You’ve made it through your first music therapy session, or maybe even your second and third.
Congrats! You’re on your way. You might be starting your actual therapy program now, and getting excited about your progress. Or, you might be feeling like you’re on the other end of the spectrum, and not too sure about whether it can help you or thinking it’s a waste of time so far. All of these feelings are a normal part of starting therapy; if part of your program is learning an instrument, however, there is one thing that can help you get the most out of it – practice.
Learning a new instrument can be frustrating and challenging in the first few weeks and months, but just like those who are learning outside the therapy environment, practicing is a critical part of the learning process. You’re probably looking at your day-to- day life and wondering where you’ll find the time, but with a few strategies you can be carving out a practice session in no time – and reaping the benefits both in and out of therapy.
When you are first starting therapy, if your program includes learning to play an instrument, talk to your therapist about practicing and what their thoughts are. Ask questions about how much practice you need, and how often. Being musicians, they’ll have an intimate understanding of what it takes to become proficient at an instrument, and being your therapist means they’ll also be cognizant of the demands on your time and any other stressors surrounding practice. Your therapist can also suggest ideas and strategies; some of them might echo other points in this article, but some of their ideas might be new ones you haven’t thought of yet. It’s always a good idea to work with your therapist – even for work outside the therapy room.
This step is also critical; it’s important that your family be able to support you in your quest. In our last article we talked about the different ways they can offer support; now is when you can go to them and work out the specific things they can do to help you personally. That might mean that your spouse or even your kids take on a chore or responsibility that’s typically yours, to free up some of your time. Itmight mean your spouse taking the kids out for an activity to give you a quiet place to work in. Theimportant part is that your family is on board and understands exactly what your needs are. It’s alsocrucial, by the way, that you be open about what you need; your family can’t help if they don’t knowhow. After talking to your therapist, talking to your family is the first step in setting up a support system for practicing outside therapy.
Just as your therapist does specific things at the beginning and end of each session to signal to your brain that it’s time to shift gears, recreating your therapy environment can help maximize the effects of your at-home practice sessions. Obviously, you won’t be able to completely mimic what it’s like in your therapy room; the smells, lighting, and opening/closing sequences won’t be the same. You can, however, create things in your home environment that mimic the effects. Come up with an opening and closing sequence that works for you; a few moments of deep breathing, listening to a relaxing song, or some brief meditation can help get your brain “in the mood” to practice, or close out the session and get your brain ready to open the door to the outside world again.
Work in a quiet environment might go without saying, but that might be easier said than done. If you’re hearing the television, your kids are running through the house, or your dog is barking, you’re going to be distracted and easily frustrated; that’s not a very therapeutic environment, is it? It’s important that your practice sessions keep a positive connotation to them; if your brain begins to associate music practice with frustration and inability to focus, that will carry over into your therapy sessions – decreasing their effectiveness. So don’t be afraid to go somewhere you’ll be alone and able to think.
It might sound like a broken record, but positive encouragement is crucial – and you can keep saying the words to yourself even when it feels like it’s not working. Learning anything new can be tough, and it can be even harder to find the time you need to take a breath, find a quiet place, and practice your instrument. Being honest and open with your family is important; they can best help you if they know what you need and how they can help.
If it’s truly impossible to find quiet space in your home, branch out! Look into study or practice rooms at your local library or college; students sometimes have a hard time finding a quiet place too, and most schools have soundproofed rooms meant for practicing an instrument or studying.
Your therapy is on a set day and time each week, right? Do the same with your practice sessions. Structure and routine are great, and can offer you something else during the week to look forward to as a healthy, safe place. Put the same importance on your practicing as you put on paying a bill or going to work, because it is that important. Don’t cut into your time; stick to your appointments with yourself. You’re worth the time and effort, so don’t be tempted to say, “Well, it’s just a practice session” as justification for skipping it or cutting it short. Give yourself permission to take that time for yourself.
Being in therapy at all takes work, as does learning an instrument. The fact that you’ve already taken the first steps, however, says that you’re up to the task – so go talk to your family and get a practice schedule set up. You’ll be glad you did.