As a teacher that is constantly explaining to parents and students the importance of daily practice many are surprised when I say to a break. This is not advice I would give to a new student or a student that does not practice enough but only for advanced students that work and are playing hours a day. For this type of student taking short breaks (one or two days) from their practice is beneficial.
It is important to teach every student to listen to their body and playing to know when they should be taking a break. Teachers should also be keenly aware of how their students are doing so they can tell the students to break when necessary. The following are few reasons and benefits of taking a break.
- Recovery– Just like athletes take breaks from workout routines to give their muscles time to heal, musicians must take time away from their instruments to do the same. Although musicians do not need to break as often as athletes the muscles musicians use need rest as well. This is good advice for students that are reaching a plateau in their playing. At a certain point when a hard-working student has pushed themselves too far you will notice the student not improving or degenerating in their ability. This is a perfect time for the student to take a step back and reflect. In my experience often the student will come back much improved.
- Injury Prevention and Healing – Musicians will often suffer injuries do to repetitive use and/or poor posture. Unfortunately, many have caused great harm in pushing past their pain, exasperating the situation. In this instance, the student must be ready to take a longer break to heal and follow doctors’ orders if necessary. Teacher and student should take time to evaluate the cause of the injury and remedy it. Although daily practice is necessary, too much practice can cause injury especially if a student is practicing incorrectly.
Another type of injury are accidents such as cuts, sprains, or broken bones. Obviously if a bone is broken the student is not going to practice, however often overlooked are small cuts, splinters, or burns that need to be fully healed before playing. Playing with a cut on a fingertip will not allow that wound to heal and can lead to infection that will possibly keep that student from playing longer than if they had just taken a break in the first place.
- Mental Break (Burn out prevention) – Burn out is real and it is something teachers need to be aware of. Even though students may be in love with their instruments and music it doesn’t mean they cannot burn out on it. At my school, we have students that perform in their middle and high schools, take private lessons, and are in their own ensembles which gig regularly, and participate in competitions and festivals. All this leads to many young students playing for many hours a day with a lot expected of them. Although this is good experience for those wanting to play music professionally or go to college for music it is very unhealthy if the student is reaching the point of burning out before they are out of high school.
For these students a break can be very helpful in restoring the love they have for music and it gives their minds time to rest so they can take on their music with renewed vigor or ideas. For this type of student, a complete break from practicing may not be necessary. Exploring new styles or technique and breaking from their standard rep or playing might be just as good as taking break.
So, I encourage you to take a good look around your studios and honestly assess which students might be due for a change of pace or a short break. Summer is a great time to mix things up with new repertoire or relax the tempo of your lessons if that’s needed. Refreshment really should be a standard part of curriculum, integrated every so often to spur creativity and teach balance and pacing for the lifelong enjoyment of music!