In the summer months, routines lapse and schedules get interrupted. This is especially true for student musicians, who are on vacation from June until September. Many music teachers, too, move to a lighter schedule in the summer while the bulk of their students are away or taking a break. Keeping up your practice routine is important, though; taking a three-month break from your instrument is practically guaranteed to set you back when you do return to it. What’s more, the summer is a great time to focus on developing your practice habits, leaping from one plateau to the next, and getting out of ruts. If your new schedule leaves you with more time to practice, here are some ways to take advantage of it.
1. Set a goal for the end of the summer. Is there a particular piece of music you’ve always wanted to learn? Is there a technique you want to master? Have you been meaning to write, record, or perform something new, or in some new way? Do you want to put together a new ensemble? With three months of lazy days in front of you, the summer is a great time to set your sights high. Consult with your teacher, if you have one, and pick an exciting goal that you can reasonably expect to achieve. Think of it as a summer-long project.
2. Establish interim markers along the way to your goal. That which can be measured improves. When you set a goal in June to reach by September, it can feel far-off and daunting. Most students study on a lesson-to-lesson basis, and are used to having weekly goals set for them. For your summer project, it helps to have some signposts along the way. If you want to learn a new piece, for example, you can divide it into sections and assign yourself a deadline for each one. Keep track of them in your practice planner, or on your sheet music. This will help you to stay focused, and to assess your progress on a shorter-term basis. This way, you’ll know when you’re getting there.
3. Decide how much time to practice each day, and stick to it. This is important year-round, of course, but more difficult during the summer. You’ll have more freedom over when to practice, but you will still need to carve out time to spend working on music. Dedicating time each day to practice helps musicians develop discipline, as well as muscle memory and “chops.” As always, it’s more important to practice smart than to practice long—establish a practice routine you can stick with. If you’re lucky enough to have fewer commitments during the summer, you can always break up your practice sessions into “two-a-days.” For instance, you could work on technique in the morning, and on repertoire after dinner.
4. Reward yourself. Working towards a long-term goal can put off some of the gratification that comes from music. Practice without performances, recitals, and lessons can get tedious. You can build your own rewards into your practice program, though: when you accomplish one of your short-term goals, be sure to reward yourself. Buy a fancy coffee or an ice cream cone, take the walk you’ve been meaning to, go to a ballgame, or just get outside in the summer sun. The important thing is to build in not just deadlines but rewards when you meet them.
5. Have Fun! Whatever you decide to practice over the summer, have fun with it. Make time to play with other musicians, if you can. Don’t just practice the difficult thing you intend to perfect by the fall; practice the material you enjoy the most. Remember: it’s called playing music for a reason.