How Breaks Improve Focus

David Motto’s Practice Tip of the Week:
How Breaks Improve Focus

Practicing Without Breaks?

There is a myth among musicians that the best progress is made by locking yourself in a room and playing straight for two to four hours.

This is a fantasy.

Let’s take a look at reality.

First, the physical positions we put our bodies in to play most musical instruments are not exactly normal. And, singers can put a lot of strain on their throats and vocal apparatus if their technique is even a little bit off. It can be difficult or even painful to play and sing for hours on end.

Second, most people can’t concentrate for long periods of time. A high level of focus is needed for breakthroughs to happen.

If you want both to keep your focus and to stay healthy, you should take frequent breaks during practicing.

When to Take Breaks

How often should you take a break? Many teachers recommend a break after 30 minutes of playing. The truth is, there is no perfect, one-size-fits-all rule for everyone.

But, it is clear that most musicians would benefit from taking breaks far more frequently than they naturally do. I recommend deciding ahead of time how long you’ll practice before you take a break. Set a timer for that length of time and actually take the break when the timer goes off.

Don’t fall victim to the “I’ll take a break after I finish figuring out this thing I’m working on.” If that’s what you’re thinking, you’ll keep going too long and not take a break when your body needs it.

Another question: How long should a break be? Again, there is no definitive rule. A 5-minute break seems to work successfully for many musicians. Some need 10 minutes, depending on what they do during the break.

Why We Need Breaks

Breaks are important for avoiding repetitive-use injuries, back pain, and many other common afflictions. Breaks also give you an opportunity to clear your mind before moving onto another practice item. (For instance, going from technical exercises to songs.)

Breaks will definitely improve your ability to focus. For instance, if you are worrying about a voicemail or text message while playing, you are probably not at your peak practicing level. Your lack of concentration will make your practicing much less efficient.

What To Do During a Break

Here are some possible activities for your break time:

  • Drink some water so you stay hydrated and maybe even have a small snack.
  • If you’re a singer, gargle with warm salt water.
  • Stretch your muscles and walk. Some musicians even like running in place to get their heart pumping a bit faster.
  • If you have been standing, sit. This will give your feet and back a rest.
  • If you have been sitting, stand. This will let your blood circulate better.
  • If you feel hot, soak your hands in cool water. If you’re cold, soak your hands in warm water.
  • Read that text message. Quickly return a phone call. Take care of any small demand on your time so you will be able to fully concentrate on your music after your break.

When you return to the practice room after a short break, you will be focused, refreshed, and ready to learn more music!

To Your Musical Success!
David Motto

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