3 Ways to Practice Your Instrument While Parenting

Photo by LaVladina.

Joanna Newsom’s hands. Photo by LaVladina.

Last week I participated in a workshop with my local American Harp Society Chapter. One colleague with two children asked me, “How do you do it? How do you find the time to practice? I can’t get anything done!”

Well, it was flattering to think for a few seconds that I have answers, because I remember asking other musicians this same thing when I was a new parent! Responses ranged from useful to irreverent, but I do have a couple of thoughts on how to reconnect to your instrument post-baby.

Here’s a few tips from me and advice I compiled from some other mama musicians.

1. Get your hands on your instrument every day.

It doesn’t have to be a long session, so long as you commit to the practice. Teaching students counts, especially if you actually play alongside them. The point is to make sure you’re still touching your instrument and connecting with it daily as well as tuning and taking care of your instrument. Lack of either of these will only make the reconnection/practice process more and more difficult. So, just commit to a time, no matter how small. If 10 minutes is all you have at first, so be it. It’s a start!

2. Get your kid used to you practicing and rehearsing.

If music is something you want to have in your life, your child will have to blend into this lifestyle, not be separate from it. Eventually, they will adjust. This too may start with small steps, and it may also involve your parental discretion. Obviously, not every situation allows having a child at your side (and it also depends upon what style of music you play).

What doesn’t work: I have never taken my small child to a black box theater rehearsal, situations with a conductor, or rehearsals with lighting cues; there are too many people, distractions and chances for utter meltdown in these situations. With a meltdown in a theater I’d be stuck in an awkward, unprofessional situation to say the least. So, I don’t even try.

What can work: I’ve had success with informal rehearsals in the home, intimate rooms, and brief pre-show sound checks. Perhaps I am quite lucky in that my Seattle music community is like a family to me in so many ways. I am grateful to work with very understanding artists, many of whom have raised kids or work with children, so if I need to focus one-on-one with a musician, another player can have a break in the kitchen with my kid eating grapes and dancing. Many people love kid energy, regardless of the risk of sudden tears. And who doesn’t love a snack break?

This leads me to my next point.

3. Have your kid’s favorite snacks handy.

I once got through an hour of very hard chamber music with minimal interruptions on a supply of toddler-sized strawberries and graham crackers. Prepare the snacks ahead of time and you’re set!

Are there any other tricks you’ve learned to help you practice while raising kids? Let me know in the comments!
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Monica Schley

About Monica Schley

Monica Schley is a musician & poet living in Seattle, Washington. Her poetry has appeared in Burnside Review, Cranky, Cream City Review, Seattle’s Poetry on Buses and KNOCK. Her poetry chapbook “Black Eden: Nocturnes” (Pudding House Press) was published in 2010. As a classically trained harpist, she steadily works on recording, teaching, playing private events and public shows. She has performed with jazz luminaries, pop stars and indie rockers. She sings and composes for her band The Daphnes and she’s also a Certified Clinical Musician.

1 Comment

  1. Elene Gusch, DOM on December 15, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    I don’t remember whether we ever tried the strawberries and graham crackers, but the “get your kid used to you practicing” certainly worked with our daughter. When she was an infant she sat propped up in her hammock thingy (what were those called??) and watched me practice. A little later she was playing with her own toy drums, and a little later than that, spending hours singing and improvising on the synthesizer. Playing instruments was just a normal thing that we all did and she knew it was important and didn’t try to keep her parents from it. She was in band through school and is playing gigs now.

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