Teachers Hate Her! This Pianist’s One Weird Trick for Getting Back Into Practicing

(Okay, it’s not one weird trick so much as it’s a multi-part framework, but if you expect a clickbait title to be truthful, hello sweet summer child, maybe the internet is not the place for you.)

So I spent most of 2020 feeling really crappy on the practicing front (and also, on all the fronts, ICYMI we are in a whole-ass pandemic). I had bursts of forced productivity where I bullied myself into expending all my energy pounding away at music like everything was fine, followed by long stretches of burnout where I felt hopeless and uncreative and all my discipline evaporated like it had gotten dusted in the Thanos snap. My pre-pandemic practicing routine was pretty rigorous and at the start of 2021, I found myself wondering how I was going to work my way back up to that, particularly as my relationship to practicing felt overly burdened with guilt and self-loathing after many months of false starts and forced busywork.

For the past few months I’ve been working my way back into a healthy practicing routine, and making minute but definite progress, and it all is happening only because I gave myself new rules and expectations that would have horrified my pre-pandemic self and honestly may horrify you too. But they’ve been instrumental (ha) in getting me to move forward and trust myself and actually feel good about sitting down at the piano, so I’m going to share what’s worked for me. (I have already written about and been interviewed about the crappiness of maintaining a practice routine during the pandemic with no live performances to work for, so that’s all I’ll say here because this post is not about that.)

Some disclaimers before we get started: the tips and methods I detail here are what I consider “harm reduction” guidelines for practicing; they are not practice/productivity hacks, they are not how I normally operate to achieve professional-level work, and I do not endorse or recommend this with kids—this is solely an account of the framework that has helped me to drag myself forward while in the recovery stage of dealing with a protracted crisis.

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2020 in Books

Although I am, at this point, really dragging, unable to get back to any emails in a reasonable amount of time, and needing to lie down multiple times a day, I am gritting my teeth and making myself write this post, because it is February 2021 and if I don’t get around to this now, I never will.

2020 was a real [obscene hand gesture] of a year—I won’t bore you with details because, well, it communally sucked for everyone, didn’t it? If you’re interested, I wrote a whole piece over on Substack that is my best attempt at describing the suspended state of despair I think we were all in, and specifically describes the futility of making music in that state.

If you missed it, I also put together a blog post in August summarizing the things I had managed to accomplish; for the highlights of what else I was able to do after that, kindly see the press page on my website.


My reading goal in 2020 was to read more new books than I had the year before; since I finished 64 new books in 2019, my goal for 2020 was 65. I ended up blowing past that number in August, and by the end of December had finished a nice round 100. I have no idea what my reading goal is for this year, if any, since a goal of 100+ gets you into the realm of reading for the sake of reading, which goes against everything I stand for, so for now I’m just 🤷🏻‍♀️ about my reading goal for this year.

Before I get into my list, several observations I took away from a year of reading:

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A Few Updates

I logged into my blog just now to make another Twitter thread post, and checked to see when I’d last updated this blog (“It’s been a while, maybe two months?”). To my mild horror, I found that my last post was on January 8.

That was a whole era ago—a different, simpler time before a global pandemic hit a woefully unprepared America, before hundreds of thousands of people died, before several waves of panic-buying and lockdowns, before several industries (including the arts) were forced to face the threat of nonexistence, before a national-and-then-international reckoning with racial inequities and the generational legacy of violence, before massive job losses and medical equipment shortages and viral hotspots, and before countless other cracks, visible and invisible, appeared in the structure of society, and we learned that nothing is certain, and everything is frightening.

Against the backdrop of all of this, my own little life has been quietly chugging along, and 2020 has served up a truly mixed bag, career-wise: a few steps forward, a few steps GONE. Poof.

The important thing though, is that I am okay. I have a roof over my head and food in the fridge. I hope you’re okay too, and if you’re able to I hope you’re doing what you can to support others around you, whether that’s supporting a small local business, tipping delivery workers generously, or donating to food banks and mutual aid funds. (I’ve been doing my best to do all of the above.)

With that, here are some updates on what I’ve been doing this year, for those of you who still follow my blog but not social media (I know you exist! I see you!)

  • I released two recordings this year. They’re both short, sweet singles, and you should absolutely listen to them on your streaming service of choice, so I can earn a few pennies. (The links below allow you to choose your streaming service, FYI.)
  • To accompany the first release and celebrate Louise Farrenc, I put together a gender-balanced playlist featuring my new recording as well as other gorgeous pieces of solo piano Romantic music. (I still listen to it; it’s a good playlist, dammit.)
  • I did a couple of interviews in which I discuss my own musical journey, these lesser-played composers I love so much, my take on success and the music world, the Uncertain Times the music industry is in, etc.
  • I started, then stalled on, a new outlet for my writing on Substack. At the beginning of the year I gave into peer pressure joined several of my colleagues by setting up a Substack, with the intention of publishing once a month. I hit it out of the park, if I do say so myself, with my first post, a take on the double standards in classical music that set the scene for dumbest controversy ever, and was all set to keep the momentum going once a month. Then the pandemic hit the US, devastating, well, everything, and suddenly the posts I had in the can seemed tone-deaf and inappropriate. I haven’t updated since, but I think I’m ready to have another go soon.
  • I’m still writing and posting practice videos over on Patreon. This is the one platform on which I’m still posting consistently, because as it turns out, the existence of steady pay, however little, is the key to consistent output—who knew? I feel a little weird promoting it at a time when your money can do so much good going elsewhere, but if you have $5-$20 a month to spare, and want to keep up with what I’m doing, this is how I fund my recording projects. (For real, the Patreon money goes straight into a business account that is used for me to write checks to the recording studio I work with, and any expenses I pay out of it have to be justified to an accountant and the IRS, so you can rest assured that none of it goes toward my macaron addiction or scented candle collection.)
    • P.S. The reward for the top-tier support level—$20 a month—is that I send you mail once a month, and this has become one of my favorite activities in lockdown: writing letters/cards, decorating the envelopes, picking out my favorite stamps. Cannot recommend highly enough how soothing of an activity this is in a time of isolation.
  • I updated my website (finally) to reflect the projects I’ve done and the platforms I’m on. My website at the beginning of the year had no place for me to show the recording or writing I’ve been doing, or the places I’ve been mentioned/featured/promoted. I overhauled it and it now has all these handy pages (recordings! press! writing! a whole page just for social media!) where the stuff I’m listing in this blog post actually has an official home.
  • I started some hobby accounts just for myself. As my personal social media accounts have started tilting in the direction of being semi-professional, I’ve felt weirdly self-conscious about spamming Twitter and Instagram with random things I love. So I created an Instagram account to log my 2020 reading where I write a little mini-review of every new book I finish, and, in classic Millennial fashion, an Instagram for my cat. (Oh yeah, I got a cat. She’s the best quarantine buddy in the world.)

That’s it for now, folks. 2020 is not the year I planned for, but I’m still proud of the things I’ve been able to do, and it’s a privilege to have any accomplishments at all and to share them with you. I hope you’re okay, in whatever way “okay” means to you. Stay safe, wear a mask, and thanks for being here.