Like any great pursuit in life, consistency is the key to turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. Whether it’s our health, career or practicing our favourite instrument, we tend to struggle to find the motivation to move away from our comfort zones and find something greater.
But after the initial excitement has worn off and the reality of repetition sets in, how can we motivate ourselves to continue to practice our passions — or, more specifically, our instruments — amongst the chaos and distractions of day-to-day life?
Even our favourite resident musicians (and by favourite, we mean all of them) grapple with this on a daily basis, so we asked them to share their own ideas about how to keep momentum in your motivation for the long haul. Here’s what they had to say.
While you may need to practice a particular song set for an upcoming recital, it doesn’t mean that every time you reach for your instrument it has to be all about that. Kick-off practice with something short and fun — perhaps an old favourite or a tune to get your creative energy flowing. Once you’re in the groove, you’ll find carrying on with the rest of your session is more of a pleasure than a burden.
Rather than trying to work yourself up to spending a huge eight hour section of your weekend practicing all in one go, why not schedule a quick half-hour each day instead? Your motivation will be higher without the dreaded looming of the hours ahead, and you’ll be more energetic and focused on the task at hand when you conquer it in bite-sized chunks. Rome wasn’t built in a day, remember?
While this one may not be a long-term strategy per se, it’s important to remember that everything in moderation is better than an excess of a few. So, if one day you find that you just cannot get in the mood to bring that bow to life, don’t force it. Music should be a joy, not a chore. Instead, take the rest of the day off. Go outside, watch a movie, read a book. Relax and reset your mind, and come back to practicing your instrument when your motivation is renewed.
If the sheer amount of practice ahead of you is starting to become overwhelming, break it down into bite-sized pieces that are easy to accomplish to get the momentum flowing. Rather than seeing only the bigger picture, just try those first few bars, that one phrase, that final crescendo. Once you start banking small wins, you’ll get into a positive flow rather than trying to tackle a task that feels impossible. Before you know it, that unconquerable mountain is barely a foot tall.
There really is no point plucking away for hours on end if you’re not mindful of what you’re actually trying to achieve. In fact, non-effective playing can often be less impactful than not practising at all. Instead, try to keep your scales and exercises to a reasonable minimum, so that you can be present and aware of what you’re trying to do. If that doesn’t work for you, try making them fun by adding dynamics, adjusting the tempo, or changing up the rhythm to breathe a bit more life into your session.
Like working out at the gym, practicing your instrument can only be of benefit if you take the time for meaningful breaks to avoid doing damage to your muscles. But that doesn’t mean you need to take a break from music all together. In your downtime, try exploring the endless videos YouTube has to offer. There is a wealth of information, inspiration, and motivation to be found from teachers, students, and prodigies from all over the world.
Kids want to have fun, even when it comes to learning a new skill like playing an instrument. Make it immersive and interactive in a way that inspires them to keep going. Rewarding stickers on a chart for a small weekly or monthly accomplishment can work wonders. Or if your child is a natural-born performer, give them what they want and organise some regular ‘performances’ with neighbours, family or friends where they can show off their skills to the world. For the little ones, when distraction is high and their attention span is low, a little motivation goes a long way.
Remember why you started
Always, always keep in mind — you’re doing this for a reason. You remember how much admiration you had for your grandfather when you saw him play in the national orchestra. You will never forget the sensation of how the notes from your cello touched your soul. You recall the awe of the audience the first time you performed at your school talent show and knew this was what you were born to do. Whatever your reason, whatever your ‘why’, give yourself a gentle reminder of it whenever you’re feeling uninspired.
When looking for motivation, it’s always important to remember why it’s needed in the first place. It’s because you’re doing something new, challenging yourself, and daring to take your skills to a whole new level. Don’t fight it, embrace it. And if you ever need a gentle reminder, the Simply for Strings team is always here any time you feel the need to fall in love with music all over again.
And always remember — at the end of the day, you have a talent afforded to the few. It would be a shame to waste it.