100 days is a long time

Today I finished my “100 days of practice” challenge. For those who don’t know, I posted a daily clip of my practicing along with a short caption or explanation detailing what I was doing. My reasons for taking on this challenge were mainly:

– I was answering many similar questions from different students about how I approach things.

– I wanted to take a look at how I did things to see if there was anything I could learn.

When I started I didn’t have a specific goal in mind…no big audition or performance at the end. The only thing on day 101 that is different from day 1-100 is that I won’t be posting any more clips. I also didn’t have any kind of milestones in mind – no “let’s see if I can finish this transcription or see if I can push to 4 hours of daily practice”. I only hoped to document what I did for 100 days and try to take an objective look at my practice ritual to see if things are working. At the far end of the challenge, I have discovered a few things. I want to take some time here to share some of my reflections.

Routines are good…until they aren’t

I’ve always been comforted by routines. I like the idea of being able to look at a to-do list of sorts, check things off, and feel that I’ve accomplished things. What I’ve learned during this 100 days is that I have an almost compulsive impulse to organize my practicing. So much so, that there have been many times in life where my thinking went something like this: “I don’t have X hours to practice, so I can’t practice”. This challenge helped me with this because there were many days when I only had a few minutes, let alone several hours. I’ve learned that even the smallest bit of practice is valuable. There is something about dropping into the ritual, even for 10-15 minutes, that adds value. In this way, practice becomes almost more of a meditation than a utilitarian act. I can say that I absolutely have a different attitude about practicing with regard to time spent. While nothing can replace long periods of deep work, there is value in ANY work you do consistently.

What’s the goal?

Here’s something I learned about my habits that I would like to improve. I notice looking back that I seem to practice with the intention of “proving something” to my self (or others) – “I KNOW this tune…I have good technique…I have good time…” etc. I’ve found that when this intention informs my practicing, I don’t learn. I was often afraid over the course of the last 100 days of showing my weaknesses. Of course, the fishbowl-like reality of doing something like this will either consciously or unconsciously change the way one does something (observer effect, anyone?). Going forward, I need to be aware enough to be mindful of my habits of wanting to reinforce what I already know.

Practicing makes you better(?)

This one may be the hardest for me. I am coming to believe that after a certain point, development stops being linear. 100 days in the progress of a beginning or intermediate musician is a significant period of time (consider a college semester), but in the life of a professional, it seems somehow different. Of course, any time spent will aid in our development, after years and years it seems that the progress becomes less and less measurable. I don’t feel any considerably BETTER as a saxophonist than I did 100 days ago, and truth told in some ways I feel worse. I do know that I am 100 days further down the road than I was, and that’s a good thing.

Self-Sabotage

Of course, if I’m honest, a good bit of the above is most likely my fault. I don’t know why this is but I still have a habit of jumping around from topic to topic without going deep into any of them. Some of this may go back to my compulsion about routines and lists, but much of it comes down to not being mindful. I tell my students often that I’d rather they spend their time learning ONE thing to the point of mastery than run through a list of ten things everyday and only touching each one. I need to do better here…I don’t know how yet, but it’s taking up quite a bit of space in my head right now. Perhaps it would have helped if I had started these 100 days with something tangible – a transcription, a certain tune or progression, etc that I could have used as a “control” of sorts. At least it would have helped anchor me.

Final Thoughts

I don’t mean to give the impression that this was a negative experience, quite the opposite. I’ve learned so much about how I practice and what some of my habits are and I have some strong motivation about some things I want to try going forward. I’ve really discovered the kinds of things that work for me and the kinds of things that don’t. I’ve learned that everyone has ideas about the “right” way to practice or pursue any kind of development and I’ve learned that, while all of the feedback is an incredible gift, it is ultimately up to me to chart my path at this time of my life.

I hope I haven’t bored anyone too much, and I sincerely thank you for following along.

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