300+ Days of Practice!

Priya and Nayantara’s 100 (300) Days of Practice!
October 23, 2019
Kian Chong, Violin faculty HKSMI

Accomplished Musicians, Olympic athletes, master chefs, and people who excel in their fields have one thing in common; practice. Why do we practice? For musicians, the repetitive act builds muscle memory; playing an instrument is a physical act, it requires one to discern movements in space (and time!). Through repetitions during practice, we learn to refine and hone our skills which eventually leads to mastery of new techniques. We practice so that we can retain new materials or exercises that are taught in the recent lesson, so that we are ready for the next lesson. We practice to maintain old pieces that have been polished in the past, to refresh the aural and muscular memories. The list goes on!

The hashtag 100 days of practice (#100days) originates from the visual art community on the social media platform, Instagram, where artists would share a photo of their work in progress, for a hundred consecutive days. The concertising soloist, Hilary Hahn, who has undertaken several 100 days of practice projects remarked, “You don’t have to worry about the result; it doesn’t have to be in great shape. You can show working on the same piece of art—you do a little bit of coloring one day, you spend 100 days on the same thing, or you could do sketches every day”.

Many other musicians and music students around the world have followed suit. One happens to be the Sinha family (mother, Priya and daughter, Nayantara) who has been studying violin at our school! Inspired by the global movement on Instagram, the mother-daughter team embarked on their first 100 days in January 2019. As a recognition to this wonderful endeavour, we did an interview on their journey. You can listen to it on https://soundcloud.com/user-14495260 where Priya shares with us her challenges, strategies, and tips to make practice easier.

The duo has since then completed not one, but two cycles of 100 days of practice! I caught up with Priya recently to check in on their latest development.

300 days Q &A!
Q: Did practicing get easier?
A: The first 100 days were a lot of begging, but 50 days in she realized this is what we do together. She understands that she has to do the practice anyways. Weekdays are easy because we practice 15 minutes before school. On weekends, we could play up to 45 minutes sometimes! We incorporate tiny decisions (an app for decision making). She enjoys playing in different places, during our travels we played at the airport while waiting!

Q: What changes have you observed in Nayantara’s playing and character?
A: She is more resilient, she gets excited by the music. She does sound much better than she was in December. She would go around the house to find people to play to, and she even plays for the neighbors. In fact the neighbor is so inspired, they started taking lessons here (HKSMI)!

Q: What motivates you to keep going?
A: Nayantara. it has become part of my routine as well. I want to help her to the point where she’ll be able to handle her own practice, but she is not old enough to do that now. Until then, we do it together. It’s part of our household routine also, it is not a chore as we have been doing this (the 100 days practice) for a year already.

Q: What motivates Nayantara to keep going?
A: She likes listening to older students play, upcoming pieces excite her. The sense of achievement and knowing that when she achieves 300 days, she’ll spend a day with me at Disneyland (Disneyland was my idea). We are currently aiming for 400 days, at the end she gets to decide what to do.

Q:Do you have a revised structure for practice now, or the existing structure is adequate for the current level?
A: The current structure (warm up, current pieces, and preview) works but I update the pieces accordingly. E.g. replacing Monkey song with scales and arpeggios.
We end with what we know really well. On school days, we will play for 15 minutes and then pick a piece to play three times; one of which we will make a recording. Sometimes three becomes five because she wants to play better!
One point lesson helps me focus as well.
I try to remember everything but it is not easy. At the beginning (early book 1) it was easy because we were working on postures and such but now that her pieces are getting longer, I need to check with the lesson notes to make sure I know what to focus on!

Q: Did it build habits?
A: Yes!

Mr. Kian’s reflections:
As Nayantara’s violin teacher, I have witnessed a sense of empowerment in her. She comes to lesson every week eager to tell me how far into the project she is, her enthusiasm has never been higher. Her playing tone has seen(heard) marked improvement. Among all these positive observations, one that stands out to me is her resilience towards failure. Nayantara has grown to embrace mistakes more openly, she is more receptive to suggestions and doing multiple repetitions. Our lessons run very smoothly as there is no meltdown, Nayantara would sometimes come up with suggestions on what to do next without prompting!

Here are some tips and advice to help you start your very own practice project!
Plan practice time in your child’s schedule.
Less is more! Start by doing 5-10 minutes EVERY DAY and slowly work up to longer sessions. (Varies by age, level, and maturity)
Make practice earlier in the day if possible.
Have a structure! Use your lesson notes, and keep track of what you are doing.
Build accountability by telling friends and family about your practice project and actually commit to doing it!
Don’t forget to acknowledge the efforts (occasional ice-cream treat, an afternoon at the park, mother-daughter only tea time etc)
Use visual reminder such as chart and stickers.
Play for your friends/ neighbours.
One point practice!