It doesn’t matter what the discipline, it can be great to attack projects with purpose! Though these tips are oriented to musicians, and particularly to Irish traditional players, some may resonate with creators of all types.
1. PRACTICE with PURPOSE: When I’m sitting in my little room (White Stripes reference), I am most effective when I choose a specific mission for my practice:
- If I’m trying to learn something new, I aim to learn it with ease and mindfulness. The way I learn something is usually the way I end up playing/singing it.
- If I just feel like playing through some of my old hits, I call it intentional review time and do my best to play one, into the next, into the next. And I try to notice how comfortable and rooted to the ground my feet feel while I’m playing–that’s a good cue for me to stay loose and, well, grounded.
- Sometimes I like to hone a specific aspect of my playing. If I’m working on my tone, I’ll really aim to figure out what I need to get I best sound, and just stay with that intent. I try to memorize that feeling so I can call on it again when I’m wanting a more focused sound.
- When things are going well, I often use that opportunity to work carefully (slowly) on tougher passages in tunes or on techniques (like my B roll) that I DON’T do so well. This is not fun when everything is going poorly. But when things are humming, I hit the hard stuff, from a good place.
2. FIND EASE: When something is difficult, I find a way to make it easy. Usually this means isolating a small phrase and repeating it carefully, until it feels fluent. When I work with a metronome, I’ll start with a tempo that makes it super manageable and I gradually inch up the tempo.
3. FOCUS GAZE, SET FOCUS: To set and maintain concentration, I focus on a spot on the wall. This is a literal and metaphorical way for me to enter into intentional practice. Yogis call this a drishti. I call it a dot, because I like circular shapes, like the hole in this organ pipe. And as I already mentioned, I also tune in to how my feet feel on the floor. Sometimes these extra-musical cues keep me centered on your bigger musical project.
4. SESSION CHEAT SHEET: Irish Students often complain that they can’t think of what to play when asked to start a tune at a session. I suggest keeping a list of your very best tunes (the ones you know really well) on a notecard in your case. Jot down the first notes of both A and B parts. When I write things down–notes on a set list, for example–just the process of writing alone helps me solidify what I know, which can be a big memory/confidence booster.
5. SHARE KNOWLEDGE: No matter what our stories or our current levels, we all inspire each other. It’s great to share knowledge and tips freely. Explaining and articulating techniques and ideas is one of the ways I learn more about how and why I do things.