Pandemic Practicing

Global Pandemic.

Stay-at-Home Orders.

Gigs Receding Into Oblivion.

Oh My!

What are we to do? How can we go from playing rehearsals or concerts 4-5 times per week to playing nothing? How will we keep our chops up and running? And WHY should we keep our chops up and running if there are no gigs on the horizon?

Well, to quote my friend Jim Pugh, we practice today so our practicing tomorrow is easier. It’s as simple as that. Practicing each simply makes the following day a better playing day!

But, how to stay motivated? When the future of gigging is bleak and vacant, how do we get ourselves pumped up to putting our face on the horn each and every day? Well, I have some thoughts on that.

How to motivate yourself to practice everyday:

1. Start tracking your practice streak. I use ‘Tonal Energy‘ which tracks how many days I use the app in a row. I have it set to a modest amount of time I want to practice everyday, 20 minutes. I know that 9 out of 10 times once I get to 20 minutes, I’m locked in for another 10, 20, 40, 60 minutes or more. It’s that initial kick I need to get going and seeing that CURRENT STREAK number track upwards is a bit addicting!

  • The important part here is to remember to TURN ON THE DAMN APP when practicing!! I have a CURRENT streak of 97 days, with my BEST STREAK at 157, but there was a day in between I didn’t turn on the app when I played an hour jazz set followed by a 3 hour rock set. This forgetting to turn on the app happened a few times. So, if I count up all the days I’ve ACTUALLY played in a row, it’s closer to 310.

2. Keep your horns out on stands. My trombones are all out on their stands in my office. If I walk through the office, or walk by the office, I see those horns there and it’s easy to just pick one up and start playing. A couple minutes here and there turns into a lot of minutes throughout the day. Just remember to TURN ON THE DAMN APP to track your time!

Trombones and music ready to go!

3. Keep music on the music stand. When I do come into the office and happen to pick up the horn, I already have an etude book or a jazz standard (or both) on the music stand and I can easily begin playing something. There is no need to go rooting around looking for something to play. It’s just right there waiting.

4. Set small attainable goals. Might as well use this time of no gigs to work on a solo piece, etude book, high-range, low-range, new/advanced technique, or something else that you’ve been wanting to work on. Hey, no pressure! You got plenty of time because there is no telling when we’ll get back to some sort of ‘normal’ and will be able to play gigs again.

  • Over this pandemic break I wanted to improve my range and be able to switch between my small bore trombone and bass trombone more efficiently. I’ve been learning tunes and sight-reading/transposing etudes while fulfilling the aforementioned goals.

5. Challenge some friends. I have such a great and supportive group of friends that just happen to be great musicians. I can give them a call and say, “Hey, let’s play some tunes.” We get a list together and, voila, we’re learning and doing some socially distant playing/hanging in my large open spaced garage. Nothing like a friend to inspire me to pick up the horn and get some practicing in!

❤️

I’ve known and had the privilege of playing with some amazing musicians through my ‘small c’ career. They practice every single day of their lives and I can hear the results. I have never kept track of my practice streaks but I know before the pandemic, I was not one to practice every single day. I used to think that a day off every now and then was no big deal. Maybe it isn’t a big deal for most, but for me, I now know there is something to be said about getting practice time in every day without a day off. Some aspects of my playing have changed. I’ve noticed that I don’t need a very long, or any type of warm-up anymore. These days, I can just pick up any horn and start playing and be pretty comfortable and flexible right from the get-go. The connectivity and fluidity between ranges and through phrases come easily and more natural as well.

If there is anything positive I can take away musically from the global pandemic and shut-downs, it is that I am happy I’ve been afforded the opportunity to have time to practice every single day. No more travel days to and from gigs. No more getting to the hotel room, or getting home too late to practice. No more excuses.

Just pick up the horn. Play. Repeat.

____________________________________

I’ve followed the journey of Jason Sulliman on his practice streak (well past 1000 days now and heading towards 2000) and his insights into how consistent playing has changed and improved his playing. Check out his blog if you want to be inspired by his journey as I have!

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