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viii. designing a practice routine

In my last post, I talked about finding a sense of home in one's art form and shared several ideas about how this might look. 

In the next few posts, I'll be going through each of these ideas in more detail. 

Today, I want to share with you my thoughts on building a practice routine as an artist. 

This post is for any type of artist looking to build a sustainable and balanced practice routine. If you are an artist struggling with a lack of energy or any other type of health-related or life-related challenge, this is especially for you! 😊

The other day, I spent an hour online looking at buttons of all shapes, sizes, and colors. 

You know, like, the kind that keep your shirt from bursting open.

I didn’t really plan on it, but I was struck with a sudden inspiration to make a bouquet of button flowers, and an hour later, I found myself lost in the depths of eBay. 

Anyone else familiar with this phenomenon?

Something looks interesting, you follow a whim, and suddenly you find yourself thinking:  

"Umm, what was I actually about to do before all of that?"

Practicing requires focus and, as a creative person, I have discovered that designing an effective, consistent practice routine is a balancing act: balancing structure, commitment, and discipline with room for flexibility, spontaneity, and allowing for space to follow one's intuition. 

Here are my top tips for building a sustainable practice routine as an artist: 

  1. Have at least one specifically planned chunk of time per day dedicated to practice and do this when you feel at your most energetic.  I am a morning person and often feel the freshest and most energetic and have the sharpest concentration in the morning hours, so I warm up my voice each morning. When I start my day with singing, I know that no matter what else comes, I have already at least touched on my craft. On days when I don’t have much time in the morning, I am glad to have done even 15 minutes of practice before continuing with the day! 

  2. Then, allow yourself the freedom to decide during the course of the day when your more intensive practice session will be. This is more difficult for people like parents with young kids who have very specific schedules, so this can be adaptable. I try to allow myself some flexibility as to when I do the bulk of my practicing work within a day. On certain occasions, I've planned practice sessions for the end of my school day before heading home, only to find after six hours of sitting in class that I was too tired and not focused enough to practice effectively. I have grown to love practicing at around 8:00 P.M. after I've had time to rest at home, had something to eat, and can then rally with more focus. That being said…

  3. As tempting as it may be, don’t practice when you can’t concentrate. This is a difficult one! I often feel the urge to carry out my daily practice come hell or highwater and have forced myself to practice when I wasn’t really able to give it my energy or attention. This has always been counterproductive and ultimately hinders progress. If you’re unsure of whether or not you have enough energy to practice or have started practicing and realized that you’re unable to effectively focus or are feeling exhausted, I recommend lying down to clear your mind or getting some fresh air, doing some deep breathing or other relaxation activity, and returning later if possible, even if that means several hours later. This is where mindfulness and being honest with oneself about one's energetic limits becomes important. If you’re struggling with something like mental or physical fatigue, this can be difficult but is especially important. 

  4. If a creative urge comes and you are able to yield to it, do it! Throughout the process of rekindling my connection to music, many spontaneous singing sessions have occurred while sweet potatoes were simultaneously roasting in the oven. Sometimes my body tells me to sing and then I sing. If art beckons you and you have the time to follow, do it! It’ll make you happy. 

  5. Honor a lack of motivation in a balanced way. This can also be a tricky one. If I only practiced when I felt 100% motivated, I'd rarely practice. I often feel tired or insecure or am dealing with some kind of hurdle, but if I look at practice as a way to connect with myself and my art, it's easier to begin. Oftentimes, when I overcome this initial lack of motivation, I feel happier, freer, and closer to myself after I have practiced. On days when motivation or energy are low, I approach my practice in a slow, caring, and mindful way. I begin (as I always do) with body and breath work and then approach singing very lightly, mindfully, and gently, perhaps beginning with 10-15 minutes of humming and lip trills until I feel more prepared to venture into opening up my sound more. That being said, if you feel a deep resistance in yourself to begin practicing and are feeling worse after doing so than you did when you started, I recommend taking some space. Sometimes, even taking a few days off is enough to rejuvenate the mind and the natural desire returns to practice after doing so. If this isn’t the case, that's ok too. I encourage you to trust in what your body and psyche are telling you in this season of your life and don't force yourself to do something that isn't working right now. This brings me to the next point…

  6. Take days off. I recently read about the importance of sleep and how, when we rest in this way, our body is processing and strengthening all of the knowledge we attained and things we accomplished during the day. Think of a day off of practice as sleep for your art. The muscles and skills you’re building while working on your craft, both physical or mental, are recovering and will be stronger when you return.

  7. Write, write, write. My practice log is invaluable to me! In the last year, I've written over 400 pages of observations, thoughts, realizations, and feelings about my practice. Before I begin practicing on any given day, I read my last several pages of writing to orient my practicing before I begin.

  8. Feel, feel, feel. Every practice session in which I constantly return to feeling what is happening in my body ends with a much more satisfying result than those in which I go on autopilot. Return to feeling every time you can. Especially if you are working on a musical skill, feeling is, in my experience, even more of an important and more trustworthy guide than hearing.

  9. Have a specific game plan, but be willing to deviate from it. I usually plan the exercises that I want to practice before beginning so that my practice has structure and I feel less tempted to get lost in thought, but I often end up deviating from the plan anyway. Our art forms are not the same each day and it can be stifling or unproductive to follow a strict program. I try to balance practicing planned exercises to work on specific skills with flowing with the moment and adapting. It takes some time to reach this point of intimacy with one's craft to be able to adapt in an insightful way, but I think it develops naturally with experience. 

  10. Mean well. Approach your practice in a way that is compassionate toward yourself and toward your art. If your thoughts are antagonistic, self-punishing, self-defeating, or unproductive, stop. Take some space, however much space you need, and return when you can cultivate more positive feelings toward yourself and the experience. Your humanity is the number one priority, and if you’re practicing in a way that is getting in the way of your well-being as a human, then it's time for a break to re-evaluate and find a new approach. 

I've done a lot of practicing throughout my life. 

Practicing can be truly fun, freeing, fruitful and productive, but it can, at its worst, feel like counterproductive torture!

I share these tips, not as a master of the skill, but because I've learned some important things through much trial and error.

I'm currently actively working to implement these principles in my own artistic and musical life and hope they might help you on your journey, too! 

Did any of these points particularly resonate with you? 

Am I missing something important? 

Please feel free to share a comment and thanks so much for reading!  Until next time,



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