Is time running out before a big performance? Can you just not seem to find more practice time in your day?
These factors, among many others, lead to stressful practicing that isn’t always productive. Below I’ve listed the 5 steps that I use to practice more efficiently.
1. Breathe- This seems fairly simple, but when we’re stressed out we tend to take shorter breaths. Focus on slow and large inhales and exhales to release tension. I particularly like the 4-7-8 technique which is inhaling through the nose for 4 counts, holding your breath for 7 counts, and then exhaling through the mouth for 8 counts.
2. Choose an allotted time for practice only (No distractions!)- You may only have 30 minutes or less to practice, but it’s very important to remove all distractions so you can use that time to focus only on practicing. Finding a quiet space is ideal, but you can at least turn off your phone or other electronics.
3. Shorten your warmup routine- If you don’t already have a shortened warmup routine, consider doing long tones, intervals, or rhythm exercises that coincide with the pieces you are working on. Try to choose key signatures that are in your pieces or even play through the scales.
4. Identify the most difficult passages- You probably are aware of what the most difficult passages are, but it’s also good to know where the second hardest passages are. I tend to rank my pieces and passages with stars, brackets, or post-its so I know what to practice first and second. With my system, I can not only practice the hardest parts, but I can still work on other less difficult (but still tricky) areas.
5. End the practice with a relaxing piece, passage, or warm down exercise- This is the equivalent of ending the practice with something relaxing or even fun. Sometimes I’ll go through my favorite part of the piece I’m working on, or if I’m really stressed I’ll do another warmup exercise in the same key signatures.
What works for you when you are stressed out?