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How to Get Out of a Rut in Practicing Your Music Pieces

We practice our pieces a lot.

And sometimes in practicing our pieces so much, we get sick and tired of them.

In this article, I talk about what to do when you get tired of your music, and an effective practice method that I teach that can be very helpful to truly make leaps and bounds with your progress in your music lessons.

If you’d rather listen instead of reading, check out the podcast version below!

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Burnout, rut, we call it different names but it all boils down to a sense of tiredness in something that you’re normally very passionate about. What exactly do you do when you start getting tired of a piece of music that you’re working on in your music lessons? This is especially common in voice lessons but it is also applicable to those taking piano lessons and other instruments.

How It Started

I had a student that actually brought this up in her lesson. I asked her, “Okay what are we gonna work on today?” And she was saying, “Well, I’m kind of tired of one of my pieces, I feel like I sing it though, and I’m not really sure if it’s getting any better, and I’m kind of getting sick of it. And I don’t know what to do.” And that brought us to start a conversation about this whole getting burnt out with music. She asked me, “What do you do when you get sick of a piece that you’re not really sure if it’s getting any better?” And at that time, I thought, “Oh, that’s a really good thought!” And so, I’ll tell you what I told her.
Chelsea in Ohio State University

In college, I took up music at the Ohio State University and Indiana University. As a music major, I would practice pieces for a couple of hours a day. On those pieces that I would get from my teacher, I would practice with those pieces over and over again.

And did I get tired of them? Absolutely!

I got to a point where I kind of despised, or even, “hated” the music, for a lack of a better term.

But did I still work on it? Yes! And here’s why.

Chelsea performing at Indiana University

When you first get a piece, sometimes you get to this point of, say, being in love with it, or being really passionate about it, loving how it sounds, really being excited about it.

And then as you start working with it, your teacher might be like, modify this vowel, this note is a little bit flat, we need to change this, we need to change this…

And then all of a sudden, you’re thinking about those things, those technical things and not so much about how much you love the music.

(Don’t get me wrong, the techniques in music are absolutely vital if you want to make music that is beautiful, and grounded in the technical details.)

Is that okay? Yes, that’s absolutely part of the process that we have. And then in going through that process, you will practice those techniques.

Do you lose sight of loving the music during this time? Maybe. Probably. Yes.

Chelsea and Paul Melcher of Red School of Music

But here’s what the important aspect is. Practicing it so much that all of a sudden, it becomes autopilot, on how you do the technical things.

So for example: say that there was a note in the phrase that your voice instructor says,

  • “Oh that’s flat,”
  • “That needs to be a little bit brighter,”
  • “We need to change vowel modification,”

in some sort of way.

What I will do is I would try the different techniques that my teacher would tell me to do until I felt like, “Okay, I’ve got that one note right.”

And then, what I do is the chunking method.

Studio image (1)

How to Use The Chunking Method 

The chunking method is the most effective way for practicing that I have found. I would take, say, the note before that. So say the note before that was an E. I would sound out the E note first.

And then what I will do is try to sound the note before that E and going into the E note. I’d sound out just those two notes, and ask myself, “Am I getting the right place on that?”

And I would see if I could get that one note in the right place.

Then when I do, I would take a couple notes before that, and keep asking myself, “Am I getting that in the right place?”, “Was that note right?” until I get it perfectly.

In doing this, sometimes, you’ll find yourself noticing that, “Oh yeah, that one note is totally not in the right place anymore.”

So then you would have to backtrack, and keep working on that.

Is it tedious? Yes!

Does it take time? Yes!

Are you singing through the pieces? Probably not if you’re doing this method, and that’s exactly how it should be.

The thing is, if you’re just singing your pieces through, you are not actually getting any better. You might think,

“Oh, I was trying to remember what my teacher said.”

“Oh, I might remember a few things as I’m singing it through, like in the shower and singing it through…”

But it’s a very, very different level of progress that you would make if you were just singing things through a couple times a week, than if you were actually doing the chunking method. 

The Chunking Method in Music Lessons

So what does this method looks like in your lesson? In your lessons, you have your folder and you have your music, right? And you’re taking notes (at least you should be!)… And when your teacher says, do this, write it down.

You write every single thing down.

And then when the lesson is done, you go home, (unless it’s online lessons), you need to practice it.

Practice the session.

You actually open this up, and you say,

“Okay, what did my teacher say,”

“Oh, this note needs to be this.”

And then practice that first. 

Practice, practice, and once you feel like you’ve gotten that to the point of not just getting it right one time, but being like,

“Oh yeah. Significantly, I can do this. Every time I get to this part, I know.”

And then I take a bigger chunk. Instead of just one note, I take a bigger chunk. Maybe it’s a couple notes before, or the sentence before, and see if I can still master that technique when I get to that point.

And only then can I add more, add more, add more. A little bit, a little bit, a little bit.

This means that you might not actually sing through your piece by the time you get to your next lesson.

It’s more tedious, yes.

But do you want to progress in a way that’s actually real? Yes!

If you’re just singing your pieces through, you are not actually getting any better. It’s a very, very different level of progress that you would make if you were just singing things through a couple times a week, than if you were actually doing the chunking method. 

Students Singing Pieces Through vs. Using the Chunking Method

Sometimes, we have students that yes, they want to get better, but they don’t understand that “Oh, I need to put work outside of my lesson time?”

Of course!!

If you’re having lessons each week, sure you can get better and better. But the progress might be tiny boosts more than anything—because you’re not really putting any outside time.

Maybe you’re singing through your pieces, or memorizing them, but you’re not really trying to perfect the techniques, or work on breathing or placement, things that your teacher is really working hard on with you.

On the other hand, we have other students that might do the chunking method. When they go home, they work on each little individual section that we say to work on.

Then they come back, and that becomes natural to them.

Chelsea and a voice student at the studio

Guess what? At that point, where you practice so much that it becomes natural for it to be in the right place, with the right placement, using the breath in a positive way…

All of a sudden, you can come back to the creative mode. You can come back to, “Let’s make this music beautiful, let’s do this, let’s do this, let’s feel it.”

All of these things you can do after you feel like you’ve perfected the technique.

Now… can you do both at the same time? Yes.

BUT in most happenstances, it’s better for you to feel like the technical things go on autopilot, and that you can do that.

And then you can actually enjoy the music because you’re not thinking so much about, “Oh, is this vowel right? Is this blah blah right?”


And so that’s the technique that I like to do, the chunking method.

It requires more time, it’s more tedious, but it’s absolutely more effective. And you will find that your progress just goes up in ways you never thought! Once you practice things that way, you can actually enjoy your music later on.

Chelsea working hard

 Sure, you sit with pieces for longer. Maybe you go through a period of “hating” it, or not liking it as much.

But that’s what you do, and then you get to the level. You get to a whole new level that sometimes you would never ever be able to get to if you didn’t use the chunking method. And then you’re able to really enjoy it on a whole different level.

That’s how you can get to the point of loving your music even if you’re working on it in a technical way. And what to do if you feel like you’re getting sick of your music, and also the best practice technique for you to do.

Hope this article helps you in some way, let me know in the comments: do you have any personal techniques that you do to get out of a rut? How do you deal with musical burnout?

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