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On Having a Plan...

Having a plan for practice makes for smoother, more effective practices.

But having a plan and a plan that works out every time in practice are two entirely different things. Part of having a plan is planning for when the plan doesn’t work out.

In other words, having contingencies is a key to maintaining a peaceful and useful practice session. What sorts of continengies do we deal with as practice parents:

  • Fatigue - I find I can never quite completely predict how tired my child will be after school. Although pushing through mild fatigue can be instructive, beyond a certain point, practice can unravel.
  • Illness - Colds, flu, and injuries can each disrupt our best intentions for practice.
  • Conflict and disappointments - School exposes kids to all sorts of emotions, conflicts and inevitable disappointments.
  • Schedule changes - Kids and parents both lead busy lives. Last-minute schedule changes can compromise the amount of time and energy we have for practice.

Sometimes we simply overestimate our child’s stamina and risk over-stressing them with their practice workload.

Dealing with contingencies/Having a “plan B”

Although I put a lot of effort into planning practice each day, I have to accept that it might not work out exactly the way I planned it.

  • Attitude - If you have a regular practice habit, a lighter or disrupted practice day isn’t the end of the world. Do your best and go back to the plan tomorrow. It’s marathon, not a sprint.
  • “What’s your bottom line?” - When planning practice, there many moving parts to consider, but I try to think of the bottom line - what’s the most important thing in front of us? If we can only accomplish one thing, what would that be today?
  • Make the plan evident. Make the options evident. - We use a written practice plan each day. Not only does it help keep us on-task, but it serves as a way of monitoring progress during the session. When I have the inkling we may not be able to do everything on the list, I introduce options. For example, “Read through the entire movement, or as far as we can get today.” No pressure. Do what we can today with what we have today. Tomorrow may be different.

Most importantly, hard-working young musicians aren’t invulnerable to all of life’s disruptions, large are small. Modeling the flexibility to deal with contingencies with equanimity and grace is one of the many lessons they can take from practice.

Happy practicing!

Written by:

Alan is the main practice partner and accompanist for a young violinist.