Lindsie Katz, violinist and educator
It can be challenging to come back to our instruments after an extended time away.
Parents, you might not know how to help your child feel motivated to come back to it, or maybe you need some help knowing how to practice with them.
This is why I am writing a list of tips for returning to your instrument in a way that feels both good and productive. This list is meant for older kids to try out by themselves or for parents with young kids to help them start getting out their instruments again in a kind and loving way.
#1: Make a Plan for Practicing Your Instrument
This seems obvious, but how do we actually make a plan that succeeds and feels supportive? Part of the reason this can be difficult is because everyone is different, surprise, surprise. 😉 Understanding how our brains work and what we need to help us feel motivated is part of our life’s work (I know I struggle with this!).
Try to write down a general plan for your day, week, month, and year. It can really help to see both short and long term goals. The great thing about this approach is that allowing for change is built in. Sometimes we can get too attached to our plans and goals, which is a form of perfectionism that can hinder us rather than support us, so looking at the present and the future can keep us on track while also providing freedom (good for both planners and procrastinators!).
#2: Take Baby Steps When Picking Up Your Instrument Again
When we take things one tiny step at a time, the bigger steps naturally happen without getting stuck on the outcomes. This approach can help us get back into the groove of playing in a way that feels good rather than stressful.
Here are some steps that lead to consistent, productive and sustainable practicing:
Start practicing a little bit every day a couple weeks before your first lesson back; if that’s not possible, it’s ok! Be realistic, open, and honest with your teacher about how your summer went and ask about making a sustainable plan for the school year.
Set a timer for 20 minutes at a time with a 5 minute break in between.
Practice scales and etudes as your technical foundation for helping your body feel comfortable getting around your instrument.
Add some gentle improvisation without any rules, just playing around and getting to know your instrument again. This is so fun, too!
Write down what felt good, what you want to do more of, what didn’t feel good, and what you maybe don’t want to continue. This can be the different kinds of sounds it can make, the ability to play lots of fast passages and slow beautiful melodies, or the specific repertoire you’re working on. Any insight is helpful!
#3: Reward Yourself When You Play Music
Rewards are always important, no matter your age. Of course, the kinds of rewards that motivate people can be very different, but the general idea is the same because humans like feeling good and having fun.
For young children, helping them be part of the decision processes during practice time can lead to more motivation. For instance, giving them at least two options for every task so they can help decide where the lesson goes allows for their creativity and curiosity to lead the way while staying within the goal of a specific task.
For the long-term, kids also benefit from ideas like bead jars, where once they reach a certain amount of beads for practicing everyday, they can pick something they would like to do, music related or not (e.g. a concert, getting ice cream, having a special date night with a parent/guardian, etc.).
Adults are much the same: the more you consistently practice, the more you will see and benefit from the inherent reward of improving on your instrument. The long-term rewards are feeling more confident and comfortable, having fun, and making life-long relationships with colleagues and mentors.
#4: Be Accountable with Your Music Plan
Be accountable to yourself and others—accountability can be the reason you continue playing or not. Check in regularly with teachers, parents, or whoever helps you stay committed and on task so that you always feel supported. This can look like, “I will text you when I am done practicing today at 6pm” or “I will send you a short clip of some of my practice session” or “I will play a run-through for you on this date”. Of course, your teacher is there to check in with you weekly to help you improve, but having ways to stay motivated and accountable between lessons is what helps us long-term. Consistency feels good!
#5: Create Rituals around Playing Music
Create rituals to help you love your instrument every time you come back to it. It’s important that the space and time surrounding practice feel good and supportive. Make tea, put on a calming light, and practice in an inspiring room/place (by a window if possible, where you can see trees or sunlight) –- anything that will feel supportive to you during your practice time.
Naming your instrument can also help you feel connected to it on a deeper level, especially given that our relationship to our instruments can be complicated ones, much like our relationships with people.
Our goal is to feel as connected as possible to ourselves through our instruments, and all of these tips are ways to come back to our instruments in a loving, open, and curious way, no matter how long you have been away.
Have fun with these tips and as always, please let us know if you come up with any other great ideas!