Practicing can definitely be a struggle—and I hear you. I hear you, because I struggle too. Sometimes it’s just a general motivation that we need, a general kick-in-the-butt. In this article, I talk to you about some of the struggles that we have with practicing, and some tips that can help with those struggles.

If you’d rather listen instead of reading, check out the podcast version below! There’s also a video version on YouTube found below:

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Struggles of Practicing During the Pandemic and some tips to help you get through it

Hey there! Chelsea Melcher here with Red School of Music.

Today we are going to talk about the struggles of practicing during a pandemic, and then some tips that might help you get through it.

If this is your first time stumbling upon this blog, my name is Chelsea Melcher and my husband Paul and I are co-founders of the Red School of Music.

Chelsea and Paul Melcher of Red School of Music

We are both professional performers, and we like to bring our experience to students that are hungry for education in the performing arts as well.

So as you know, we have a lot of changes going on in the world right now. There’s drastically been some dramatic effects that have been through, with things cancelling, things being pushed back, especially for those in the performing arts.

Whether you’re a professional musician or whether you’re a student musician or student performer, things are definitely different. And I have seen firsthand in lessons, the motivation and the self-discipline has really started to plummet.

And there’s been quite a bit of struggle. So that was part of the inspiration I had for making this video.

Struggle: I have no motivation because my stuff got canceled. I’ll wait after the pandemic when things go back to normal.

So one of the struggles that I’ve noticed is that I hear people say,

“Well, I really don’t have any motivation right now because of everything that’s being canceled. So I’m just going to wait ’til things go back to normal.”

So the problem with that is, we don’t know when things are going to go back to normal. And what does that normal even mean?

I mean, is anything going to go back to exactly the way it was? Maybe, maybe not.

But this could be a long time that we’re talking about. And a long time that you could be doing things and really working on your personal development and getting better that you’re not.

Practicing music at home

And so the problem is that the longer that you let yourself be in a rut (and we can call it a rut, whatever it is), the harder that it’s going to be to get back out.

People will think, “Oh, well, things will go back to normal and I’ll just become a better person then.” But the problem is that you’re creating habits right now that are going to be programmed.

It’s going to be so hard to program those in a different way once things start to evolve and go back to normal. Plus, the situation seems to be a slow shift to a slow evolution. It’s not just like, BAM, you wake up, everything’s open, you can go everywhere, there’s no kind of problems or concerns. And so, just be aware of that as well.

Some people will think,

“Well maybe somebody will come along and help me out of this rut that I’m in.”

Here’s a news flash: nobody is going to help you get out of this rut, except for yourself.

Everyone has things that they’re struggling with, that they’re working on and so for you, it is time for you to take charge of your self-motivation, your discipline, and not put anything- any pressure on anybody else.

It’s all you. You are in charge of your happiness. You are in charge of how you react to things. That is what we can control.

There’s a lot in this world that we cannot control with this pandemic, right? We cannot control when things open, we cannot control certain groups and gatherings and things being canceled, things still going on… but you can control how you respond to things. So let that be your first motivation.

I find that a lot of people that are involved in exercise, daily exercise, they are the best practicers and the best at staying motivated. Because when you think about exercise, it’s also to do with practicing. Exercise, you’re working your muscles. Do you feel like doing it every day? Uh, no.

Right now, I am waking up in the mornings and I like to go running, and it’s wonderful for me. There’s a point where I absolutely hated running, but right now I’m actually really enjoying it, because I think it’s kind of “me time”, I get to clear my head. Usually, I listen to a podcast or some music.

But do I feel like running in the morning? Uh, no.

If I ran only when I felt like it, then I would probably be only running about one to two percent of the time that I actually do.

I think about how am I going to feel after I complete this run. I’m going to have more energy for the rest of the day, I’m going to be a better person because I’m going to have more patience. I’m going to have more focus. And I’m happier, and I have more dopamine, I have more adrenaline.

And I know that I’m being a healthy person by going on a run in the morning. So overall, when I’m done with my run, I feel so great for the whole rest of the day.

And so, it’s not about, “do I feel like it?” Mm-mm, that doesn’t work.

