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Staying Focused on the Bigger Picture


It's been a while since I last wrote a blog and many big changes have happened since then in my life and music. However the thing I want to write about is some thoughts that have been thrown into sharp focus since I started learning the harp last October.

I believe one of the most difficult things about being a musician is finding the motivation to practise every day, even though you don't see a visible short term improvement. It's easy to get enthusiastic about learning a new instrument because the improvement IS visible daily, especially when you're already a musician and have the ear and knowledge to fast-track your progress. But you soon reach a point where the curve levels out and development seems to get slower and slower.

It's hard to look at the bigger picture. A typical example of this is when I wake up after an 8 hour sleep and wonder why I'm tired. What I haven't taken into account is the fact that I've just been on tour, sleeping on average 4 hours a night and drinking too much. The reason is obvious, but this is a standard example of how I think. It's easy to forget even a few days into the past, and it's easy to be just as short-sighted about the future. As an adult, especially as a musician where the lifestyle is often hand-to-mouth, it's easy to get sidetracked by survival, and have short-term priorities take over longer-term ones. It's important to take time to step back and try to work out how to best structure your day-to-day plans to build towards bigger goals. With the typically chaotic routine of a musician, I get lost if I don't take time to refocus weekly.

My mum is a head teacher with the responsibility of overseeing children's learning timetables and coordinating the subjects they have to improve on. This involves an idea of how much to do in a session, how many repetitions per week to best maximise learning, and how often to retouch on these subjects in a longer-term period to make sure it isn't forgotten after the initial short-term goals are achieved. Improvement is a slow build over daily repetition. When you're an adult, it's easy to forget that any of this matters, but I am trying to incorporate this mentality into my progress as a musician.

An important addition to this is taking time out. I've never been very good at downtime, but exercising, taking the time to eat well and getting enough sleep are essential to mental development. Also talking to other people - as quite an insular person, it's easy to disregard this too, but it's vital for gaining perspective, growing ideas and minimising irrational worries.

Another thing that is becoming more and more apparent to me is this: being busy is overrated! Often, especially when I'm broke, I judge my productivity by the standards of a normal 9-5, which is insane, because my routine is completely removed from a normal 9-5. Something I'm working on is doing less but taking the time out to make what I do really count. Working 1 hour when I'm on form is more useful than working 3 when I'm feeling drained. Allowing large blocks of time to be creative is also important as working within the structure of a time limit is stifling and it's the creative stuff like songwriting that directly influences the big picture.

This might all seem pretty obvious, but it's surprising how quickly it can be forgotten when you're stuck in your own brain. It's easier when the issue is external - for example, if you were sat on the couch eating junk food for months, you wouldn't expect to be running 10 miles within the following week. If you have a wrist injury, it's important to wait until it's completely healed before you use it again. It's harder to apply the same logic to your brain because there is less awareness of these issues and it's harder to step outside of yourself and see it.

These are all thoughts that have been prevalent over the last few weeks and important enough for me to condense and share after almost a year's hiatus of blog writing. I hope it strikes a chord with some of you too.


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