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Taking a Break by Dr. James T. Lindroth

Feb 22, 2021, 08:00 AM by Rhythm Scene Staff

Long practice sessions can leave a percussionist feeling tired, sore, and stressed. Some of my students have expressed a feeling of being in a “rut” or “hitting a brick wall” when obsessing over a part or technique they have trouble mastering. This usually leads to frustration and tension. If not addressed, this could lead to burnout or even musculoskeletal injuries that profoundly affect a career. It is important to remember to take a break. There are two main reasons for taking small breaks during these sessions. One reason is for the health of the body, and the second is for the mind.

Playing percussion instruments is physically demanding on the body. During long practice sessions, it is essential to take small breaks. Muscles, tendons, and joints need to relax and recharge. If we do not provide adequate rest, they can become microscopically strained in ways that cannot be felt initially but can lead to injury in the future. By taking small breaks, we can help our body recharge and come back, feeling less tension. Doing this will help our body get through the practice session and hopefully walk away at the end of the session feeling less stressed and tired. 

Keeping our minds alert and fresh is as important as our physical health. Allowing our brain to rest provides an opportunity to approach a problem from a fresh perspective. We feel energized and more ready to get back to shedding music or find solutions to issues. Mind and body functions are deeply connected. "Brain fatigue" impacts our physical capabilities and can cause problems relating to injury as well. The research literature is abundant with studies that suggest that small breaks are needed to remain on top of our craft. Rest can have a positive impact on our creativity as well. 

In 1926, English psychologist Graham Wallas put forth the theory of incubation as part of his four-stage theory on creativity. This idea revolves around the idea that when a person is stuck or frustrated on a particular problem or task, the best thing to do is leave it alone and come back to it at a later point in time. During this downtime, unconscious processes are operating to find a solution. It is often described as that "Aha moment" when a solution pops into the mind.

Some researchers believe that doing lightweight tasks such as going for a walk, reading a book, having a coffee, or doing the dishes are examples of taking your mind off the problem on which you are fixated. A reason incubation may work is because it releases that fixation, the sense of feeling stuck, which is a type of mental rut that prevents an individual from arriving at new answers or methods of solving a problem. When you return from a small break, you feel refreshed and not as fixated on things that held you back, allowing a breakthrough to occur. Even if this sounds too good to be true, psychological research suggests that this mysterious phenomenon works. 

Some researchers suggest that physical activities such as walking help the mind and body recharge better than just sitting during a break from a difficult task. Other researchers found that where you walk is important as well. Natural settings such as a park or garden help restore our mental resources as opposed to walking in a busy, heavily trafficked area with many opportunities for distraction. 

The next time you practice or study and begin to feel brain fatigue setting in, take a break. Find an area that is quiet, calm, and not full of distractions. Let yourself recharge and refocus. Then, get back to that practice room or study place to improve and achieve your goals.

LindrothDr. James T. Lindroth is Associate Professor of Music Education at Northeastern State University, where he serves as the Percussion Chair and Coordinator of Music Education. Dr. Lindroth earned his Ph.D. in Music Education from the University of South Florida and his Master of Music degree in Music Performance and Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He is an active performer and recording artist and is a member of the Central States Judges Association, where he adjudicates music festivals throughout the United States. He also serves on the PAS Health and Wellness Committee. Dr. Lindroth’s scholarly research has been published in regional and national peer-reviewed journals, and he has presented research and workshops sessions at music conferences in the United States and internationally.

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