And so when you think about practicing in the same way, “Do I feel like practicing?” No. Most of the time, not. For whatever reason, sometimes we just dread or dredge through the things that we know that are good for us.

But singing or practicing your instrument is also like working a muscle. Well singing is working a muscle because of your vocal folds. But it’s also, in the same way, developing that same sort of discipline.

And so if you practice, after you’re done practicing, how do you feel? Usually more accomplished, usually more confident, because you probably figured something out. Usually like you’re getting more things done. And so in general, you would probably feel better after you practice! I always do.

And I know that there are some days that are frustrating. We just can’t figure something out, or we’re just working through it. Maybe the outside stresses of our life are affecting how we’re singing, or how we’re performing or how we’re doing our practice.

Of course, there are those days. But in general, we love how we feel after.

Struggle: Practicing with no performance in sight

Here’s another struggle that I heard from you guys when I posted this on my Instagram where I’m trying to figure out, “What is everyone struggling with as far as practicing and motivation?” Another thing that was brought up was practicing with no performance in sight.

So that is a great one. That is a very, very tricky one as well.

First off, you can think about what are the things that you’ve always wanted to do that you’ve never had the time to do?

So for me, I can think about… Well, I’ve always wanted to learn a couple more French pieces, or maybe this Italian piece… Or I want to just crank through this musical theater book and learn every single song in it and be able to sing everything…

All of those things that there are performances that usually get in the way of me being able to do my personal goals for music, because I’m like, “Okay, well I gotta learn this symphony,” or “Yes, I have to learn this aria because of blah blah… concert coming up,”

But if there’s nothing coming up, there’s nothing that’s standing in your way for that. So the world is your oyster! Meaning, you can figure out, okay what is something you’ve always wanted to do, something you’ve always wanted to work on? Now is the time that you can do it.

And when you think about it, this quarantine, and this pandemic is not going to last forever—it’s not! And when we come out of this, there is going to be opportunities again. When you come out of this, do you want to come out of this having a bunch of pieces learned and ready to go? Or do you want to come out of it being like, “Oh well, I guess I should start practicing now!” No, you want to be ready to go!

Plus the world is very competitive, right? If you’re not practicing during quarantine, guess what? Somebody else is. And when it comes down to who gets the gig, or who gets to be asked to do something, it’s going to be them because they’re the ones that are working really really hard. So just keep that in mind as you do things.

And then, how cool would it be to just put a goal for yourself, like

“I want to learn 10 pieces of music in a couple weeks,

“I want to learn a new song a day,

“I want to learn a new song a week,”

Whatever it is for you, this is your chance to be able to do that.

You can set things in your calendar. It’s very hard to be self-motivated to practice, but if it becomes a part of your routine, like “I go and I practice every day right before dinner, or right after dinner,” and maybe it’s in your calendar (try Google calendar) and then you set an alarm for it, so then your phone will be like “Woop, time to practice!” There are also a lot of apps for that too but there are a lot of ways that you can remind yourself and hold yourself accountable to practice.

And then afterwards, you feel so much better. It’s a part of your routine so it’s not like “Oh, I have to make all this extra time to do blah blah,” It’s already part of your routine and your normalcy. You can create your own normalcy right now with how you conduct your life and how you structure your day. You can be in charge of structuring your day.

Of course, kids can get in the way. I experience this a lot. But for the most part, especially for those of you that don’t have kids or that you’re still students, you’re in charge of how you structure your day so you can put in this type of thing or you can wake up and practice first thing in the morning.

So Paul, he will get up at sometimes five in the morning and just compose a bunch of pieces.

Sometimes, he’ll compose two pieces a week. And he has babies that wake up in the middle of the night. He has toddlers that take all of his attention during the day when he’s not at work…

And so that’s how you get things done.

You guys, that’s how it’s done.

No Performance in Sight? Creating Your Own Solo Recital Online

Also on the aspect of practicing with no performance in sight, you can actually create your own performance.

So the wonderful thing about the world nowadays is that you have IGTV, you have Facebook Live. You have YouTube.

