Music often enters our lives as a hobby or an extra-curricular activity. What starts as a passion can lead to a lifelong musical career. Whether we study music academically, teach lessons, or play professionally, the lines between work and play can easily blur.
For many of us, music is a retreat, an escape, a peaceful haven. After a long day of tasks, it is incredibly fulfilling to unwind and express ourselves through our instrument. But what happens when music becomes the chore, either through school or a full-time job? It can be easy to fall into a rut or feel like you are stagnating as a performer, educator, or musician in general. Try some of these tactics to revitalize your musical self!
It is so easy to lose sight of the big picture when something becomes commonplace in your life. Try to recapture what you loved about music in the first place. Try to fit into your schedule regular concert or recital attendance to experience some live music. Go with a friend or a group of friends and talk about it after. Make a day or night of it! Or go alone and give yourself a real chance to reflect on a recital or concert. Write down your thoughts afterward.
Professional obligations take up a lot of our time. It can be challenging to find time and energy to do anything that is not required of us. But try exposing yourself to new music, new art, new points of view. That new soundtrack that everyone’s been talking about. An album or artist you’ve always wanted to hear but never got around to. Taking some time to experience something novel will inform and directly benefit other areas of your life, musical and otherwise, even if you never come back to it. Listening to music for enjoyment’s sake can also be achieved by putting on some of your “tried and true” favorites. Try putting off your commitments for a bit and let yourself bask in the nostalgia of your favorite music.
Additionally, try playing some music that isn’t required of you - not needed for your job, school, or other professional ventures. Music you really like but never get the chance to perform. Maybe some guilty pleasure, less serious, non-academic music. Or just music your teacher or occupation wouldn’t normally have you play - music where you can set your own requirements, goals, and timelines.
Sometimes taking yourself out of the present moment can reinvigorate your motivation. Try planning for the future. Don’t just think of projects that need to be done immediately. Program music for the future, long or short-term. Pieces of music to learn next semester or in 5 years, or aspire to learn. Set goals to gain a skill you always wanted to have. Learn to read from a lead sheet or to improvise more fluently. Plan to read a book by a musician you respect and admire. Going hand in hand with planning for the future is engaging with other professionals in your area. Try joining a professional organization or attending a local conference. Networking and hearing the perspectives of colleagues can be invaluable in the present and the future. Get some new references, hear some new voices, new feedback. Gain some insight you might not have had before. Maybe get trained and certified in a new field, inside or outside of your comfort zone.
On a more general level, learn to say “no” to things that aren’t required of you or are damaging to your health or psyche. In reality, there are things that you have to do for your job or your career which are essentially unavoidable. But truly look at each decision you make, each gig you take, each professional opportunity and consider as many of the ramifications as you can. What it will take time away from later, other things you deem more important or even leisure time. These are unique to each person, and it is difficult to get too specific here from an outside perspective. But balancing your workload is one of the most important things you can do. Measure what is important to you and create a hierarchy of responsibilities.
Many of these examples are elaborate ways of taking a breather from the current task that is stressing you out or has you overworked. But sometimes you need to actually take a break, to actually step away. Short breaks could include: grabbing a coffee, calling a friend, going to the gym, watching a tv show, reading a book. Longer breaks: go on a vacation, put away your instrument for a few days, cancel some appointments. Your mental health is important, and whenever possible, it should take priority. If music is something you want to be a part of your future and taking an extended break will help you achieve that goal, it will benefit you in the long run.
The role music and the arts play in your life will take on many shapes and forms. But when that role becomes stationary for too long, try reframing your goals or taking a step outside of your usual “box” to keep yourself refreshed! Hoping some of these methods work for you!