For most musicians, summer is a wonderful time.
Students, teachers, and college professors enjoy a dramatic change of pace as summer break arrives. Fewer deadlines, performances, and responsibilities means more time to practice and ample time to gear up for the next year. Even professional orchestra musicians enjoy a break from the weekly grind.
But if you’ve ever felt your motivation to practice disappear as summer arrives, you know how easy it is to let a short break from practicing turn into a long break…
When You Don’t Have a Plan
I’ll never forget the first summer after my freshman year of college as a music performance major.
Exhausted after a challenging school year, I decided to take two weeks off. I put my viola away and didn’t even think about it. For two weeks. At home in Texas, I enjoyed the warm weather and spent as much time outside as possible.
Those two weeks gave me a much-needed chance to relax and restore my motivation after a long year of consistent work.
But I made one huge error.
I didn’t make a plan for what I would do after those two weeks ended.
Which meant that when the date arrived for me to start practicing again, I had no direction. I could barely spark my motivation to practice. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What’s the point?”
Practice became a huge chore. I hated it. There was no joy in it. Just a week after picking up my viola again, I thought about taking another break.
I kept practicing, but I had to force myself to slog through that summer. I attended a chamber music festival that briefly re-kindled my motivation, but the glow from that experience only lasted a few weeks.
A More Productive Summer
I’m proud to say that I never made the same mistake again.
Even though I’m out of school now, I still use the last two weeks of April to make a detailed plan for what I want to accomplish during the summer months.
In the 10+ years that have passed since that fateful summer after my freshman year, I’ve tried many different approaches to spark my motivation for a productive summer.
But every year, one thing has stayed the same:
I develop at least one skill that I was not able to develop during the school year.
I pick a skill that I’ve been wanting to work on and I commit myself to explore it as fully as possible over the summer, taking advantage of my (relatively) flexible schedule.
As a result, I’ve learned some extremely valuable new skills over the years:
- How to use yoga and other physical practices to maintain a healthy, injury-free body
One year, during my graduate study at Peabody Conservatory, I earned certification as a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher. I’ve been injury free ever since and I’ve helped dozens of musicians play pain free.
- Extended techniques for viola
After the summer that I focused on extended techniques, I started working with contemporary composers. This enabled me to pursue new (paid!) recital opportunities with a series of world premieres.
- Recording technology and video editing
Every year, I had to create, edit, and submit video recordings for various auditions and summer festivals. After I took a deep dive into these topics, that process became infinitely easier and much less stressful (now I kindof enjoy it…).
And most importantly:
- Mindfulness and Visualization for Musicians
I spent one summer reading every book on sports psychology and mental training I could find. I took a deep dive into mindfulness in an online course with Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. Once the school year started, I had a whole new set of tools to try out in high-pressure performance situations. My performance anxiety evaporated and I began to truly love performing.
Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, a music student or a full professor, you have the power to use your summer wisely.
As the Spring semester comes to a close, take the next few days to consider what you might like to learn this summer.
If you’re planning to attend a major festival or workshop, consider how you might align your goals with that experience. Once you’ve decided what you want to learn, make a plan. Incorporate a detailed calendar, long-term goals (to keep you motivated), and short-term goals (to keep you focused).
If you’ve ever wanted to explore how to use mindfulness and visualization in your musical life, I highly recommend it.
For musicians who struggle with performance anxiety, feel unfocused in the practice room, and engage in constant negative self-talk, mindfulness and visualization training can be truly transformative. These topics changed my career and my life. If you’re interested in learning more about these topics, the Mindfulness for Musicians 6-week course is in open enrollment. Learn more here.
What are your plans for the summer? Leave a comment below!
Ready to Maximize Your Efficiency in the Practice Room?
Join the 5-day Mindful Practice Mini Course! Develop the deep awareness, focus, and calm you need to reach peak performance starting today. Sign up for FREE!