabotage your practice and your playing. You want to simply correct your mistakes, not beat yourself up for them. A mistake is only a mistake, not a reflection on you or your ability.
One way to start being an observer instead of a critic is to act like your teacher would. A teacher would never be frustrated with you for a mistake; she would just ask you to play it again. That’s what healthy practicers do; they coach themselves. Rather than slipping into negative “can’t do” language, they look for solutions.
Making Practice Fun
Who says practice has to be only about proper technique and fingering? Practice shouldn’t only be about the hard work; it must satisfy your creative and playful side too. And mixing things up a bit in your practice isn’t only good for your soul. It will make you a better harpist, too.
Refresh your warm-up. Have a different warm-up for each day of the week. Or vary the tempo and key. Switch up the pedals or levers to keep those scales or exercises from sounding boring. Play your arpeggios with a Latin beat.
Avoid falling into a music rut. Play through an old piece and a new piece each day. Have a day when you play through all your favorite pieces. Buy a new book and try all of music in it.
Be inventive. Instead of just playing that tricky passage 10 times in a row, choose a different focus every time you play it - correct technique one time, dynamics the next time, slow, then fast, in rhythms, backwards, whatever strikes your fancy. Create stories to go with pieces you are practicing or make up words to fit the melody.
The days of suffering for one's art are long gone. Happy harpists do healthy practice. Make healthy practice your habit too.