It's a new day, and to update my readers, I'm feeling much better lately. I have some doctor's appointments coming up and I will be asking some important questions regarding my current medications. I'm hoping I will get some answers.
Now, onto the real post:
Burnout can strike at any time. I’ve seen it all in my own endeavors; I’ve been burned out after sightreading any given piece, or right when I’m walking on stage to compete, or two weeks away from whatever orchestral audition I’m planning on taking.
The latter is where I am right now.
I love orchestral music. I love playing in an orchestra; it’s where I feel the most comfortable. I’m learning to embrace the audition process in order to play to my full potential, but some days I’d like to set my excerpts on fire and never look back.
In fact, my cats would probably thank me if I did. Sorry, babies…can’t do that.
However, I’m straying from the point of this post…today, I want to discuss the multiple ways you can fight burnout through boosting your unique, individual sense of creativity…as well as some obvious ideas that you may not have thought of before.
A music career is one driven by passion as opposed to making ourselves financially comfortable, so when the urge to quit (momentarily or permanently) strikes, we have a difficult time dealing with it. We identify with our career, instead of with who we are as individuals.
And that, my dear readers, allows us to segue to what you really came for:
Get a Hobby
Seriously, guys. The “music is my life” mantra should have died with your high school emo self. (Admittedly, I still listen to My Chemical Romance for nostalgia’s sake. No shame.)
Music is your career now. That means, like any other career, it’s okay to take a night off and take some time away, no matter where you are in your preparation. Lately for me, this means Netflix and couch with a cat on my lap.
If you’ve read up until this point and you’re thinking, “well, I really don’t have a hobby”, you need to do some soul searching. You will be much more well-adjusted with a hobby outside of music.
…then again, the concept of a “well-adjusted” musician is pretty humorous.
Metaphorically and literally.
First, this involves physically putting your flute on its stand (or putting it away) and resolving NOT to touch it. If you’re anything like me, I have a very hard time with this, because my brain is convinced that one more attempt to run through that godforsaken Mendelssohn Scherzo will be the final attempt.
NEWSFLASH: it never is.
Second, now would be the time to either leave your practice room and go for a walk, or feed your Facebook/Instagram addiction and spend some time scrolling on your phone. There is nothing better than finding a particularly funny meme to take your mind off of your frustrations.
This is actually a technique that comes from my husband’s dystonia therapy. Fingers giving you trouble? Altering your rhythms/articulations isn’t helping one bit? Go play another instrument (NOT your piccolo) or a video game.
Dystonia patients use this technique to build new neurological pathways in their brain, to help lessen the effects of their paralysis. Essentially, building these new circuits increases the ability to learn/re-learn. For those who don’t suffer from this condition, this is a great way to increase dexterity. You will find that upon returning to your flute, you will have greater ease of motion and you are more relaxed.
Disclaimer: if you feel you are developing symptoms of focal dystonia, please seek professional help. However, at the same time, do NOT go looking for this condition.
Can’t bring yourself to step away from your instrument? No problem. Here are some ways you can beat burnout without putting your flute down:
Sightread (even if you hate it)
Sightreading is a skill we should all be practicing. Yes, you can practice it! Let me count the ways…
Yes, I know the audition is two weeks away, but it’s okay to take a break from whatever you’re working so hard on to play something you enjoy! This method works best for me when I feel like I’m analyzing my excerpts so much that I have forgotten how the music is really supposed to sound. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the nitpicking, technical aspects of excerpts (or other repertoire) and forget how to be musical. I personally love playing pieces out of the Flute Music by French Composers book or one of the Telemann 12 Fantasies to get my creative juices flowing.
Change Your Warmup Routine
If you know you’re beginning to get burned out, get ahead of it and start your practice days by switching things up right away. Routine is great, but you don’t need to play the same exercises day in and day out.
I like to begin most of my days by playing through one of the Reichert or Maquarre exercises, slowly and musically. I push and pull any notes of my choosing, trying to come up with new ways to make these exercises sound as melodious as possible with the best sound I can muster. Once I complete a set of exercises, I launch into my long tones.
It’s no secret that I hate long tones.
So, I like to play my long tones differently every day, depending on my mood.
Some days, I’ll stick with the traditional setup. B natural above the staff, slurred down a half step to B flat, sans vibrato. Repeat with vibrato.
Other days, I’ll skip the repeat and play the first note without vibrato, and the second note with vibrato.
From there, I vary it by playing three descending notes instead of two, or I will change my pattern to one consisting of two groups of descending half steps (B, B-flat, C, B). This is a great exercise not only for warming up sound and vibrato, but for warming up your tone colors as well.
It’s easy to get burned out, but it’s also easy to recover from. It doesn’t mean you don’t love what you do, or that you aren’t dedicated. It means that you need to give yourself a break. Your physical and mental health is just as important as your musical health!