I’m starting a blog series called “Cello Lessons”. The idea is to take the lessons I’m learning by playing cello everyday and relating them to other aspects of life.
Having discipline is good, maintaining discipline is even better. I’ve gotten to a point where taking a day off of practicing cello feels like a vacation, especially if I am busy, or as is even more often the culprit I just don’t “feel like it”.
It’s fine to take a break from routine. I’m of the mind that if I need a break I need a break. I’ve had a lot of sessions that were just bad before I even started, and continued until any gains in technique and finesse were mitigated by frustration and impatience (more on this in another “Cello Lesson”, I also happen to believe there is a time to push through).
The problem happens when that day off turns into two, and then there is a big holiday or life just happens (as it tends to do) and now you’re into a stretch of non-action.
Getting back to it is the thing though. Today I’m getting back to it, truly kind of worn out from a long weekend and a hot long day. It’s the re-establishment of routine that matters. The question is, how to convince my wily mind to actually do it?
I tend to feel like I’m collecting feathers on a windy day, after a week or two of solid practice I’ll have a good collection and then a big wind and whoosh I’m back to where I started. There are probably other better metaphors*, building a sand castle right at the edge of the waves, painting clouds… whatever.
Really though there IS a gradual growth that happens, one that a strong wind can’t blow away.
I happen to believe that a day or two, or even a week off (if it comes to that), can be a good thing. I think the brain needs to process things. A great episode (from a fantastic show, Radiolab.org) on sleep kind of re-affirmed this for me: http://www.radiolab.org/2007/may/24/sleep-deprivation/
What I took away from the episode is that there have been studies that imply that musicians in particular can benefit greatly by letting the music rest overnight and returning to it the next day.
I notice that when I return to playing after a week off there can actually be a fluency to the techniques I’d been working on. I actually can’t preach that this is due to my brain processing technique in the time off as much as that I am simply not as self-critical upon returning. I’m usually amazed that I can still play halfway gracefully. I’m not constantly questioning whether my elbow is moving in an elliptical shape or not. It happens on its own it seems.
So, get back to it. The pain of having to work your way back up to where you left off will not be as bad as you think. You might even be delightfully surprised that you’ve improved in your time off.
*(oh yeah, Sisyphus, there’s the better metaphor! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisyphus)