Monday, October 5, 2015

My Epic 2-Day Practice Session & What I Learned From It

Last week, I mentioned my big concerto recital in Coughs, Mistakes & Wardrobe Malfunctions: What to Do When It Happens To You.  This week, I'll tell you the story of how I realized a had a TON of practicing left to do and not very much time to do it!  After rehearsing each of the three concertos with my husband on the Monday night before the Friday recital, I realized there were still:

1) Passages that were too messy
2) Entrances that didn't feel comfortable
3) Tempos that still felt too fast! 

With the spare time I had between teaching lessons, emails, and paperwork, I used my trusty Epic Warm-up, Practice Games, and best attitude possible to get ready for the dress rehearsal on Wednesday night.  Though Wednesday did go much better and I had clearly made progress since Monday, it was nowhere near the level of clarity, comfort, and confidence I wanted for my Friday night recital!  In fact, I was quickly realizing that if I wanted to be really ready for the recital, 3 weeks would be much more appropriate than the 48 hours I had left...

... and so, I rescheduled all my lessons for Thursday and Friday and, first thing Thursday morning, I went to Target. 

I wandered the aisles, searching for some kind of creative inspiration.  Surely, I could find the Practice Game to trump all other Practice Games.  Surely, I could find a way to pull off this epic recital with only two days to go!  With the clock ticking, I bought 2 jars of decorative gems and a tall, clear, empty vase. Not exactly sure what I was going to do with them, I headed back to my office to face the gigantic practice to-do list I still had left. (On my way back, I stopped off at Chipotle to get a yummy chicken bowl for sustenance).    

I opened both jars of gems and put them on top of the piano.  After opening the metronome app on my phone, I did my entire Epic Warm-up and then figured out a plan. Every time I did a small Practice Game, or added a little bit of sparkle to my music, I would put a clear gem in the vase.  Every time I completed a huge Practice Game or had a breakthrough concerning character, momentum, or ease with my music, I would put a red gem in the vase.  My theory was, if I could fill that vase all the way to the top with sparkles and breakthroughs, I would have the confidence and comfort I needed to play the heck out of all three concertos. 

In Black Sharpie, I wrote on the vase, "Repetition is the key that unlocks the music," a phrase I've been making my students memorize and repeat back to me over and over again. Then, I took a deep breath and got started.  Starting with the first concerto, I played each and every phrase of the music one at a time, quickly determining if I could, on command, 

1) Play with total clarity
2) Play with total ease
3) Play with total connection

If these things were not instantly accessible to me, I chose Practice Games to help me gain access.  I quickly figured out that my absolute favorite Practice Games for the Ibert Concerto are the Grouping Games.  By playing a passage full of sixteenth notes first in groups of two, then in different groups of two by starting on the second note, then three rounds of threes (starting on the first, second and third notes for each different round), four rounds of fours and five rounds of five, in no time at all, the notes began to fly right through my fingers as if by magic.  Every time I completed a full set of Grouping Games with a particular passage, I put a red gem in the vase. 

When I was on a roll with my Practice Games and adding gem after gem to the vase, I felt great. Unfortunately, after about an hour, I would start to lose steam and my brain would feel extremely fatigued by the the intense concentration I was investing in each round of the games.  Since I had to keep going, no matter what, to get ready for my recital the very next night, I developed an amazing routine. I was truly blown away by how well it worked. 

First, I would practice for an hour until I felt my mental clarity fading.  Then, I would lie down on the lovely couch in my office for 15 minutes.  Sometimes I would fall asleep, sometimes I wouldn't, but either way I was able to let go and allow my spinning mind to relax.  Then, I would get up, eat a couple bites of the yummy Chipotle chicken bowl, watch about 5 minutes of Netflix (to pretend like I was on vacation).  Remarkably, after less than 25 minutes, I was raring and ready to go again for another hour.  That Thursday, I believe I repeated this process at least 8 times.  It was amazing.  

After a good night's sleep, I headed back to my office early Friday morning, the day of the recital, for Day 2 of my epic 2-Day Practice Session.  This time, I focused on all my entrances.  I sat on my couch, put a comfy pillow behind my back, set my stand up at the right angle with my music spread out before me. Then, I began another practice routine that yielded awesome results.  

First, I would close my eyes and take a deep breath with my flute placed in my lap.  Then, I would pick my flute up, and imagine I was on stage with my husband playing the piano intro.  At the right time, I would breathe, and... go for it!  Full tempo, full character, the whole shebang.  After playing that section of music, I would stop, close my eyes again, put my flute back on my lap and start the process over again.  I did this with each entrance until I felt that I could count on myself to perform when the pressure was on. When I needed a break, I would either hop up from the couch to add the appropriate gems to the vase, or take my bigger break with a quick nap, a couple bites to eat, a few minutes of Netflix vacation and then get back to it!  

When all the clear gems from my sparkles and small Practice Games combined with lots and lots of red gems from my breakthroughs and big Practice Games reached the top of the vase, it felt incredible.  I felt lifted up with the confidence I needed to walk out on stage and have a great time!  After the concert went really well and I was enjoying my super relaxing day off the next day, I reflected on what I had learned.  I'm hopeful that something on this list of practice lessons can help you, too!  

1) Even when a project feels huge and insurmountable, it is still possible to rise to the challenge!

2) Feeling comfortable and energized will always yield higher quality practice results than forcing yourself to practice when your mind and/or body is tired. 

3) There will always be ways to use your creativity to inspire yourself.  No idea is too cheesy, too weird, or too fun to consider part of your "serious" practice routine!

4) Grouping Games are pure magic.  

5) Practicing flute can be a truly awe inspiring way to learn about your mind, your character, and what is possible for you.  

What started out as a stressful deadline turned out to be one of the most rewarding practice experiences I've ever had.  I will always remember my epic 2-day practice session and what I learned from it!

Happy Practicing!

Terri Sánchez

P.S. If you'd like more practice inspiration, try How to Convert Complaints Into Practice Productivity!