You have all of these wonderful platforms where you can expose yourself, your music, and your musicianship to the world. And we’ve never really had that before so it’s actually an amazing gift.

So you don’t have to have some kind of contract to be like, “Oh, this is when you’re performing,”

No, you can be like, “All right, I am going to do a Facebook Live or IGTV, and I’m going to do one of these on…”

Then make a date for yourself and say, “It’s 60 days from now, 30 days from now or next week. This is the pieces that I’m going to do,” or “I’m going to record one piece,”

However you want to structure your goals, you can!

But then you have accountability, and you can put it in your calendar, “I am gonna go Facebook Live on this day,” and you can even tell somebody.

Because when you tell somebody, you kind of have accountability that way as well, because you told somebody and they’re like,

“Oh, weren’t you gonna go live?”

“Mm-hmm, yeah.”

So you have to!

And so you can create all of these performances for yourself. You can go live, you can do IGTV every week if you wanted to, and you can just crank all these pieces out and record yourself, or find friends that are able to help you with the other elements, if there’s collaboration involved.

You’re able to accomplish so many things during this time that you wouldn’t really have time for. And it’s really good for your self-development. You’re developing your musicianship, you’re developing your personality, and you’re exposing your wonderful skills to the world. That’s wonderful!

Struggle: I Don’t Know How to Practice!

Another struggle that I’ve seen is, people say, “Well, I don’t know how to practice.”

So first off, I actually touch on this in another one of my posts where I go really in-depth into the method of ‘chunking’. That’s the method that I like to teach for practice styles. But I’ll just give you a little overview. If you don’t know how to practice, singing or playing through your pieces is not enough and it’s not going to get you where you want to go. And you might, you might get a little bit better, but the level at which you get better is going to be very, very slow. Because it’s not effective!

The Chunking Method: Overview

So the chunking method is basically, you’re taking something in isolation. And so say, for example, I had a lesson with my teacher—now always record your lessons by the way because you get—okay, I’m gonna go in a little rant… You get seven lessons within one lesson of recording.

So if I go and I have a lesson, I record it, and then what I take in and ingest in my brain in that lesson is only a small fraction of what my teacher actually gave me. And sometimes it takes me time to process things and then come back and be able to do it.

You can’t just depend on the lesson itself for everything that you need. Studies show that sometimes it takes seven times to hear something to really process something, to really learn it and to really feel like it’s part of your knowledge.

A lot of times what I’ll do is if I go have a lesson or a coaching somewhere, I record it and then maybe a week later or a few days later, I listen to it again.

And all of a sudden, five new things pop up. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I totally didn’t remember that,” or “Oh, I didn’t realize that,” It really helps to reinforce that.

And so listening to that over and over and over is the best way, the first way that you can really make some good progress and that’s how you can practice just listening.

It’s almost like you’re having a lesson every day. You listen to the recording and you remember the things that your teacher is saying. Then after that, I recommend the chunking method.

The chunking method is taking something in isolation. So for example, if I’m working with my teacher, and my teacher says, “Okay, you need to remember to take a breath there, and then let’s modify that vowel to e, and we’ll really release the air through to the next one,”

If I’m not doing that naturally, I need to take that in isolation and do it until it becomes natural.

So I just take that one phrase that it is and I practice it over and over, exactly the way that my teacher suggested.

And then once it just comes naturally, I might take the phrase before that and then see if I can still get to that place with taking the phrase before that. And then I might take two phrases before that.

Somehow, if something changes and I’m not able to get to that point, Then I can say, “Okay, I took too big of a chunk, I need to take a smaller chunk now.” And really keep working this in. 

There’s a lot of training in your brain, training your body of how you’re reacting or how you’re going about, or how you’re approaching these pieces.

So in a nutshell, that is chunking method. And that is the most effective way of practicing. More so than just singing things through over and over. Now that can be helpful in some instances or for memorization—yes, of course.

But as far as your personal progress? Chunking.

Struggle: I have No Privacy Because Everyone’s at Home in Quarantine.

Another struggle that we hear about is… “Well, in quarantine, I have no privacy.”

