Endurance Training for COVID-19

Endurance Training for COVID-19

Written for Allegro magazine, official journal of AFM Local 802 NYC.
Greetings, musicians, from a safe social distance! Even though we are many months into the pandemic, it is not even close to being over. We are still being swamped by the first wave of Covid-19 cases which we are told will be followed by a second wave. That will bring continued uncertainty and more unwelcome changes. It is no longer a quick sprint to take care of immediate emergencies and end new disruptions. The pandemic has become more like a marathon with a long way to go. It is time to focus on resilience, perseverance, and endurance. We will make it through to the other side of the tragedy no matter what it takes.
Endurance is the ability to sustain prolonged physical and mental effort in adverse circumstances. It requires enough stamina to exert a high amount of energy and mental strength over extended periods of time. It takes a tremendous amount of willpower to resist the temptation to give up and quit the fight. You need to constantly bounce back and recover after setbacks with the likelihood of even more unfortunate events in the future.
Unfortunately, due to the tragic events over the past months, you are probably not starting this marathon feeling fresh or well-rested. You may already be feeling physically and mentally exhausted. The future might not look very bright in your mind, and it is likely to get worse before it starts to get better. However, that may actually help your approach to the situation and your ability to resolve it successfully.
None of us have ever been through anything like this before. The best I can offer is one of the hard- learned discoveries from my military training. It is not the same as what musicians are dealing with during this protracted struggle, but I learned that endurance is what keeps us moving when we feel completely depleted.
In the first week of Army Ranger school, we started every day at O-dark-thirty before first light. As soon as we were assembled outside, we began the infamous Darby Queen obstacle course. It was a grueling series of challenging obstacles through woods and rolling terrain with cadre members shouting “encouragement” all along the way.
The course started with a 200 meter run, then scaling a 6 foot high wall, followed by a 20 foot rope climb. Then came the “worm pit”, a shallow, muddy pool of water 25 meters long covered by knee high barbed wire. The Rangers needed to crawl through the pit twice, once on their stomachs and the next on their backs. Then came 25 meters of horizontal ladders, and climbing up and over vertical logs and cargo netting. Finally, there were a series of very high obstacles to negotiate, including the skyscraper which might have been 10 meters high. I thought the skyscraper was really scary, and I was a platform diver who had just completed five jumps during paratrooper training!
Each day as soon as we finished the course, still covered in mud and sweat, we picked up our M16 rifles and began a run while singing a cadence call, ”I wanna be an airborne ranger, I wanna live a life of danger…here we go, all the way, every day!” The first day’s run was one mile. I was never a good or fast runner. I was a diver. I hated to run, especially in wet and heavy combat boots while singing cadence. The second day after the Darby Queen, it was a 2 mile run. Then they added one more mile every day until Friday we had a 5 mile run. I didn’t know if I could do it, I just knew that I had to finish.
In Ranger School, if you drop out of any activity, like one of the runs, or the 12-mile forced march, or if you fail to negotiate any obstacle in the Darby Queen, you are out of the program immediately. There are no excuses and no second chances. For commissioned officers, it would mean the end of an upwardly mobile career. You would never rise above the rank of major, or ever become a colonel or general.
On the final 5 mile run, every one of us was just hoping we could make it. When we got about a mile from the finish, we could see the barracks and sense light at the end of the tunnel. For the first time in my life, I felt myself getting a second wind. I had my sights set on the finish line, and I believed that I would actually make it there.
When we made it, a new cadre came out to replace those who ran with us. They started shouting, “Are you guys really tough?” We yelled, “Yeah, we’re tough!” They told us to put our rifles over our heads and start running in place. “You’re not tough, you’re a bunch of wimps. You’re not Ranger tough.” We screamed, “Yeah, we’re Ranger tough!” They shouted, “You think that you Rangers are tough enough to do it again?” We said, “Yeah, we’re Ranger tough, let’s go again!! Wait…No! Are you kidding?” They were not kidding.
With no time to recover, we headed down the road for another five mile run. Within minutes, guys started dropping like flies. By the end of the first mile, even more troops were falling to the side of the road, never to be seen again. I’m not sure what happened after that. I can’t remember anything besides the final mile of that run. That was when I found something inside of me I’d never known was ever there. I discovered strength within to persevere to the end and to triumph over any external situation, no matter what the circumstances.
Since then, I fortunately have not had to tap into that amazing resource, at least until recently. This pandemic is an awful trial, but it offers us an ideal time to get in touch with our willpower and resilience. I know that the power to endure, persevere, and triumph over adversity is within each of us. You need to successfully ride this wave out and then power through the next one. Stay positive, but anticipate potential future setbacks with contingency plans. Pace yourself for the long haul. Stay in touch with your good friends and loved ones. Get plenty of sleep and rest. Hydrate to the max. Get plenty of sunshine and fresh air. Strive for excellence daily, I know that you can do that. Stay safe and be well.
Neurochemicals and Musicians

Neurochemicals and Musicians

As you are well aware, the pandemic and chaos hit all of us hard many months ago, especially musicians in New York. That was followed by shock and denial, anger, negotiating, depression, and finally acceptance of the tragic event. I sincerely hope that you have come to terms in reaching a functional level of acceptance with the continuing disaster.

As a result of the conditions that you have experienced during your grieving process, and the continuing stress, there are several chemicals circulating in your nervous system that can cause real damage. These neurochemicals are adrenalin (released immediately into your bloodstream with the initial shock), then norepinephrine (supplied over the next few days or even weeks), and finally cortisol (due to the protracted uncertainty, problems, and worry associated with the pandemic).

If left to remain floating through your body and brain, the three stress neurochemicals can lead to serious problems. These include a variety of physical ailments (high blood pressure, suppressed immune system, obesity), coordination difficulties, insomnia, low energy, decreased libido, irritability, inability to focus, impaired cognitive functioning, increased doubt, anxiety, and depression.

Fortunately, there are four neurochemicals which can counteract the stress chemicals and their potentially damaging effects. The happy substances are serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. They all counteract the negative effects of the high levels of stress that you have endured for so many months without an end in sight.

Serotonin comes from the pleasure/reward center in the brain. It is released into your nervous system by sunlight, fresh air, walks in nature, sensory pleasure, fun activities, completing challenging projects, being grateful, and listening to your favorite music. When it is triggered, serotonin reduces anxiety levels while providing feelings of contentment, euphoria, and bliss.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released whenever you expect to have a pleasurable experience or receive a desired reward. It is triggered with the anticipation of your favorite foods or enjoyable activities, as well as feeling respected or appreciated. It is also released when you are fully engaged in highly challenging tasks that require your total attention. Dopamine makes you feel alert, focused, and happy.

Oxytocin is known as the love hormone. It is secreted by the pituitary gland in response to physical affection, pleasurable activities, massage, close personal connections with friends and loved ones, being admired, falling in love/being in love, and loving who you are and what you do. Oxytocin causes a surge of positive emotions, such as feelings of joy and happiness.

Endorphins are produced as a response to pain, discomfort, or vigorous and extended aerobic exercise. Endorphins activate the opiate receptors in the brain, causing analgesic effects, as well as reducing anxiety, while increasing one’s level of self esteem, and providing an overall sense of well-being. Endorphins are partly responsible for the feeling of euphoria after a long physical workout or a deep tissue massage. Certain scents in candles or essential oils, especially vanilla and lavender, can trigger endorphins. Three small squares of dark chocolate, especially if it’s more than 70 percent cocoa, send endorphins right into the bloodstream.

If the weather permits, I suggest you take a daily walk where you are surrounded by nature, like in Central Park or Prospect Park. Studies have shown that walking among trees significantly lowers blood pressure, anxiety, and stress levels. In Japan, it is known as “shinrin-yoku” or forest bathing.

Taking a walk in nature replenishes the body’s cells with negative ions. When our cells are healthy, they are charged with more negative ions than positive. The positive ions have unpaired or insufficient electrons, so they carry a positive charge. These positive ions are known as free radicals. They steal electrons from healthy cells. This causes cell damage and affects our immune systems, emotions, energy, cognitive functioning, and coordinated movements.

It is imperative to keep your sense of humor in order to cope with the extra stress caused by Covid-19. You may not find it easy to laugh right now, but this is important. Laughing will help to get you past the negative emotions, stress chemicals, and their potentially damaging effects. Norman Cousins experienced the healing power of laughter.

