I’m quite a bit overdue for my 30-day challenge reflection. Like I mentioned, this was a super-easy (theoretically) commitment to simply practice every day for 30 days.
The view from my home, which I just moved into this week, makes practicing a little more pleasant than, say, a random office at work with no windows and no heat…
There were a few days where life got in the way legitimately enough to prevent a completely perfect 30 days. We bought a new car, so after a half day at work, the husband and I went into Seattle (a 1.5 hour trek) to buy the car, and of course there is so much paperwork and approval from everybody that we didn’t leave Seattle until 8pm. No, I was not going to force myself to practice at 10pm when I had work the next morning.
I went to a small clarinet festival at one of the local universities and decided that scoping out clarinet lectures and recitals was as good as practice – it was at least active mental engagement in clarinet, and honestly, I think most musicians don’t listen enough. But that’s a different topic for a different day.
I think there was another day where my face was just so sore that I determined it was better to rest and listen than it was to try and play. It was also the day after I had a lesson, stayed for the symphony, and didn’t get home until midnight (that commute from Seattle, guys).
There was also a day or two where I just showed up, played some long tones, and called it a win. Perfection should not be the enemy of good enough. But having said that…
So what happens when you commit to doing something for 30 days straight (give or take a little bit of life)?
First, just getting through your fundamentals doesn’t cut it. That’s called survival mode when life gets too busy to dive deep into anything, but I couldn’t commit to 30 days of nothing but my one hour of long tones, tonguing, and scales every day. Bo-ring.
Consequently, my practice time increased to accommodate some literature. I chose orchestral excerpts.
Second, because you ARE still doing your fundamentals every day (you really are, right?), you start making more observations about pitch, tone, voicing, etc. and playing around with adjustments. I was no longer in spinning-wheels mode, I was actively in progress mode, and that’s motivating.
Third, since I’m a clarinet player, I started really giving a darn about the state of my reeds. I tried to challenge myself to work on reeds every day, and I got through the break-in process on one box and then halfway through another box before I got derailed. Thank goodness I hadn’t ACTUALLY made a 30-day commitment!
Finally, I also learned that a day of rest is really important, both physically and mentally. That can change based on the individual, but for me right now I need the consistency of 6 days a week, plus a day to recuperate.
During that time, I felt prepared enough to go in for a lesson, and the assignment I came away with was… substantial. Going back through the Jettel scale book and doing all C major and A minor scales, the first movement of Crusell’s 3rd clarinet concerto, and all the excerpts we didn’t make it through in my first lesson (which was most of them). That’s right back up to college-level playing assignments, which I’m thrilled about – nothing whips you into audition shape like playing ALL THE THINGS.
I mention the lesson because I realized that while practicing every day for 30 days got me into the habit and started getting me into shape again, it’s not enough. I need to make the most of my time in the practice room because I (and pretty much everyone else in the room) don’t have unlimited time to hash things out ad nauseum.
That brings me to my next 30-day challenge: journaling every day. When you’re done practicing, spend a few minutes reflecting on what went well during the practice session and what needs improvement. Set an intention for the next day, plus smaller goals for each of the things you’re working on. During the next practice session, each time you make an observation, write it down, and for each solution you try, write down whether it worked or not. And then at the end of the practice session, reflect again, set up the next day, and do it again.
But the point is this: write it all down. Every day.
It sounds like a lot. It is. The point is to create a habit of intentional practice instead of mindless repetition. Personally, I’m horrible at journaling. But there’s really nothing more obnoxious than doing a ton of work one day, then walking into the practice room and feeling like you made about 1% progress.
And with that, see you in 30 days! (give or take)