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Motivation through the Madness

So here we are, four weeks into the UK's lockdown. We're all trying to adapt to this new normal whether it be becoming the next Nigella Lawson, getting even more ambitious with the DIY or becoming the ultimate Netflix connoisseur, life has really changed in the past month. For musicians during this period of Covid-19, we're all facing huge amounts of cancellations and with no goal posts in sight, many of us are finding it hard to stay focused and motivated. As it's been something that is bothering many friends of mine, I thought I'd hunt around for tips from pros and students alike on how to beat this very expected dip in motivation.


1. Play pieces for your own enjoyment. In a recent article by Steven Isserlis, where he writes about the impact of Coronavirus on musicians he says: "I have been finding immense comfort in learning a simple little concerto by Luigi Boccherini, the 18th-century Italian composer. I find myself wanting to turn to it every day. It doesn’t make demands, just invites me into its gentle, elegant world, where the sun shines constantly, the harmonies smile sweetly."

He's not alone. A bassoonist friend of mine, recently received an email from his teacher telling his students to "keep playing, even if you have no projects. Play and practice your favourite pieces, etudes and exercises."

Every musician at some point has said "when I have time, I really want to learn..." Well we've finally been given the opportunity to do so. So why don't you have a rummage through your library and find that piece that sparks real joy. Take this opportunity to really fall back in love with your some of your favourite pieces that you want to play, not what you have to learn for X, Y or Z.

2. Challenge yourself If goals are more what gets your motivational blood pumping, set your own personal challenge. A principal cellist in London has challenged himself to relearn two Popper etudes every week during this lock down. Have a think. Is there a technique that you always feel you’re taking a short cut with or a technical challenge (like the Popper Challenge) that would really lift your out of the funk?

3. Make one day a week your day off! Taking a day off might not seem like the most motivational thing to read but bear with. A violinist in my quartet back at college was the wise man behind this advice. He was hugely dedicated but one day a week he would leave that violin in its case and do something completely different. I quickly adopted it and more than anything it made me realise how much of my practice (especially during my degree) was quantity over quality. Practising just to say you've done X number of hours purely leads to burnouts and not much to show for your efforts. If you're practising like that then, where's the enjoyment? Where's the love? More importantly where's that urge to keep motivated? No one can maintain motivation through a burn out. With your day off why not find out what you like to do besides music? His personal favourite was watching the hockey but my other friends cook, run or just relax with a good book. Find your happy!

4. #100daysofpractice Okay now this little trick is a violist swears by. If she's feeling like she's lost motivation or she just doesn't want to do it right now she logs onto Instagram and gets the practice videos going. She finds that being held accountable helps get her out of her funk and this is a trend that many musicians during Covid-19 have adopted. Maybe surprisingly for the world of social media, many have commented on the supportive and reassuring community that comment on people's practice videos and honestly nothing remotivates like positive reinforcement.

So, if social media is a big thing for you and a place you like to showcase your music and your skills, this could be exactly what you're needing.

5. The Music hasn't stopped Are you someone who needs a deadline to feel the desire to practice? If you are then chances are lockdown has caused an absolute slump. It's completely natural and trust me, you are not alone but there is good news! Many people during this time have tried refilling their concert diaries through live streaming. In my last post Riccardo Pes spoke of his #andratuttobenefestival where artists play a 15 minute live streamed concert from the comfort of their own living room. Since its launch, other live streaming living room concerts have started to spring up, either through an organised event or simply musicians putting on their own events. Why not get in touch with someone you see doing a live stream concert and ask them to join or follow suit and do your own? Most teachers are now doing lessons online. Why not book a lesson? Really set a goal for that lesson and make that your focus for the week. Many auditions and exams that were originally cancelled or postponed are now requesting video submissions. So relatively quickly, the music world is adapting to these new times and giving us deadlines to work towards.

6. Stop being so damn hard on yourself! At the end of the day, these are uncertain times. No one really knows whether they're coming or going. So, if you aren't practising the usual amount that you were before this all began, try and be a little kind to yourself. Anyone who has come this far in study, loves their instrument, loves their art. 9 times out of 10 you have to be your biggest cheer leader. Sometimes, especially during a period of lockdown, you need to tell yourself that you are enough, you are working as hard as you can right now. Stop tearing chunks out of yourself, that's not going to make waking up in the morning and making it to the music stand any easier. Use this time of self-isolation as a time to start putting your health and your brain back together. We never really get this opportunity. The practice will come, the inspiration will hit and you will get there. I hope you've found these pointers helpful and comforting. If you have anything to add please comment below. But for now, I will leave you with a little pick me up from the Norwegian Radio Orchestra.

Stay Safe

Ruth x

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