Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The importance of a positive routine in the lives of musicians - Faculty Post - Dr. Virginia Croskery

This week's blogpost comes from Assistant Professor of Voice, Dr. Virginia Croskery

“Routine” has a negative connotation in our society, but when it comes to a career in music, it can be a godsend. None of us want our lives to feel like a “routine,” adding a little routine to our practice regimen and daily schedule will promote progress and good health.

Humans are “circadian” creatures; that is we are programmed to function 24 hour cycles, during which we take our meals, do our daily tasks and sleep on a prescribed schedule. Keeping some regularity to our daily schedule is essential for optimum health and mental function.
Check out the National Institute of Health’s website on Circadian Rhythms at

This can be a tough lesson for college students, who tend to have a different daily schedule every day. They might go to bed at midnight one night, 2 a.m. the next and take a 4 hour nap at noon. With such an erratic sleep schedule, they always feel tired! Trying to learn new facts and concepts when you are tired is a losing battle. The brain just doesn’t function well when it is sleep deprived. Students would be well advised to keep a more routine sleep schedule. Of course, they will stray on occasion, but a sleep routine will help your grades! In fact, most research shows that “cramming” for an exam doesn’t help, but a good night’s sleep does!

Students also make the mistake of eating an unhealthy diet. Have you ever noticed that you get indigestion when you eat foods that are either “different” or “greasy?” We become accustomed to foods that we are familiar with and find them to be “comforting.” What do you like to eat when you are sick? Probably something that mom made when you were young. If you grew up in India it might be some kind of curry, but chances are, if you grew up in Iowa it is something familiar to Americans, like macaroni and cheese! It is always wonderful to try new things, but when we stray too far from our personal norm, the body often revolts! Students should consider what foods they eat and when they eat them. That 3 a.m. pizza might come back to haunt you.

Perhaps nothing is more important to the performing success of a musician than a practice routine. Playing an instrument or singing is a skill of “muscle memory.” If you instill the correct muscle memory for playing your instrument or singing into your body, then you can relax during a performance and enjoy creating music. No one wants to worry about the basics of rhythm, pitch and production during a performance. Once the audience is there, we should be creating a musical presentation. That can only be accomplished if the basics are solid in our muscle memory. There is unfortunately no shortcut for muscle memory. Only repetition can instill muscle memory. That means daily practice! Read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, about the “10,000 hours of practice” necessary to become a master. Tiger Wood started hitting the golf ball at age two. We can’t relive our past, but we can start working on our 10,000 hours now. “Routine” can be your best friend!

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