Real talk: Should We feel Guilty for not practising?
Right, grab a brew, let's have a chat!
At the very beginning of lockdown, I was furloughed for 5 weeks.
With no work and no band, I decided that I was going to use this time to work on my playing and also have a dabble with other hobbies I don't normally have enough time to enjoy.
I was also given the opportunity to write for the British Bandsman and one of my first articles was focussed on practise motivation.
I spoke about all of the tips and tricks I used to keep myself motivated in practise sessions and how to make them productive in a time when I didn't have band projects to prepare for.
At this point, none of us knew what we were going to be up against or that we still wouldn't be able to return to band almost a year later.
I'll be honest, I'm exhausted with this pandemic, I'm fed up with not being able to go to band and my cornet has stayed in its case for longer than I would like.
I have felt 'practise-guilt', but after some thought and reaching out to some of you, I have some strong opinions about 'practise-guilt'.
So let's explore the question - should we feel guilty for not practising?
Music is Mental
There is no denying that a lot of commitment and dedication is expected within brass bands and, normally, this isn't a bad thing.
We all know that we need to practise in order to improve our skills, learn pieces and create the best performance we possibly can.
In times gone by there would be no excuse for not practising - it's band that matters...it's MUSIC that matters.
I'd like to think, in these modern times, that we are more intelligent and realise it's the people of the banding community and their mental health that matters.
Music and performing involves a lot of mental processes.
From concentration and motivation to managing performance anxiety, crafting phrases and interpreting the dots in front of us - it's all in our head.
With everything that is going on at the moment, it's completely normal for our heads to not be in the game or for us to be too tired.
My practise became quite a negative experience because it was something I was forcing and felt obligated to do.
Couple this with my lip being a little tired through not being as strict with my practise regime, it became a vicious circle of forcing myself to practise and getting annoyed with myself - not exactly enjoyable.
So I decided to take a break and look at other things to fill my time which were more enjoyable - because I have the time to do so!
Does this mean I don't want to go back to playing in a brass band - no!
Does it mean I want to give up playing my instrument - no!
Am I going to work on ways to motivate myself to practise - yes, I will and I trust myself to find a way to get back into the swing of things!
Our Plates Are Full
Like I said before, I think the old fashioned mentality of 'we have to push through everything we feel and make ourselves practise' is irrelevant in my opinion.
In normal circumstances, if it is a toss up between watching another Netflix episode and practising that segment of a test piece that you keep cocking up, then yes, it's probably wise to give yourself a kick up the backside and get it sorted.
However, now I think it is important to do whatever we need to do to keep our head above water and keep going.
When researching for this post, I reached out to you and asked if we should feel guilty for not practising.
Many of you stated how busy and stressed you are and that practising isn't a priority.
Not that I'm glad that you're stressed and busy, but it made me happy to see that many of us are not feeding into this mantra of 'if we're not miraculously finding time to practise as normal, then we should feel guilty'.
You may think it weird that a person who writes a brass band blog is advocating not practising.
I'm more concerned about the community returning after the pandemic and what state we are going to be in.
Yes, the music is an important part of our movement, obviously, but without the players there is no music.
It's important that we look after ourselves and each other as a priority.
Music is something to be enjoyed not forced and I think feeling obligated to practise can cause us to associate negative feelings towards playing.
Don't get me wrong, I've got plans up my sleeve to try and improve our practise sessions and how we view practise.
However, at the moment, I'm just taking advantage of any urge I get to practise and not stressing when that urge isn't there.
A couple of years ago, I took 18 months out of full time playing and practising - it didn't do me any harm and when I returned to banding, I did get back to the standard I was before this sabbatical and it didn't take me too long.
I would rather we continue what we are doing and be sensible with our time and practise, rather than forcing ourselves into a practise regime that just isn't working, associating our instruments and music with negative feelings and questioning if we actually want to go back to band when this chaos settles down.
How are you doing with that brew?
Feel free to go and make another one - this is a lengthy chat!
Whilst we're here, let's look at the flip side, as I know for some of us not practising can cause more stress than making time for it.
If you're looking to either get back into practise or motivating yourself to continue with your practise try this:
Set a timer for 15 mins
Pick ONE area of practise you want to look at in this period of 15 mins - scales, a piece, an exercise, etc
Focus on that one area for the whole 15 mins without distractions
At the end of the 15 mins, identify how you feel
Enjoying yourself - carry on
Had enough - put your instrument away - you set out to do 15 mins of practise and succeeded, this is good!
If you feel the need to practise at another point in the day, set a timer for 15 mins, pick an area of practise and off you go!
I would AVOID picking multiple things to work on within 15 mins.
It's all about being realistic and 15 mins isn't a lot of time.
Expecting yourself to get through a piece, exercises and scales in 15 minutes means you aren't really going to achieve very much and you've just bought yourself a ticket to Frustration Town.
I would also recommend you keep a note of what you have been working on including:
What you covered in your practise session
What went well - VERY IMPORTANT - give yourself credit!
What you would like to improve
Not only is it tangible proof of your practise and progress, it can be the motivation that helps you to pick up your instrument the next day in order to smash the goals you have set yourself.
We're not finished
We may have finished our brews, but we have not finished with the topic of instrumental practise.
As much as