My favorite tips for taking practice breaks

When I was 18, it seemed like I could practice piano for hours without needing a break. Who knows how effective that kind of practice actually was (probably less than I thought at the time). As a more mature, and hopefully smarter practicer now, I find that scheduling breaks into my practice helps refocus, reenergize, and most importantly gives my body and brain a needed respite from solving problems. Here are some suggestions for how to spend this valuable time so you can optimize the time spent devoted to music:

  1. Take a total break. Set an alarm, find a cozy and warm place to doze off, and close your eyes. I find this kind of break to be most effective in the late afternoon when I am already getting a bit tired. Just a tiny cat-nap can be exactly the right thing for regaining focus.
  2. Take a walking break. A brisk 5-10 minute walk outside is especially refreshing if I’ve been stuck inside my windowless office for too long. If it’s cold outside, I heat up water for tea before I bundle up.
  3. Take a stretching break. I take multiple short stretch breaks during most practice sessions. Depending on how my body is feeling, I will focus on full body, shoulders and neck, arms and wrists, or hips. A couple of minutes doing a sun salutation series, or even just resting in wide-leg child’s pose does wonders. This routine from Yoga With Adrienne is great for shoulder and neck tension: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SedzswEwpPw
  4. Take a breathing break. Close your eyes and breath slowly for 2-3 minutes if you are feeling anxious. For reenergizing, breath quickly in and out of your nose for 10 seconds, relax for 10 seconds, and repeat a few times.
  5. Take a mind-emptying break. Take a few minutes and write down all of the great ideas, questions, discoveries, tasks to do, or anything else that popped up during the practice session.
  6. Take a humor break. This is especially helpful if I’m feeling frustrated or overwhelmed during practice. Humor has been proven to heighten persistence! My go-to humor sources are The Onion, or videos of cats in compromising situations. If I can laugh out loud I feel even more refreshed.

Things I try to avoid doing during a practice break:

  1. Checking email and social media accounts. This will only serve to knock me out of the practice zone and make me feel anxious. Unless I am expecting a life or death message, I keep my phone on airplane mode throughout the practice and break.
  2. Continuing to practice by using the time to analyze, do mental practice, or read. My brain and eyes need a true break.
  3. Talking with colleagues, students, or family members. Sometimes this is difficult to avoid, but often these conversations derail the practice session by initiating some new urgent to-do.
  4. Using my computer, phone, or anything that will tax my neck, shoulders, and arms.
  5. Listening to music. My ears need a break as well.

What types of practice breaks work best for you? Do you schedule breaks, or do you wait until you receive signals from your body and brain that you need one? Do you have favorite stretches, meditations, or other routines?

I hope you find this helpful, and Happy Practicing!