If you’re like most musicians, down time comes with mixed emotions. The battle waging in my head is usually:
-I should relax
-I should practice
Will James, Principal Percussionist with the Saint Louis Symphony wrote eloquently about this very topic on his blog earlier in the year (Will’s blog is a must follow). If you find yourself experiencing one of the six reasons to do the "unthinkable" but are still struggling with the guilt of staying out of the practice room, consider this option.
A few years ago, I struck a deal with my Self 1* allowing for down time after long runs of concerts, teaching, recitals, clinics, and travel. Instead of jumping into the next project or working up fresh repertoire, the compromise is to revisit the basics. For Thanksgiving, the tradition has become a time-tested classic, George Lawrence Stone’s Stick Control.
Yes. The entire book. From cover to cover. Some of the most relevantly-wise pedagogical words you’ll ever need to know are in the Preface and section, “How to Practise Stick Control.” The book is 80 years old and still on everyone’s list. After playing through the book, you’ll likely find sections to revisit throughout the rest of the year which was the original intention—a conditioner and daily workout to keep you in shape.
Thanksgiving is a 4-5 day weekend. Playing through the book in its entirety is worth every minute. Take different tempos, different dynamics, and vary the repetitions beyond the “repeat each exercise 20 times” instruction Mr. Stone suggested.
Play along to your favorite music or Pandora station. Play with a metronome. Play without.
Here’s the kicker:
If you get bored...watch TV. Seriously… Netflix, football, Law and Order marathons. To be clear, this idea isn’t original. In Leigh Howard Stevens’ interview of Bob Becker for the August 1996 issue of Percussive Notes, Becker shared that long tabla technique practice sessions were made manageable by watching television.
So there you have it from a highly credible source.
If you left your copy at school or loaned it to a student, download a digital copy for your Kindle app. No excuses. It’s always with you.
Happy Thanksgiving and remember, “practise at all tempos, stopping at the slightest feeling of tension.”
*from Tim Gallwey's Inner Game books/concepts. More on this in the future.