Cousins was the Editor in Chief of the Saturday Review for more than 30 years. In 1964, when Cousins was 49, he was diagnosed with a rare disease that aggressively attacked the connective tissue in the spine, causing extreme pain. His doctors told Cousins that he should get his affairs in order since he didn’t have much time left.

Soon after the diagnosis, Cousins checked out of the hospital against doctor’s orders. He stopped all medication, including the 38 aspirin and injections of Phenylbutazone (a powerful horse tranquilizer) that he’d received daily at the hospital. His recovery plan included high doses of Vitamin C, an optimistic attitude, and daily laughter.

Cousins began watching comedy movies like the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and funny TV programs like Candid Camera. He spent time roaring with laughter, sometimes until his stomach hurt. He soon found that ten minutes of induced, hearty laughter could give him two hours of uninterrupted, deep sleep without any pain for the first time since he left the hospital.


Cousins eventually made a near full recovery from the “incurable disease”. He went on to establish a department at the UCLA Medical School to investigate the connection between healing and humor. He died at 75 from heart failure, 26 years after the initial diagnosis of his spinal condition. He said, “Of all the gifts bestowed on human beings, hearty laughter must be close to the top.”

In 1995, Dr. Madan Kataria developed Laughter Yoga to help patients heal from a variety of disorders. The practice involves creating laughter by doing a series of exercises with fellow chucklers. Deliberate laughter is part of their daily routine. Dr. Kataria found that even fake laughter has healing power but honest belly laughter is even better.

I recommend that you figure out what will make you laugh out loud for several minutes every day. Consider late night TV monologues, funny videos, social media, and streaming services. What does it take to make you laugh out loud?

The idea is to strive to be happy to get you through these challenging times. Whatever helps get you in a good mood and in a positive state of mind will help you deal with the continuing stress. Hydrate to the max to flush the stress chemicals out of your system, listen to your favorite music, get plenty of sleep and rest, have some dark chocolate, take a walk in nature, get some happy neurochemicals into your system, count your blessings, and laugh out loud.

Developing Your Creative Abilities During the Pandemic

Developing Your Creative Abilities During the Pandemic

During these challenging times, you probably have more free time on your hands than you are accustomed to as a musician and creative artist. This may be a great time for you to explore different creative modalities or other mediums of expression. These could enhance your ability to hear new approaches as you play, compose, or arrange.

We can learn many helpful lessons about creativity from Leonardo Da Vinci. He was mostly self-taught after working with his one teacher, Andrea del Verrocchio, when he was an apprentice. Leonardo was highly creative and ventured into many disciplines including sculpting, painting, anatomy, architecture, engineering, and aeronautics. His creative genius was the result of his strong will, imagination, patience, and ability to think differently from everyone else. Da Vinci had a childlike sense of wonder, awe, and relentless curiosity about the world around him. He was able to envision things that did not yet exist.

In order to increase your creativity and be more like Da Vinci, allow yourself time to daydream with no fixed agenda or time limit. Be open to a spectrum of ideas and a meandering course of thoughts. Let the line between reality and fantasy blur, as you engage in possibility thinking. Permit your mind to wander into foreign areas and explore what is beyond the realms of conventional ideas, images, sounds, and forms.

Pablo Picasso used three main strategies to create his revolutionary art form: bending, breaking, and blending. Bending involves changing the regular size, shape, form, structure, or configuration of physical objects. Picasso used this technique as he depicted human bodies, features, and faces. These alterations on the regular appearance of things resulted in new perceptions outside of ordinary consciousness. Check out Picasso’s work Les Demoiselles d’Avignon to see what he did.

His next strategy was breaking, which involves taking something whole and fragmenting it into smaller chunks before reassembling the pieces in a new way. With Cubism, Picasso divided visual objects into smaller bits and then rearranged them in a somewhat coherent puzzle of objects viewed from different angles and perspectives. You can observe breaking in Picasso’s famous Guernica.

The third creative strategy you can try is blending. This is combining two or more different ideas in unusual ways that results in a unique entity. It is connecting the dots between seemingly opposite and distinct units. Blending can involve leaving out concepts or objects that are normally present, or adding things that don’t seem to fit into the visual field or belong in the cognitive context. This can be observed in Picasso’s self portraits, in which he added African masks and Iberian sculptures in the background.

