This post is dedicated to every classical musician out there who knows they want to move forward, but sometimes has trouble getting there. There's nothing like a fresh, new year to shake off the old habits that weigh you down and welcome in the exciting new possibilities that await you.
New Year Musician Resolution #1:
Practice every day... for real.
This year, as many days as you can, really (really) practice. Do that kind of honest practicing that faces problems, seeks solutions, reaches for more, and dares to dream. Whenever you catch yourself avoiding, procrastinating, or rationalizing, just dive into the music instead... you'll be glad you did.
New Year Musician Resolution #2:
Listen with beginner's ears.
The older you get and the more advanced you become as a musician, the stronger the temptation is to think, "I already know that." When you're given advice by a teacher, a conductor, a speaker, or even a friend, it's easy to jump to conclusions and feel as though you already understand exactly what they are explaining to you. Even when you listen to yourself while practicing, you might feel that you know exactly what your problem is or exactly what you should be doing. Do yourself a favor this year and let go of the "been there, done that" mentality. Nurture yourself and your musical experience with beginner's ears, allowing new perceptions, new ideas, and new inspirations into your life.
New Year Musician Resolution #3:
Be brave and record yourself.
Even if it's scary, even it's overwhelming, do it anyway. Learn what your audience hears so that you can decide to keep what you like and change what you don't. Use a baby step, one step at a time mentality, and little by little, you can record, listen, practice, record, listen, practice your way to the performance you would like to create.
New Year Musician Resolution #4:
Don't waste a single moment of any rehearsal.
Whether you're in 6th grade or a professional symphony, principal flutist or last chair in the second row, every rehearsal is a goldmine of information, lessons, and experiences. Even if the conductor is talking to another section about something that doesn't seem to apply to you, the rehearsal has lasted for hours already, or the music is not your favorite, you can always learn something. Best case scenario, you can absorb all the wonderful things the musicians around you are doing and take any great ideas for your own musicianship. Worst case scenario, you can at least learn what not to do and/or imagine a totally different scenario you would like to create for rehearsals you are in charge of in the future!
New Year Musician Resolution #5:
Admire qualities in other musicians.
Competitiveness is highly overrated and jealousy is so last year. Instead, dedicate this year to appreciating the amazing things your friends and colleagues do when they perform, learning as much as you can about tone, phrasing, breathing, rhythm, personality, creativity and energy from everyone around you. Be happy for other musicians when they are able to create special moments, taking satisfaction in knowing that they are part of the club just like you are!
New Year Musician Resolution #6:
Learn from your mistakes, without being mean to yourself.
Face your technical difficulties, your awkwardness, your tone issues, and your insecurities. Call them what they are and enjoy the process of doing something about them! Find all of it interesting and enjoy the adventure of discovering different strategies and humbling journeys. When you learn that mistakes are actually clues to the musician you want to become, you'll no longer want to avoid them, you'll welcome them!
New Year Musician Resolution #7:
Dig deeper into your music to find "the good stuff."
It's tempting for all of us to fall into the trap of "getting" the notes, rhythms, articulations, and tempos. We say things like "this needs to be louder," "this needs to be faster," and "I should do this," and so on. This year, move past the practicality of preparation and remember the point of what you are doing. When you are connected to the "good stuff" in the music (the heart, the juice, the goosebumps), all of the sudden nothing but the most accurate and dynamic version possible makes sense.
New Year Musician Resolution #8:
Take more risks.
It might have happened when you were young, or it might have been accumulating with each year of lessons, rehearsals, competitions, and performances, but somewhere along the way, you became scared to mess up. Too loud and you might crack, too soft and you might go flat. Too much vibrato and it might sound weird, too much stretching and it might be wrong. In my humble opinion, life is too short to play your music safe. There are times and places to play as accurately and perhaps as conservatively as possible, but the rest of the time is a great time to find out what's possible. Who knows? You might just find your way to the most passionate forte, the most breathtakingly soft pianissimo, the most singing vibrato, and the most elegant timing you've ever played in your life.
New Year Musician Resolution #9:
Somewhere along the way, while you were learning that messing up is bad, you might have also decided that being yourself is too scary. If you relax too much, you might make a mistake, or worse yet, not be good enough. The tricky aspect of trying to keep up a "perfect persona" when practicing, playing in a lesson, or rehearsing, is that it is not really YOU who is doing the playing. Trying to be perfect by keeping lists of to-dos and shoulds in your mind simply weighs you down and blocks the music. Start in the practice room by letting go a little at a time, and work toward really feeling like yourself when you play. When your mind is clear, your connection to the music is authentic, and what you're doing feels natural, it's amazing how that will transfer from the practice room to your performances in the real world.
New Year Musician Resolution #10:
Realize that practicing is the point.
Many classical musicians, by nature and training, are very goal oriented. It's a necessity if you want to do well in ensembles, school, competitions, and perhaps even your career. It's so easy, in the midst of planning and worrying and hoping and even dreaming, to forget that, even though prizes and performances are exciting and meaningful, practicing is actually where you will find what you were always meant to find. It's in those moments of solitude, when the sounds you hear are the ones you are making, and the lessons you learn are the ones you are creating, and the growth you feel is the growth you are earning, that you are really experiencing what the life of a musician is all about. Work hard this year, and and set as many goals as will keep you motivated, but also learn to be still for a while and allow practicing to become your whole world sometimes. It's a very nice world once you get to know it.
Happy Practicing and Happy New Year!
P.S. Have you been disappointed by past musical experiences and find it hard now to get a fresh start? Try reading Failing Up: A Flutist's Guide to a No Matter What Fresh Start.