In Better Than Before, Gretchen Rubin describes foundation habits that are necessary to make other positive changes. Translated into jaded musician-speak, it’s getting your s**t together. The four habits are: enough sleep, exercising, decluttering, and good diet. On this site, I’ve blogged about my attempts to eat better, live simply, etc. Yet I’ve still had this lingering feeling of guilt that I’m focusing too much on these habits and not on the #1 habit for working musicians: practicing.
If you’ve been through any sort of formal music program, you’ve most likely been told to practice as much as possible. Even if you haven’t gone through such a program, you’ve probably had a teacher who espoused the same philosophy. I’m constantly seeing Facebook memes to the effect of, “Put down your computer and go practice. Now!” Obviously, practice is crucial for musical development, but as I’ve mentioned before, I think we go a little overboard with it.
Contemporary schools still function using industrial-era models – mass production, interchangeable students, and rigid hierarchies. Therefore, the only way to really set yourself apart in these systems is to have super-human technical abilities – which requires intensive, non-stop practice. There’s nothing wrong with musicians who want to do this, but for a lot of people this just isn’t feasible.
Recently, there’s been more of an effort to emphasize self-care for musicians – that it’s OK to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthy, just don’t let it cut into your practice time. And here’s where you run into a wall: the foundation habits require a pretty major time investment, but you’re not allowed to take time away from your practice. If you have any sort of work or family responsibilities, you’re back to working on 4 hours of sleep and a lot of coffee.
A lot of the reason that I advocate for working smarter, not harder with practice is to make room for these other important habits. I’ve been trying to stick to keeping regular sleep schedule (11:30pm-7:30am – although this often gets disrupted by gigs), doing hot yoga (almost) daily, paring down to the bare essentials, and eating a plant-based diet – all of which require a fair bit of time. That said, not only is my practice a lot more efficient because of these habits, they’ve increased my productivity while finishing the e-book (more on that in future posts).
In college, I was told I needed to constantly practice or else I would bomb gigs and never get called again. As a working musician, the majority of musicians who I see get this treatment, put bluntly, don’t have their s**t together. Some of them are awesome musicians – much better than me – but they show up late, with their music disorganized, etc.
If we can give ourselves permission to take time away from practice and apply it toward taking care of our bodies, minds, and souls, then we can have the best of both worlds: being excellent musicians who also have their s**t together.
Note: This post originally appeared on my other site, Gig-Ready Jazz Bassist.