So a lot of times, our students come into the studio usually for their lessons. But if they’re having an online lesson, there’s family around or maybe they have a sibling in the next room that’s like making fun of them or something. So I have a couple of tips about that.

The first one is…

Work through your confidence

You’ve got to work through that.

I know it’s hard. I feel awkward singing in front or around my family. And I remember when I was growing up and I would be practicing, I would feel awkward too. However, especially if you’re working on being a stronger performer, this is really great practice for you to kind of step out of those insecurities and just be like,

“Hey, whatever comes out comes out. And I’m just working on my sound right here. I’m working on this phrase right here, and I don’t care what you think about it.”

And so the first step is to just start working on caring less a little bit about what people think.

The second one is that there are ways that you can be discreet.

So you can sing more in the shower and you can’t really hear if anybody’s saying anything… And so that’s another way you could.

Also there’s basements, there’s garages, there’s outside. For some people, you might live out in the country and you can go outside…

Or some people will even practice in their closets! Or sing into pillows or things like that.

If you’re really concerned about something or if you need to be quiet in the house for a reason, that is another option for you.

And then the third tip that I have for having no privacy is that you can still also do mental practice. Mental practice is so effective.

So an example of mental practice you can do: work on your language. You can speak through your text, you can work on memorization when you don’t even have to make any noise you can just look at that. You can close the book, try to speak it.

And you can work on listening. Whatever piece that you’re working on, sometimes it’s helpful to listen to a bunch of other people, maybe on YouTube, that are singing it or performing it and then kind of taking in their interpretation of it.

Listen to songs and jot down your ideas.

    Listen to songs and jot down your ideas.

    Ask yourself:

        • What did you like?
        • What did you not like? What did you notice about that?
        • What is something that maybe you want to incorporate from somebody else?

    And so all of these things, you can do.

    It’s kind of like bookwork in a way. It’s not like you have to always be singing really really loud.

    But these are all things that you can do in your room by yourself and not making a whole lot of noise.

    Struggle (for Parents): I Can’t Get My Child to Practice.

    So now, this is the next one. The struggle is… especially for parents with young students. So for young students, it’s very hard to get them to practice on their own, right? Because some of them just don’t have the behavioral capabilities or the cognitive capabilities of doing that.

    But what young children do is they look to you, their parents, for what is good, what is trustworthy, what they should be doing. You are their absolute role models.

    And so what you can do to help them is show it yourself. Meaning, show that you have structure, that you have discipline throughout the day. And then it’s not a matter of “Oh, do you feel like practicing, Susie?” It’s like, “Oh Susie, we can either practice before dinner today or we can practice before we take our bath,” This way, it gives them an option, but they’re still practicing at the end of the day.

    Sometimes at the school, we have parents that come to us and say,

    “Oh, well my daughter, she really loved piano at first. But then after we started to get into it, it was really hard to get her to practice and she just doesn’t love it anymore.”

    Yes, that’s normal. And that is the point where we have to have a little bit more responsibility for the parents.

    So giving the child option is key. Children—well, humans in general—we love routines, right? We love structure, children especially.

    And so making it a part of their routine is going to be the best thing that you can do for them and not making it an option.

    Because if you ask a kid what they want to do or if you say to the kid, “Oh this is what you should do,” sometimes they don’t want to do that just because you told them. 

    But if it’s just a part of their day like “This is when we brush our teeth, this is when we eat dinner, this is when we do this, this is when we take a walk, this is when we practice piano,”

    All of a sudden, it’s predictable and it’s a part of their routine, and they’re they’re able to lean into that trust and lead into that structure, and that makes them feel safe and more confident in doing that as well.

    Conclusion

    So I hope this was helpful for you today, talking about the struggles of practicing during the pandemic, and things that hopefully will help.

    I can’t wait to hear. Please tell me in the comments what struggles do you have? Maybe things I didn’t touch on today. And also, what things help you with practicing, because we’re all in this together. And so if there’s comments that could help people and show them another option, I think that would be great.

    So please let us know in the comments! If you like these posts, feel free to sign up below so we can send you emails so you’re the first one to see the new blog posts come out.

    Thanks so much and we’ll see you later. Bye!

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