The Practice Journal: Just Start
This topic feels incredibly appropriate for my first post here at the brand new ellisstrings.com - welcome, and thank you for joining me! As I’m just starting to develop this site and content, and finally diving into full-time self-employment (goodbye, exhausting side jobs!), I’m also working to re-shape my practice habits. I tell my students to practice every day, as I have been told since I was seven, and as I continue to guilt myself for not doing often enough or well enough several decades later. After years of working through anxious perfectionism and procrastination, I’m committing to taking my own advice, and honoring the wisdom of my mentors.
In order to have a practice session that is effective and rewarding, all you have to do is just start. This is not a totally original concept, I’m just here to offer my personal experience and synthesis of it. The idea can be difficult to accept and activate, as many of us get wrapped up in the idea that a practice session must be perfect and complete, or a certain length of time, as if it’s a recital that’s being graded or recorded for the public every single day. Fortunately, it’s not! Practice is just for ourselves, although there may be others in the house all of the time these days - that is another topic altogether. It’s our time to work through our music learning in small, bite-size pieces, and to be gentle with ourselves, observing, but not judging, the outcome of each attempt.
So how do we just start? Starting early in the day, whether we feel ready or not, is key to the “just start,” mentality. Today I woke up, poured my coffee, stretched the hands a little bit, and played the viola - and now, I have started! That’s it. Maybe it’s the only practice I’ll do today, but now it’s likely that I’ll do more later. The viola is out, I’ve engaged my brain and hands with it, and I have reminded myself that I, in fact, do know how to play some music. The first practice of the day might be rough, and that’s great. It’s a starting point.
Today I started with just these items: open strings for about five minutes, tuning and re-tuning a few times; G major scale in three octaves, slowly, then in broken 3rds; and the first thing left open on my music stand from yesterday’s lessons - Minuet No. 3, Suzuki Vol. 1.
Your version of this may look very different, but the point is to start with something that’s easy for you - warm-ups, fundamentals, or reviewing something familiar.
This post feels neither perfect, nor complete, and that’s how I’m going to keep it.
It’s just a start!
Practice is easier with all of these good helpers.