After a concentrated experiment to kick off the new semester, this return from my blog hiatus also marks a confident return to a practice routine. I was first introduced to the Pomodoro Technique by my colleague Dr. Brent Weber during our time together at the University of Georgia, and since then I have wrestled with an approach that made logical sense but never seemed to work for me.
In summary, the Pomodoro Technique works as follows:
For years of my on-again-off-again relationship with pomodoros, however, we could just never see eye to eye.
- Setting unspecific performance goals.
- Misjudging appropriate goal complexity for time allotted.
- Practicing angrily.
- Prioritizing practicing fast over practicing right.
- Feeling trapped by excessive boredom and restrictive timelines.
My growing experience in pedagogy helped solve the first two, and delving into mindfulness and psychology research helped with the second two, but the last one still eluded me. I was terribly bored. All the time.
So what if I tried techniques from other things that used to bore me? I turned to running, one of my favorite mind-numbingly-boring physical exercises, and the epiphany I had been seeking for years hit me square in the face. When I started getting bored running, I found ways to change my scenery more frequently. What if, instead of one passage for 25% of a practice session, I did one measure at a time for 5-10%?
One week ago, I attacked this with gusto. I photocopied all of the music I needed to perform in ten days' time and literally cut it into chunks - one measure chunks, to be exact - and I shortened my time restriction to ten minutes - shorter periods than I had used since before college. The result was magical.
I began to access a flow state multiple times per practice session. Hours slipped by without anguish. Technical tempo barriers increased exponentially and without tension. Endurance was a nonissue. I felt unstoppable.
- intensely focused attention
- clear goals
- challenge/skills ratio balance
- sense of control
- close listening
The shift in excerpt length required me to change my concept of goals from larger skills (response in the low register) to specific instances (low B overblown, but only at louder than mezzo forte and if staccato). The shift in timing increased adrenaline and anxiety (then again, so did using a giant, constantly visible timer). The best part, though, is that the process freed me from mandating perfection - when the timer goes off, work is done, if only for now.
After years of skepticism with this particular technique, I am actually shocked to finally find a permutation of duration, goals, and preparation situation that works for me, and that has sparked a great deal of curiosity. If any of you try this approach, please share... What timer duration is best for you? What types of goals? Where in your recital/audition/jury preparation cycle is this best?
With that, my writing timer is going off, and it is time for a short break. Happy (and efficient) practicing!