The Power of Rest

It’s Christmas today.  I must confess I practiced. 

I also practiced on Thanksgiving.  And my wedding day.  And six days after my son’s birth.  I believe in practice.  It's sustaining and grounding and potent, and even though I don’t have as much space for it in my life as I used to, I still undertake to practice daily.

But this isn’t a post about the power practice.  It's about the power of rest.

Sometimes, we are forced to rest.  Perhaps you’re traveling all day, and your fellow airplane passengers would be less than 100% enthusiastic if you whipped out your sopranino recorder.  Maybe you have the flu, or jury duty, or some other of life's immovables.  Maybe you’ve injured yourself and need time to recover. 

Sometimes, we choose rest.  A day, a week, a month.  Short or long, we choose to carve out a space in which our fingers are still and our breath returns to its usual work of keeping us alive.

Rest is not a bad thing.  But it does require intention and purpose.

How do you know you need to rest?

Does playing hurt?  If playing is painful, either physically or mentally, that’s an indicator you may need to take a break.  Note that “frustrating” is different from painful- frustration is an intermittently necessary part of practice; pain is an unhelpful dead end.

Do you need a break?  Sometimes we can reach into a cul-de-sac in our practice, in which we've become so fixated on, or caught by, some detail that we cease to make progress.  Or we're simply tired. 

How to rest?

Set your parameters.  Before you undertake a rest, you need to make sure you know what that rest will look like and when it will end.  A rest with no fixed endpoint isn’t a rest; it’s a hiatus, and it likely won’t serve you in your quest to become a better musician.  Set a deadline- even if it’s a deadline for asking yourself whether or not you need to rest some more.   I personally tend to do best with a short rest- a day or two, a week at most.  You’ll discover how long you need.  Setting parameters on your rest also liberates you from guilt: You're not failing to practice; you're deliberately resting.

What kind of rest do you need? Often, you don’t need a break from music. You simply need a break from whatever kind of practicing or music-making you’ve been immuring yourself in lately.  Take a few days to try something new, like learning tunes by ear, listening to recordings, or even playing through things you like.  Meet your friends to play some consort music, go to a live concert- all of these changes can help you return to your practice revitalized and inspired.

So while I did practice today, my practice was different from my usual fare.  Instead of working on a piece I’m going to perform or honing on a specific technique, I’m simply reading, visiting with music I’ve never played and then moving on. 

It feels exploratory.  A little bit joyous.  Restful.

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© 2016 Anne Timberlake