There are several things that can block or delay the creative process. One of the main hindrances to creativity is perfectionism. If you are waiting for everything to be just right before you begin, you could wait a long time. Imperfection can lead to unexpected, interesting, and novel results. Get moving down new paths that can take you into unexplored territory and different experiences. Another block to creativity is a preoccupation with the functional, financial, or practical aspects of the finished work. The third major impediment to fostering new ideas is over-reliance on the left brain and its intellectual abilities.

The left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex thinks in terms of words and numbers. This part of our brains does executive functioning. This involves a set of cognitive skills including organizing, analyzing, prioritizing, computing, and planning. The left brain is the domain of attorneys, mathematicians, and systems engineers (very few of whom are regarded as being highly creative). In order to create music, art, or other mediums of expression, you need to be in your right brain.

The right hemisphere perceives internal and external reality through images, sounds, and physical sensations. It is the domain of creative artists in almost all crafts, who are able to imagine the process and various outcomes of their efforts before they ever begin to compose, arrange, or paint. The right brain is also the source of our intuition, which can serve as a guide through unknown territory if you are willing to trust and follow its guidance.

Emotions can also be a powerful source of creativity, if you have the courage to go down the rabbit hole and see where they lead. These energized feelings come from the amygdala in the limbic system or primitive brain. Love, fear, and other feelings such as anger, frustration, optimism, or happiness arise from our emotional base. There are many outlets for creatively expressing emotions, including music, art, or writing.

Any creative project will require considerable effort or serious work to bring it to final completion. Along the way, important ingredients in the creative process are fun, spontaneity, and flexibility. You can clearly see these ingredients watching children who are free to play. These elements reduce cortisol, which is a stress hormone, and they release neurochemicals like endorphins and serotonin into the nervous system. These make us feel happier.

 Here are some creative activities that you might explore while Covid-19 continues:

  • music (composing, arranging, learning a new instrument, music videos)
  • art (drawing, painting, pastels, sketching, chalk, oils, acrylic, watercolor, airbrushing, face painting, decoupage, origami)
  • sculpting (clay, metal, pottery, wood carving, polymer clay)
  • dancing,choreography
  • acting
  • stand-up comedy
  • photography
  • graphic design
  • animation
  • videography, film
  • web design
  • cooking
  • fashion design
  • scrapbooking
  • card making
  • jewelry making
  • scale modeling (trains, cars, planes, ships)
  • doll houses/doll making
  • gardening (bonsai, terrariums, planting flowers, growing vegetables)
  • floral arranging
  • flower pressing
  • candle making
  • sewing, knitting, hand embroidery, crochet, quilting, macrame, weaving, string art, lace making
  • glass blowing, glass etching
  • leather crafting
  • writing (journaling, non-fiction, poetry, play, satire, short story, children’s book, humor, fantasy, science fiction, crime novel, romance, thriller, mystery, movie/tv scripts)
The Holidays During the Pandemic

The Holidays During the Pandemic

Even before the pandemic, the holidays were always the most stressful time of year. The
holiday season can place enormous demands on your time, energy, finances, and patience.
There is no lack of things that can stress you out, including finishing everything on time, figuring
out the right gifts to get everyone, shopping, wrapping, shipping, running late, preparing food,
cleaning, entertaining, family issues, annoying relatives, and too much of “eat, drink, and be

Whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, there are parties, traditions, customs, and
family rituals to follow, obligations to keep, and social responsibilities to meet. Along with painful
memories of experiences from previous holidays, they all help create an emotional rollercoaster
with anxiety, frustration, anger, and feeling overwhelmed, leading to situational depression.
Unfortunately, everyone else you’ll encounter during the holidays will also be riding the same
emotional rollercoaster.

To make matters worse at this time of year, the seasons are changing from fall to winter. With
decreasing daylight and cooler temperatures, people are even more inclined to stay inside
during the day and become more sedentary. This can lead to increasing feelings of isolation and
loneliness. This can cause a type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. This can
happen during a time when people are supposed to be happy but feel just the opposite.

Due to the continuing Covid-19 crisis, with its uncertainty and pandemic fatigue, this holiday
season will present even more challenges than usual. Your plans and schedule will certainly
change. If you are going to travel, no matter how you go, it will be much more difficult than in the
past. There will be extra restrictions, limits on social interactions due to serious health concerns.
You will need to wear a mask and keep socially distant, when you’d prefer to kiss your family
members and give hugs to your friends.

