Thursday, November 21, 2013

The "Holiday Approach" to Practicing

The "Holiday Approach"
to Practicing

I absolutely love the holidays.  Just the smell of cinnamon can give me a warm, cozy feeling and make me head to the stores for Christmas shopping! (Yes, I'm one of those people that gets suckered in by sparkly decorations at the department stores in October...)


I've actually put a lot of thought into what makes Thanksgiving and Christmas feel so special.  I know that gratitude, religious beliefs, family and presents obviously play a huge part, but for the purposes of this blog post, I'm more interested in exploring the concept of tradition.  Why does breakfast on Christmas morning feel so special?  Why does a cup of coffee taste so much better with holiday music in the background and a fire crackling? Why does bundling up under the covers feel extra cozy just because it's winter break?  

I'm sure psychologists could have a field day with these questions and there are probably even academic research studies that cover this material, but for now I will just go with my personal answers to the questions mentioned above...

1.  Heightened awareness due to lots of pleasurable sensory experiences in your environment. (The other night, at a fancy dinner, I became increasingly aware of the way the beaded chandelier over my head was sparkling as I listened to a violinist perform Meditation de Thais by Massenet.  The beautiful sounds made me more aware of the beautiful sights.  Do you have a similar example?)

2. The feeling of anticipation, felt more deeply because of repeating the tradition each year, enhances the pleasurable experience.  Have you ever noticed that looking forward to something makes it that much better when you actually get it?  Add to that crystal clear memories of many other times you've had the same pleasurable experience and your anticipation enhances the experience that much more!


3. Because each holiday only happens once a year, pleasurable experiences during these times take on a feeling of being special and anything but ordinary.  Whether it's a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, Miracle on 34th Street or a New Year's Day Twilight Zone marathon, watching TV over the holidays always feels more special to me than watching on "regular" days.


So what, you may ask, does this have to do with practicing?  As little or as much as you want it to! My "Holiday Approach" has to do with creating traditions that you can follow to help heighten your awareness in, create anticipation for and give a feeling of specialness to your practice sessions. Believe it or not, your time spent practicing can feel as abundant as Thanksgiving, as cozy as Christmas and as inspiring as New Year's Resolutions.  

Holiday Approach Idea #1: Spend more money than you normally would on a super tasty tea, coffee, or fancy sparkling water. You could even invest in a beautiful mug or cool tumbler just for you. Treat yourself at the beginning of each practice session by enjoying the drink and/or using a special cup.


Holiday Approach Idea #2: Display beautiful and encouraging decorations somewhere you can easily see them either while you're practicing and/or while you're taking a break.  If you practice at home or in your own office, you can make your whole environment as beautiful and encouraging as you would like it to be.  If you practice in different places away from your home base, you can easily carry a photo, collage, sign or other inspirational item(s) in your flute bag. 

Holiday Approach Idea #3: Begin a tradition of listening to your favorite piece of music, reading your favorite poem or doing your favorite stretches each time you practice.  Anything that gives you goosebumps, lights up your eyes, warms your heart or loosens you up will only help you be more productive and play more beautifully. 

Holiday Approach Idea #4: Brainstorm a list of all the warm-ups, extended techniques, stretches, tips, tricks and memories that help you sound your best. Print the list on pretty paper, put it in a plastic sleeve or tape it somewhere where you're sure to see it.  Follow a tradition of reviewing at least 5 things from your list before you ever begin your current practice material.  Sounding your best as you practice is as fun as looking your best for a Christmas party!  (Read about Sound Sheets to see my favorite way of keeping this list).  

Holiday Approach Idea #5: Create daily, weekly or even monthly practice resolutions.  Practice resolutions could revolve around your attitude (I resolve to be extra patient when I practice tomorrow), your physical approach (I resolve to practice in front of a full length mirror every day this week) or any other short or long term goals (I resolve to memorize this movement by the end of the month!).  Keep a notebook, binder or list of your resolutions and enjoy a huge feeling of satisfaction when you look back and realize the accomplishments that have resulted from them.  

Holiday Approach Idea #6: Based on your goals, decide how much practice time is reasonable for you and double it.  I don't say this to make you work twice as hard, I say this to give you twice as much time in which to do the work!  Can you imagine Thanksgiving if we only had Thursday off from work and school, but not Friday?  Having two weekdays off gives us space and time to enjoy the holiday.  With a doubled amount of practice time, you have time for more breaks, more patience, and more "want to"s instead of "have to"s.

Holiday Approach #7: Enjoy planning your practice session in advance.  Holiday seasons are filled with enjoyment, but the specific holidays themselves go by so fast, don't they?  Whether planning fun events (Flute Karaoke, a Patient Practice session, a "run-through" recording), buying presents and supplies (new pencils, new music, new recordings) or imagining your beautiful results (a memorized concerto, a first prize performance, a gorgeous new tone), you can enhance your enjoyment of practicing even before you ever get your flute out.  The practice session itself will fly by and you'll find yourself anticipating the next time you get to participate in your new practicing traditions. 


Happy Holidays and Happy Practicing!
Terri Sánchez