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Bananaquits, locally common in wetter areas.

Bananaquits, locally common in wetter areas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the end of each semester, my students play as if they are in a coma. This semester is no exception.

I was the same way when I was in college.

Don’t you think there must be a way to make music even when we are tired?


The effect of fatigue on one’s playing often means that there is no music there. Who wants to hear only notes?

  • We have a harder time hearing what we are doing.
  • Feeling how much weight we are directing into the keyboard is more difficult, too.
  • Every composition sounds the same.
  • Every page sounds the same.
  • No melody.
  • No dynamics.
  • The solo and the orchestral interludes sound just alike.
  • In fact, there is no differentiation between sounds at all.

All of us should be so bored with that, we have to find a way to make music!

Taking a closer look

Stop! Don’t go into a practice room with the tired goal (if there is a goal) of slogging through the notes. What’s the point? What are we improving on/listening to? Why are we there?

Yes, it is possible to practice when tired and make music/make progress during that time.

A new approach

If this is the first time you have been asked to look past the fatigue and find a way to be in the room during your practice sessions, that’s OK. I hope you will read to the end of this post.

Choose an option or two:

  • Slow down.
  • Speak out loud while you are playing a phrase, like this:

Hearing your own voice will result in the crescendo happening in the music, not just in your imagination. Why? Speaking activates one more “track” in your brain.

  • Speaking could also include fingering, note names, counting, text to a song or aria, harmonic changes, etc.
  • Rather than playing a piece from beginning to end, isolate sections with similar dynamics. Does your sound fit with the dynamics indicated? By doing these sections back to back, you can feel the dynamic level in your fingers/hands/arms/shoulders/back, and will be adept at finding that level when you put the piece back together.
  • Practice hands alone, or separate parts in a contrapuntal piece.
  • Practice melody and bass, everything except melody, etc.
  • Exaggerate! When tired, we tend to retreat because we have less energy. Scaling back later is easier than making everything louder, so go ahead. Play out!
  • Take breaks. A short walk outside will energize your playing a lot more than spending your break time in the practice room.

After you’ve had some rest, that is the time to play at tempo and check out how your slow work fits together.

I can attest to the fact that this works.  During graduate school, I found myself preparing a difficult recital program on weekday evenings.  Like everyone who works in the daytime, I was tired later on.  So I had to slow down, talk myself through phrases, and learn the music that way.  The only time there was energy available to “perform” the music was on weekends.  Yes, that took lots of patience,  but it was so worth it!  (Having a performance date was an excellent incentive.)

The first step is to recognize that fatigue happens. Of course it affects our playing! But it doesn’t have to impede our progress.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!


“Goal-oriented Practice: How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer” gives every musician a fresh perspective!

My book frees up time to learn more music, memorize, or do something else entirely!

“Goal-oriented Practice” is also available in print!

Goal-oriented Practice

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Review by pianist Robert W. Oliver

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