The following post is dedicated to delayed reactions, repeated efforts, and times of percolation.
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:
You have a project or series of tasks, you divide them into digestible units, you work for a set amount of time on each unit, you break up the monotony with strategic short and long breaks, and you win. Makes sense, right?
For years of my on-again-off-again relationship with pomodoros, however, we could just never see eye to eye.
I encountered a series of difficulties that may seem familiar for anyone attempting to create successful practice result and time goals:
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.
I attribute this entirely to finding my own personal cocktail for experiencing as many flow triggers as possible in a short period of time. Of the 17 different accepted triggers (many of which are social and not applicable to individual study), this shortened and more focused pomodoro design allowed me to relate to all of the following:
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!