The current pandemic has thrust the global population into a period of uncertainty unrivaled in recent history. Music students at universities around the world are being forced to abandon the structure that has helped to frame their success and are now required to adapt their habits to fit the new realities that accompany distance learning and social distancing. While much of the conversation surrounding music students has been largely focused on the loss of milestone events such as concerts, recitals, and graduations, one factor that has been largely overlooked is the continpracticing pianouation of a focused and productive practice routine among all students upon the unexpected return to their home environment.

Challenges to home practice

Many college music majors that have recently returned to their homes are having difficulties engaging in focused and productive practice. Either 1) the environment creates barriers to productive practice (distractions are prevalent, other family members are working, neighbors could be disrupted, etc.) or 2) there is a “mental block” that makes productive practicing difficult.

“A Fish Doesn’t Know That It’s in Water,” and music school is a large tank that immerses its fish in an environment where everyone is swimming in the same direction, engaged in familiar routines, and sharing similar cares and concerns. The “water at home” is different. There are fewer fish in a smaller tank, all swimming in different directions and at different speeds. Students are used to being inspired by one another and have learned how to survive (i.e – develop habits) from observing the older/bigger fish in their environment. Placement in an old tank can easily result in reversion back to old defaults. These habits worked during an earlier stage of development (there’s a reason they were accepted to music school!), however the new default likely involves additional time and focus that doesn’t necessarily vibe with the home environment.

While everyone in the “home tank” cares deeply for one another, they are also dealing with massive disruptions to their own ecosystems and are struggling in unique ways during a time of extreme uncertainty. Acknowledging that everyone is dealing with a “new tank” is important for all to recognize (professors included!), and it will be important to provide students with supports that are needed in order to deal with their specific situations.

Swimming in “new tanks”

As students continue to look for ways to adapt, it’s important to remember that technology can bring our home tanks closer together than ever before.

  • Reach out to friends and instructors for help through the development of an accountability group. These support systems work in other areas of life and can certainly help you navigate these waters!
  • Join a Facebook group (or start one!) for students at your institution that are looking for connection and support.
  • YOUnison is a group focused on peer-to-peer support, and chances are that your own school would welcome a Virtual Practice Room with open arms!
  • Focus on smaller intervals and achieving consistency. You might not be able to practice for 6 hours a day any longer, but you can re-evaluate and refine your routine into something that is manageable given your situation. (“Don’t break the chain” (Seinfeld) –