Musicians in and around the New York area will face additional stressors during these holidays.
Many of the usual performances, like The Nutcracker, will be cancelled. This will cause
additional financial problems for performers. This comes after many months of lost wages with
no clear end in sight. This could affect your choice of presents for those on your gift list, as well
as the activities you’d like to attend. This may cost you more sleepless nights, which will have
an effect on your vital energy, positive mood, and optimistic state of mind.

Regardless of the many stressors that you will be experiencing for the next several weeks, there
are a number of things that you can do in order to make it as good as possible. Acknowledge
and accept the current situation and how it makes your feel. Whether it’s sadness, grief, or
feeling bewildered, realize that it is appropriate. It’s due to the unprecedented convergence of
the corona virus, depressing news, holiday stress, the financial crisis, loss of the usual holiday
gigs, and negative emotions. Here are suggestions to help you navigate through this holiday’s

  • Plan activities, menus, and collaborations ahead of time.
  • Make a daily schedule for the entire holiday period.
  • Set your priorities from highest to lowest.
  • Be realistic. Limit or cancel non-essential activities.
  • Prepare for unexpected and inevitable changes. Keep flexible.
  • Be reasonable with expectations for yourself and others.
  • Try to stick to your budget and healthy habits.
  • Shop, wrap, and ship your presents and cards early.
  • Consider making your own gifts and cards.
  • Reach out virtually to friends, colleagues, and loved ones.
  • Don’t be afraid to express your honest feelings.
  • See the big picture. Maintain your sense of humor.
  • Take shortcuts. Do things on a smaller or shorter scale.
  • Be willing to say “No” or “After the holidays” to others’ requests.
  • Imagine your response in dealing with difficult situations.
  • Try to get as much sleep as possible. Take 20 minute power naps.
  • Try to take private, quiet time for yourself every day.
  • Take a leisurely walk or exercise. Get some fresh air and sunlight.
  • Breathe slowly and deeply. Meditate, practice mindfulness or Centering.
  • Be kind, gentle, and loving to yourself and others.
  • Count your blessings every day, even in these challenging times.
Continuing Your Learning During the Pandemic

Continuing Your Learning During the Pandemic

The Covid-19 crisis has changed our lives in many ways. It affects our continuing process of learning and improvement.
Conventional in-person classroom learning is now morphing into e-learning. Traditional learning is limited by time, space, personnel, and available resources. But online learning can happen wherever you are, with options that are unlimited in terms of courses, programs, content, scope, approach, resources, and faculty.

There are new and innovative ways for you to make refinements in your area of expertise. Since you may have extra time on your hands, you can develop complementary skills by exploring seemingly unrelated but supplemental subjects. You can do this through remote, virtual classes in the comfort and convenience of your home or studio. And you can progress at your own pace.

In conventional classrooms with synchronous learning, students are expected to keep up with the live lecture by taking
notes, finishing reading assignments, and completing projects on time. This is regardless of their individual rates of
processing information and time management skills. Online classes are able to offer asynchronous learning. This allows students to move through a variety of materials at their preferred pace and on their own time schedule. If there is a recorded video lecture, students can watch it repeatedly or selectively view what they need to focus on.

Online learning is more flexible than traditional, in-person classroom learning. There is little or no travel involved. It’s easier to find a balance between school/work and other personal and life commitments. You can wear comfortable clothes and drink your favorite refreshments.

For many musicians, online learning may be unfamiliar territory, requiring you to have up-to-date equipment, software, and being somewhat tech savvy. The process involves changing habits and accustomed ways of approaching learning and interacting with other students and teachers. Since changes are usually scary and uncomfortable, resistance is normal at first. You can start to move past your resistance with a firm resolve to be much better in at least one area several months from now.

There are many ways for you to get the most from e-learning resources. First, if you don’t have high speed internet access, find a way to access it. This is a good time to improve your computer literacy and tech skills. Establish a dedicated space in your home where you can work. Eliminate potential sources of distractions. Get a good pair of headphones so you can listen to lectures as well as to play music or white noise for covering up distractions.

