I recently returned from a three-week horn playing hiatus. That is the longest break from my instrument that I’ve had in as long as I can remember… maybe 10+years? I didn’t know what to expect when I picked my horn up from my sister’s apartment in Manhattan, and I’m sure for many of you that would be a scary moment. I had my experience, which I will share later in this article, but I decided to look around for some other perspectives and I found some interesting info to share with you.
I found an article from classicalguitar.org equating our practice habits to a cross-country skier’s training schedule. This piece, written by Jørgen Oktober Storm, focuses on a famous Norwegian skier by the name of Bjørn Dæhlie. Bjørn “contributes most of his achievement to the time off between exercising: the single most important thing besides the actual practice/training is the relaxation.” An interesting thought, hu? We spend so much of our time pushing ourselves to practice longer, harder, and more frequently, that we forget that the actually learning takes place after the practice session when the brain has time to digest.
Jørgen Oktober Storm (best name ever) says that you will often notice a big leap forward in progress after a break. “This is partly because you have let your mind digest what you’ve put in earlier. Sleep works in the same way: you don’t actually learn anything before taking a break from it, pondering it and dissecting it. Practice is the act of chewing, the rest afterward is the actual digestion of the material, and this is when your body is nourished.”
This article suggests taking a day or two off to give yourself time to adjust your practice approach and make a plan going forward. I, on the other hand, took three weeks off. I have to admit I was a little nervous what I would feel like my first few days back, but I felt just fine after some relaxing practice sessions over two days. More importantly, in the days leading up to my musical reunion, I was truly excited to get back on the horn! As my awesome trip came to a close, I found myself getting really excited about being able to play again. That, I think, is the most valuable result from taking a short break. My love for practicing came roaring back, and with it an increased drive to keep getting better.
Assignment for this week:
Figure out what you need/want to practice this week, including required rep for gigs/lesson and whatever else, and plan it out so you can take one day off. Choose your day off and really enjoy it! This day of downtime will give you a huge boost in quality for the rest of the week, and will give you an end point to aim for while planning your practice sessions. My day off last week was July 4th, because I will be too busy eating hot dogs and pie to work on Strauss. Enjoy!
If you want some more reading about the topics of breaks, I found a long-form article from the Scientific American that is really fascinating and sights lots of research on the topic.
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