And now it's a new year, and I have several big concerts coming in the next few months, plus my personal goal of learning the Brahms Violin Concerto by my 30th birthday (a mere 9 months away)...and it's time to get back into shape.
So, on the off-chance that any of you out there also had an actual *break* from the violin over the holidays, here are some ideas that I'll be using in my practice over the next few weeks as I get back into performance shape.
1. Honor Your Body
Musicians are athletes. Like any skill, your muscle memory - and your stamina - will diminish after even a couple days off. I'll be dividing my practice into shorter chunks (20 - 30 mins at a time) and take plenty of breaks as I build back up. I will also be careful to stretch both before and after I practice to help my muscles release and recover.
Be realistic with your expectations. You won't be able to play as much as you were able to before the break - set your goals lower, and give yourself time to build up. NEVER continue playing if you're experiencing even the tiniest bit of pain.
2. Review Is Your Friend
Rather than giving into the excitement/panic of having a stack of new music to learn, I've spent a couple days reviewing basic exercises, finger patterns, etudes, and scales. Give yourself a day or two just to reconnect with the instrument before launching into new repertoire. Try a chunk of practice time playing all the scales you know, or pick two review etudes and pick different parts of your technique to focus on.
3. Warm Up Your Mind and Ear
Even when you take a break from playing, it's always good to listen to recordings of your current and future repertoire. On my road trip home from West Virginia, I listened to a playlist of all my solo, orchestra, and quartet music coming up in the next six months. It meant that my brain and ear already had the pieces going before I attempted to pick up my instrument at home. Try putting recordings on in the car, in the background while you do chores, homework, or email. Have music in your mind before you start the day's practice.
4. Be Honest With Yourself (And Your Teacher!)
You have every right to take a break from violin (so long as you don't have an important performance or audition coming up!). It's important to rest, relax, and enjoy the non-musical parts of your life too. Don't try to launch back into practicing like the break never happened - and don't try to bluff your way through your first lesson with your teacher after a holiday. Believe me, I can tell when a student hasn't practiced. Starting from a place of honesty and openness about where you are in your playing will give you and your teacher the opportunity to start fresh.
5. Make a Plan and Stick to It
All breaks (no matter how wonderful and deserved!) must come to an end for the ambitious violinist. Regular, consistent practice is a must if you want to succeed and make progress. Create a plan for how many days a week you need to practice, and for how long each day - and then do it! Ask your teacher to help you make a list of goals and/or practice strategies if you need ideas.
Happy 2018, and good luck practicing!