 Decide the specific area(s) that you most want to improve or learn. These could be refining your skills in your main area of expertise, developing a different but related skill set, and/or starting to learn totally different skills from the beginning. Before you begin, you need to establish your learning goals, time frame, and budget in every area that you choose. Practice due diligence for every online program or resource that you consider using, including faculty credentials and prior results with their online students.

Set different outcome goals: longterm (for when life is somewhat back to normal), intermediate (3-6 months while the
pandemic continues), one month from now, and this week. These result-oriented goals need to be reasonable yet
challenging in what you intend to accomplish by target dates. They should be in measurable terms, like playing a certain piece of music at a specific tempo, or becoming proficient with a new skill.

After setting outcome goals, figure out what process you need to do in order to achieve the intended results on or before the target dates. These may include private or group lessons, technical exercises, playing with a metronome or tuner, run throughs, and remotely performing repertoire for colleagues or teachers. Next, establish your practice goals and the weekly structure and schedule of your daily practice or study time. These are the specific ways you will achieve your process and outcome goals.

Finally, set mental goals to reinforce your physical learning and help you accomplish all the other goals. These include
imagining your practice sessions the way you’d like them to go, hearing, seeing, and feeling yourself achieving your process goals on the way to performing the new skills in line with your outcome goals. This may be a great time to work on other mental skills, like focusing past distractions, building confidence, or developing mental toughness. You should specify rewards for accomplishing your monthly outcome goals on time.

Before you begin your program(s), get all the necessary materials and resources. These include books, calendars, planners, apps, instructional videos, and flash cards, as well as setting up access to Zoom, Skype, phone conferencing, YouTube, or other online communication platforms. You may need to follow social media like Instagram or Facebook, listen to audio programs, watch pre-recorded lectures and Ted-ed talks, join discussion groups, write emails, post on message boards, play instructional games, attend virtual web conferences, and participate in study groups.

After assembling whatever you will need, you should get everything organized. Prepare as though you are getting ready to take a “real” class. I recommend that you get separate notebooks or journals for each virtual class. They will help you keep track of important lessons, insights, key details, and unanswered questions. You can also print out the course outline, syllabus, requirements, assignments, and forms.

Create to-do lists for each course, prioritized and color coded according to urgent (red), somewhat urgent (green), and less urgent (blue). Set reminders for upcoming deadlines! You can do this with your cell phone or put them on your calendar, day planner, or whatever will remind you of due dates. Post inspirational notes on the bathroom mirror or walls of your study space to keep you motivated.

Ask faculty members at the beginning what their preferred contact methods are. Give your instructor(s) a specific, brief explanation of your question or concern. Provide them with the best way to contact you. Be respectful of their time and be patient waiting for their response; you are not the only student. After a reasonable amount of time without a reply, you might send a courteous follow-up, and thank them when they do.

Schedule your daily routine with tasks for specific chunks of time (from 10 – 50 minutes), and schedule at least a 5-10 minute restorative break between sessions. Research has shown that 50 minutes on and 10 minutes off can make studying more effective! Use the breaks to check messages, write emails, make phone calls, or take a brisk walk. Follow your own style and preferred pace of learning.

Avoid multitasking. It doesn’t work. Put a “do not disturb” notification on your device while you’re studying or completing an assignment. Choose the most demanding or urgent task to work on during your most productive time. Before you begin, imagine the process and end result that you want to achieve. Get mentally engaged exclusively on what you’re working on until it’s time to take a break.

Set reasonable yet challenging goals and a timetable for completing assignments, allowing for unexpected delays. Develop your time management skills, so you’re actually ahead of schedule rather than being behind and then cramming or rushing later on. Try not to waste valuable time. Reward yourself for achieving your goals, especially when you finish a project ahead of time.

Take the initiative to reach out to your fellow students in your learning community. Find goal buddies to share your mutual challenges and progress. Form your own study team to discuss content and assignments, express opinions, and offer moral support. Actively participate in forums and discussion groups. Introduce yourself, ask questions, say what you think, build relationships, and share the collaborative journey towards your mutual success.

You can start researching potential e-learning courses whenever you’re ready. Everything is available online nowadays, and the number of classes, programs, course offerings, and faculty members, is growing exponentially. You can learn to refine, learn, or do absolutely anything you choose from A (Alternative Medicine) to Z (Zoology) in the comfort of your home, in your pajamas, and on your own schedule. There are a ton of courses that you can finish in a day (Covid-19 Contact Tracing) and others that will require considerably more time, attention, and effort (learning computer coding).

