Practice Detour: Use GPS and Get Back on the Road

practicing May 08, 2017

A "Practice Detour?" Let me explain...

Have you ever been driving on a familiar route only to be confronted with a “Road Closed: Detour” sign? The last time that happened to me I found myself taking numerous turns through a bewildering maze of rural roads with no sign posts. I had decided to trust that the car in front of me knew how to navigate the detour and that eventually I would emerge at a place I recognized. I kept driving, feeling a little anxious, a little hopeful, determined to forge ahead into parts unknown and uncertain if I would be able to reach my intended destination.

Oddly enough, although I didn’t recognize the roads, I recognized the feelings. That’s exactly what a Practice Detour feels like.

What’s a Practice Detour? It’s that moment when you realize that your practice doesn’t seem to be moving you forward. So you double down, practicing longer with more determined focus. You dust off your practice journal, plan a practice schedule, set a timer; you will make this work.

But for some unfathomable reason, your efforts seem to make things worse instead of better. You start to lose motivation. You decide that maybe if you take a little time off, it will fix itself. Unfortunately, you find it difficult to get back to practicing, fearing that you will find that nothing has changed.

If you’ve experienced a Practice Detour, you know how frustrating they are. You also know that the longer the detour lasts, the harder it is to get back on track. In the hopes that you will be able to make your net detour a very short one, I would like to share my GPS method for quickly ending the frustration and getting back on the right road.

Step One: Go Back.

There’s no shame in retreat, in re-tracing your steps to a place you know. It’s time to get back to practice but without the pressure or stress.

Start with something you know you can do. Don’t aim for progress or growth. Make your practice as easy as possible, maybe only 10 minutes of playing your favorite piece. You could play through your go-to warm-up, review old repertoire or sightread something new. Just choose something that you enjoy. Remind yourself how good it feels to play the harp.

Now that you’re feeling more relaxed, you can look around you a little and figure out your next step.

Step Two: Plan Your Next Step, No More.

If a thousand mile journey begins with a single step, then a single step is all you need to take. Imagine yourself looking down a road. Ahead of you is a crossroad. Your next step is only to get to the crossroad. When you get there, you can decide whether to continue on or to turn.

Practice is the path to the next crossroad. You don’t have to plan all the way to your destination. Just identify the path to the next corner.

Think baby step, not giant leap. Maybe your next step is to start learning a piece over from the beginning to eliminate errors. Or maybe your next step is refreshing your technique or working on one difficult measure or scheduling a lesson with your teacher. Once you have accomplished that step, you’ll know better how to identify and plan to accomplish your bigger goals.

Step Three: Set the Cruise Control.

When you have some momentum back, you can set the cruise control. This isn’t relinquishing control or auto-pilot. This is setting a steady pace for your continued progress. This includes all those things you know you need:

  • A regular and realistic practice schedule.
  • Goals that are appropriate for your current skill level and available time.
  • Accountability and support through regular instruction.
  • Enjoying your harp playing and sharing your love of the harp with others.

The next time you find yourself on a Practice Detour, you will have the GPS system for putting you back on the path. Happy travels!


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