Nicholas WalkerThis is the first of a series of blog posts geared for college double bass students.  I hope these posts are helpful and lead to some meaningful discussion and community building between students in different music programs. Please feel free to contact me about any topics you’d like to see addressed in this forum. ~ Nicholas Walker

Self-Management – College athletes have coaches who plan practice sessions, warmups, pre-game routines, strength training workouts, stretching routines, water breaks, etc.. All down to the minute!

Coaches don’t say, “Nice game. Go home and practice football, and I’ll see you at next week’s game against Duke.” Yet sometimes it feels like that’s exactly what happens to college music students after a lesson.

As college students we each learn how to become our own coach in addition to working to improve as the player. A good coach knows how to set goals and effectively manage time and energy to reach these goals.

imagesPut Your Practice Sessions in Your Calendar: Your classes, ensemble rehearsals, performances, and lessons are already scheduled for the rest of this semester. How about your practice sessions?

Some of us are hyper-vigilant about arriving to rehearsals on time, turning in class assignments when due, or meeting a friend for lunch on time, but when it comes to our own practice sessions we are easily distracted (phones out – facebook on), delayed, interrupted, or redirected to another (more important?) task.

While it is true that our practice time has a lot of flexibility in terms of scheduling, and that we are primarily accountable only to ourselves and not other people, in our hearts we know our individual deliberate practice is the most important work we do. We know that we get out of it what we put into it, that if we honor our daily practice, we will be rewarded with growth, understanding, discovery, and reaffirmation of why we play.

In a sense our practice is a commitment to our past-selves who dreamed of a sound – of a level of play, and also to our future selves who are counting on us to plant the seeds now for a rich harvest later. The trick is for our present-self to honor these commitments with quite a lot of consistent, focused, hard work – easier said than done!

One of the best ways we can honor our commitment to growth is to put our individual practice sessions in the books, and treat those sessions for what they are: perhaps the most important appointments we have each week.

Instead of waiting until after the other daily assignments and commitments are completed to begin practice, put a realistic and achievable practice program into your calendar before the week begins.

  • How many minutes of quality practice fit into your standard work week?
  • Have you scheduled enough time to 1) process your lesson topics, 2) prepare your performance repertoire, and 3) work on pure technical skills that need to be trained daily?
  • Is it too much time to be sustainable for weeks and months and years at a time, or too much time for your physical body to handle without injury, or for you to focus attentively with the level of performance-concentration you intend to build into habit?
  • What time of day do you get your best work done?
  • If you are building strength and endurance at the bass, be sure you have built in time (a day or at least 30 consecutive hours) away from the instrument for muscles to regenerate, to cultivate interest, curiosity, and a sincere desire to work.

images-1Try it out:

Put a practice plan on the books for the next seven days. Begin by scheduling 20 minute blocks of work time, followed by 5 or 10 minute breaks. If you have a smart phone, put these into your digital calendar with reminders (if that helps you).

Pretend it’s a job interview, or a first date: Be on time. Bring your best self. “Throw your ego by the window”. (François Rabbath) Be honest and direct with yourself about your weaknesses and shortcomings. Be kind and patient with yourself, and recognize growth in the various forms it takes. If you need to reschedule, put your new time in the book before you skip your current practice “appointment”.

Start by scheduling a week of work that is realistically achievable, rather than beginning with something above and beyond. For example, in this exercise it is better to schedule 14 hours of deliberate practice and succeed with 14 hours than to schedule 23 and only reach 17. (Since we are working to build sustainable, meaningful, motivating, affirming, and realistic self-management skills, 14/14 is better than 17/23. A 100% self-management score is better than a 73% score, which leaves us feeling unfulfilled and unable to establish a balanced and sustainable work life.)

Take note of the practice sessions that worked best for you, and see if you can draw some conclusions about how to schedule your next week of work.

After the work week: Did you show up to what you scheduled? If you didn’t, was it the planner in you or the practicer who mismanaged? Did you overdo it one day, and burn out for the next? Did you underestimate your potential? How was your focus? How does your body feel?

Schedule the next week with your modifications, and begin honing your art of coaching.

For practice strategies and thoughts on making more of your scheduled work time, Noa Kageyama offers helpful insights and links through his blog, http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/.

Nicholas Walker
ISB 2017 Convention Chair

Nicholas will begin his tenure as the President of ISB during ISB2017. When not chairing bass conventions, he is Associate Professor of Music at Ithaca College.