Let me ask you. Is there a better time for you to improve your skills than right now? What are you waiting for to get moving? Here’s your invitation. When this is over, you can be in a better place with your skills or you can discover that they have deteriorated. When music resumes, you can be ready to perform. Things are not going to change for the better on their own. Are you ready to make things better for yourself? Your move. It’s up to you.

Overcoming the Guilt from Lack of Practice

Overcoming the Guilt from Lack of Practice

Written for Allegro magazine, official journal of AFM Local 802 NYC.
Since the pandemic intensified a few months ago, many musicians are experiencing serious problems staying motivated. They are not practicing very much, if at all. Many may feel guilty for letting their otherwise highly refined skills deteriorate. They may feel even worse for not taking advantage of their extra time to maintain or improve their skills.
Guilt is a negative emotional response that happens when a person realizes that they have done something that they consider to be wrong or for failing to do something that they believe to be right. They recognize that they have compromised their standards of behavior or violated their own values, and they feel personally responsible for doing so. This can be followed with a negative evaluation of their conduct leading to feeling shame and remorse.
The physical symptoms that accompany guilt and shame include insomnia, headaches, digestive difficulties, loss of appetite, body aches and pains, muscle tension, drained energy, and fatigue. These tend to amplify the experience of emotional discomfort, irritability, sadness, and general malaise that often accompany guilt.
For musicians, the guilt feelings first hit when you realize that you have compromised your usual high standards by not practicing the way that you are accustomed to. It feels like you have breached the contact that you previously maintained with yourself. Unfortunately, the pervasive guilt that many musicians are experiencing right now involves other negative emotions besides shame and remorse. These include anxiety, frustration, anger, depression, and resentment. These painful feelings don’t go away easily. If you leave these feelings to fester by continued failure to adequately practice, they can turn into serious regret, low self-esteem, and feelings of deep inadequacy. This results in even less motivation to practice. It can put you in a deep hole where you can get stuck wallowing in guilt.
Guilt, frustration, and even shame can be helpful if you use them to get you moving. The first step out of the abyss is forgiving yourself for what you have done or failed to do the past several months. It was a direct and understandable result of the pandemic. Nobody is perfect, including you, and especially in these challenging times. As soon as possible, release your feelings of guilt and all of the other negative emotions associated with it. Repair the damage. If you’ve been punishing yourself unnecessarily lately, stop immediately. That won’t help in any way. Any punishment does not fit the alleged crime that you may have committed. You are not a bad person because you have not felt like practicing lately. Accept your behavior with self-compassion so you can move past the guilt, shame, regret, and resentment.
Guilt can be a healthy emotion when it’s telling you that something needs to be fixed and that you need to make important changes if you want to feel better. Change your perspective and your approach. Move from what is not working for you to building productive habits that serve your best interests and growth as a musician. You can learn from your previous mistakes and actually be grateful for what they have taught you, if only not to repeat them. Resolve to make things better for yourself as a musician starting today. Make up your mind to change your unhelpful recent habits and replace them with a functional plan of action to improve your skills. Start (or continue with) a practice journal. Write down your outcome and practice goals for the next six months. Figure out how you will use the extra time you have to become an even better musician by then. Include a detailed schedule for your daily practice sessions, as well as a commitment to making weekly recorded performances.
Imagine yourself getting into a highly effective practice routine five days a week, with the sixth day for a recorded performance of what you were practicing, and the seventh day every week for rest. In the meantime, stay optimistic and take total responsibility for your practice time and habits. Take decisive action to improve your musical skills. This is how you can become a much better performer in several months, before you return to live concerts, shows, and auditions. It is also how you can get past guilt and get back on track refining your skills.
So, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Stop feeling guilty and resume practicing often and effectively. Those are the only things that will make you feel better as a musician. The first steps are usually the most challenging but it’s nothing that you can’t do, or haven’t done in your career. Now’s the time for you to do it. On behalf of me personally, and all the other music fans in New York and throughout the world, we are really looking forward to hearing you play again. Please practice, so that when you return, it will sound even better than before. We need your beautiful sounds more than ever. I want to thank you in advance for getting ready for those performances.