Taking a Vacation from Practice

When you took your last vacation did you take your instrument with you?

I heard an alarming statistic the other day. According to recent research, about 41% of U.S. workers don’t use all their vacation time, and some 56% of Americans haven’t taken a vacation in the last 12 months. In other words, many of us are just too busy to take the vacation we have earned. And that doesn’t even include those of us who are self-employed and have to create our own vacation time, before we can decide not to use it.

More importantly, employers have discovered that employees who don’t use their vacation time can experience lower overall productivity, increased health concerns and general dissatisfaction.

We musicians have had it drilled into us from our first days of music lessons: daily practice is essential. It ranks right next to brushing your teeth. We simply don’t skip a day.

With that in mind, how can we justify taking a vacation without our instrument? Can we enjoy some rest and relaxation without worrying about losing our technique or forgetting the music we have learned? Is it possible to have a guilt-free escape to the islands, the mountains, or anywhere else?

It’s not only possible, but some time away from the routine of practice and even away from your instrument altogether is actually necessary for most of us.

Practice can feel as stressful to us as any other sort of employment, even if music isn’t our profession. We put pressure on ourselves to achieve, to improve and to progress no matter our level of playing. And continuing to practice without allowing ourselves any time off is just as detrimental as unused vacation time.

This winter my family and I were away for two weeks and I was able to enjoy the trip, even knowing I had some important performances coming up on my return. I was able to come back to the harp refreshed and ready to get back to work. The magic is in how you plan.

You probably plan your vacation in great detail. I suggest you put as much effort (or maybe a little more) into planning your practice before you go, so you know what you will need to do when you get back. In fact, if you plan correctly, you will not only come back knowing what you need to do, but you will be able to be confident that you have the time you need to accomplish what you want. And thanks to your vacation, you will have renewed energy to bring to the task.

Before your vacation

  1. What’s on your schedule? Or what is your next goal, next piece you want to learn? If you don’t have any performances on the horizon, get out that piece that you’ve always wanted to learn or the next piece your teacher wants you to start.
  2. How prepared are you now? How much lead time will you have when you return? If you have a deadline like a lesson or a performance coming up when you get back, consider your current level of preparation and figure how much more time you will need to be ready.
  3. Write down the next steps for each piece or goal. Be as specific as you can. The more detailed your plan, the easier it will be to resume after your vacation. Put your plan on your music stand so it is the first thing you see when you get ready to practice after vacation
  4. Follow my special “Two Week Margin” rule. I discovered that if I give myself one week of extra focused preparation before I go, and one more week of preparation time than I think I need after I get back, I got much better results. I slightly increase my practice time and double down on my focus the week before vacation, and then add one extra week to my estimate of the time I will need when I come back. This allows for jet lag or sore fingers or extra laundry after vacation. I can relax much more completely knowing that I have built this time into my plan.

After your vacation

  1. Use a five day rehab plan. My first week back from vacation is always spent re-strengthening my technique. I make sure that I go slowly and carefully, remembering that I built this extra time into my plan before I left. I also use very short practice sessions to avoid blisters or sore fingers, which would slow down my ability to follow my plan.
  2. Follow your plan. You have all the steps written down in the plan you created before you went away. You know exactly what to do, and it’s time to put your plan into action. It’s that easy.

Now…where will you go on your vacation?


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