The holidays are great.
No school, no deadlines, no juries, no recitals, and no homework. Just think how much time you’ll have to practice!
And yet, every year, winter break comes and goes way too fast.
January arrives with a feeling of dread: You didn’t accomplish any of your practice goals.
Amidst all the family time, parties, sleeping in, and Netflix-ing, you found hardly any time to grow musically.
But this year can be different!
You can actually make a ton of progress during winter break.
You just need a plan.
The Winter Break Practice Success Formula
When I was in school, I tried every strategy I could think of to motivate myself to practice over long holiday breaks.
It took a few years of trial-and-error, but I eventually discovered what I needed to make the most of my holiday down-time and feel excited about practicing (instead of simply alternating between pie-eating and nap-taking).
To get the most out of the Winter Break Practice Success Formula, you’ll need to write a few things down. So, I made a handy worksheet to help!
Grab your free worksheet here:
Get Clear On Your Goals
This first step is crucial, so resist the urge to rush through it. Knowing what goals are most important to you will empower you to enjoy your practice time, rather than dread it.
- Take a deep breath in. Exhale Slowly.
- Close your eyes and picture yourself in one year — you’re talking to a colleague about how much you’ve improved over the last year.
- What aspects of your playing have improved the most? Are you a more virtuosic technician? If so, what techniques have you mastered? Are you a more emotionally-invested performer?
- Now, picture yourself talking to a teacher or mentor at the end of this winter break. They’re astounded by how much you improved over the break. What aspects of your playing did you improve so impressively?
Write down the aspects of your playing that you visualized improving (Get your free worksheet in the form above!). Make them as specific as possible. These are the goals that you will use in the next section.
What’s Reasonable for This Break?
I hate to tell you this, but you probably won’t be able to overhaul your entire approach to playing during a 3-4 week-long winter break.
So, if you came up with a bunch of major goals in the previous section, you’ll need to prioritize a bit.
- Examine your list of goals from the previous section.
- Divide them into 3 categories:
- High-Priority: These goals are the ones that keep you up at night. They’re the ones that your teachers/mentors mention on a weekly basis. You know that they’re important.
- Mid-Priority: You’d like to accomplish these goals sometime in the next year, but they don’t have the urgency of your High-Priority goals.
- Low-Priority: These goals are either unattainable right now or they are not important when compared to your other goals.
- Identify 1-3 High-Priority goals. If you have more than 3 High-Priority goals, re-rank your list and remove any goals that fall outside of the top 3.
Now, you’ll take your High-Priority goals and home in on what you can accomplish during this break.
- Determine how many weeks you’ll have to practice during this break. If you’re travelling for the holidays, don’t set unreasonable practice goals for travel days.
- Which of your High-Priority goals could you tackle during this break?
- If your High-Priority goals are too broad (ex. “play with good intonation,” “fix bow arm,” “rebuild embouchure”), you might have trouble figuring out how to tackle such huge goals in such a short amount of time. If this is the case, use your High-Priority goals as a guide to develop more achievable sub-goals (ex. “improve pitch accuracy in scales and arpeggios,” “master spiccato stroke,” “develop a warm-up routine to reduce facial tension”).
Aim to develop a series of 1-3 goals that excite you. You would be pumped to achieve any of these goals before school starts back up in January…but they aren’t so distant that they seem impossible.
Set Your Focus
Write down the 1-3 High-Priority goals that you distilled in the previous section.
- Take a deep breath in. Exhale slowly.
- Close your eyes and visualize yourself at the end of the break. You’ve reached the goals that you set out to accomplish. As you play for your colleagues, you are excited to observe that the changes you made over the break are having a profound impact on your performance. One of your colleagues even comments that they can tell how well you worked over the break. You feel ecstatic.
Find a way to make your goals visible. Write them down in a place where you’ll see them every day. Post-its are great – you could even attach a few to your music stand.
Plan Your Attack
For each goal that you set out to reach during this winter break, develop a series of exercises and practice techniques that will empower your success.
- What warm-up exercises will you use?
- Which etudes and excerpts will challenge the aspect(s) of your playing that you are working to improve?
- What piece(s) of repertoire will you master over the break?
- How much time will you need to devote each day to each exercise, etude, excerpt, and piece to have a reasonable shot at making valuable progress?
Look at your plan. Does the amount of time you need to practice to achieve these goals match with the amount of time you will be able to practice over this break?
If your goals will require more practice time than you will reasonably have, consider reducing the number of goals you set out to achieve.
That said, you might be surprised how much practice time you can find when you look for it. Try writing out a practice schedule for the first week of you break. What would happen if you woke up at 7am instead of 9am? What if you sneaked in some practice time while waiting for family gatherings to begin?
Get to Work
Once you have a plan, you’re ready to get to work!
In a week, check in on your progress. Are you working toward your goals every day? Are you sticking to the plan that you made? If you miss a few days, don’t worry – just get back to work! Don’t let a few unproductive days derail your whole break. Simply use your down-time as motivation to do focused, excellent practice when you return to practicing.
If you’d like to improve your practice room habits, join the 5-day Mindful Practice Mini Course – you’ll learn how to be more efficient in the practice room and maximize your progress. Plus it’s FREE!
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