The spring semester has come to a close. The final performance assessments or juries are completed. The recitals and concerts are complete. There is a sense of relief or pressure that is lifted. It is a moment to pause and answer the question, “What’s next?”
For some, it is easy. There is a recital on the near horizon in the next semester, and the repertoire is mostly (if not entirely) determined. Now is the time to prepare and meet that goal and be ready for that performance. For others, that question is answered for them by a repertoire list given to them by a teacher. Still others, have some choices to make on their own as to repertoire.
But, let’s get past simple repertoire planning and ask that same question, “What’s next?” There is so much more to practice than learning repertoire. What do you really want to accomplish? Are you growing musically? Technically? Do you find yourself expressing better than at this time last year? What might you do next that would really help you grow as a musician?
I think that every single one of us would like to answer that question in a way that shows some significant growth. The average student finishes up the spring semester and has approximately three months until school resumes in the fall. That is three months, or just over ninety days, 2,160 hours, or 129,600 minutes. How will you invest it? Let’s imagine for a moment that you could invest one hour each of those ninety days for practice. One hour of practice per day certainly doesn’t sound like much for an advanced musician, but imagine for a moment, that was the time you had to invest. How would you use it? How would you determine what’s next?
From your very first music lesson, this question was answered for you. You went to a lesson, and you were given an assignment for the week ahead. You were told what’s next. Then, each week, you’d prepare the lesson and depending on how you were progressing, your teacher created an assignment telling you what’s next.
As we advance and become more mature, that decision-making of what’s next begins to fall on us. And that is where asking “What’s next?” begins to be so important. We can make great progress when our teacher helps us to know what’s next in a weekly lesson. Think of the progress if we asked that question every single time we practice and decisively and purposefully set a path to accomplish our goals one step at a time. Even if you do not get to meet with your regular instructor for the entire summer, having a organized method of asking “What’s Next?” can help one to progress in a way that will impress, even shock those who hear us at the end of the summer.
The very best way I know of to be disciplined and purposeful in planning what’s next is through a simple practice journal. Practice journaling is the simple step of writing down thoughts, goals, and plans (the “what’s next”) after each and every practice time. In reality, you give yourself a lesson. Rather than waiting for the “what’s next” one week at a time, one makes great progress when you demand a “what’s next” after each and every practice session. Set goals, make plans, list specific sections and how it should be practiced or worked through. Challenge yourself with your practice journal. Then, each day use it as your gameplan for that practice session. Occasionally, look back and be encouraged as you see the progress that is being made.
Beginning the summer with a practice journal, asking the question, “What’s next?” each day, and faithfully completing your own personal assignments will guarantee that you will come back in the fall as a better musician. We are at the beginning of the summer journey right now. Give it a try, and see if you can notice a difference in your own musicianship and playing.