Yes You Can! 12 Things to Do When You Can’t Practice

You just can’t do it.

It’s 9 PM and you’re finally finished with a non-stop day. You can’t even remember what you did today, but you know this is the first chance you’ve had to sit down and catch your breath. You know you should be practicing. But you just can’t do it.

They happen to all of us, even the most dedicated harpists, those days when you just don’t feel like practicing. 

Certainly, you won’t do your best practice, or maybe not even any worthwhile practice at all, when you’re tired and worn out. At the same time, not practicing may put a halt to the progress you’ve been making. An even bigger risk is that if you skip your practice, you may feel guilty, which will actually make it more difficult to get back to practice the next day.

It is important to sustain your momentum. One day of missed practice won’t hurt, but if you miss more than one you are likely to be discouraged enough that re-starting will be daunting and unnecessarily difficult.

There are three powerful reasons to practice daily. First is to maintain your technique. Your fingers’ facility needs constant attention. Pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski famously quipped, “If I miss one day of practice, I notice it. If I miss two days, the critics notice it. If I miss three days, the audience notices it.”

The second reason is to hold onto and build upon the learning you have been doing. Even a little bit of review will keep you moving forward. Reviewing it before you go to sleep has also been shown to have extra benefits in terms of retention and processing.

Thirdly, maintaining a regular practice habit gives you a feeling of accomplishment, particularly when you are practicing in spite of the obstacles life puts in your path. After all, there will be more days like this.

Below is a list of 12 things to try when you really don’t feel like practicing. Some are tactics to help you stay in touch with the most important things you’ve been practicing. Others are quick, fun and diverting. Any one of these will tide you over when you’ve had a rough day. 

PERSONAL NOTE: At one time or another, I have used all of these strategies. The strategy that I rely on most is #12, the final one on this list. This is the one that I know will prevent one missed day from turning into a downward spiral, and I often use it in addition to one of the others on the list. Whatever else you do, do that one!


  1. Play one short piece you love. (You don’t even have to tune first!)
  2. Play your warm-up or a favorite exercise, scale or etude. Even a little bit will help maintain your technique.
  3. Read through a piece you’ve been wanting to learn.
  4. Play that tricky passage you’ve been trying to master three times slowly. 
  5. “Air play” with a video. The best thing about playing your “air harp” is that you won’t make any mistakes.
  6. Mark your music with lever/pedal markings or fingering.
  7. Review some of your favorite repertoire. 
  8. Set a timer for 15 minutes and practice only until the bell sounds.
  9. Do all your hands separately practice at a slow, careful tempo.
  10. Play through each of your pieces one time only.
  11. Tune the harp, open your music and set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier tomorrow morning so you can get right to work.
  12. Write out your practice plan for tomorrow and schedule when you will do it. This is your key to staying on track. When you have a plan and have committed to it in your calendar, you can get a good night’s rest knowing that tomorrow will be a better harp day.

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