Practicing is something we all have to do in order to get what and where we want in a certain amount of time, but there are times where the task itself seems unappealing, even down right painful to even consider doing. Often times, music itself may cause those feelings within us, and we may lose interest or motivation to work that particular day, or week, maybe even that month. So, how do we navigate through these events of loss motivation or interest in the work? Sometimes it's as easy as listening to or playing your favorite song, or even your favorite exercise. Maybe you can watch a show that just gives you a much needed break that gets you excited to practice again, or even just energizes you in general. Perhaps it's time for a field trip, getting out of the practice room and into the world, or even a change of practice room scenery. But if it's specifically lack of motivation within the practice room you are dealing with, these next ideas might help as well.
Personally, whenever I had these feelings, it was due to either fatigue, discouragement or boredom. It's good to know when enough is enough. There's no use going passed your physical capabilities as far as energy is concerned. Your brain can't focus as keenly on the tasks you give it and the body can't perform at the high levels you expect it to. I tend to practice close to "completely spent," usually because I'm on the verge of a breakthrough and know when I cannot give anymore, but this is not for everyone. Know what your limits are and take care to not over do anything when you know you should take a break. With this in mind, a good strategy I have is to separate an intense day of practice with a more relaxed one, and then one day completely free to either rest, do minimal physical practice or mental studying. This tends to manage the energy levels pretty well for me and I think it might help avoid any sudden fatigue from practicing. Still, if you know you are tired and should rest, rest! Don't be a hero, there are other things you can do besides the tactile practicing. Rest and listen to the music you are studying, or even watch something unrelated. Practice when you can and rest when you have to!
Fatigue is somewhat out of our control as far as when it appears, but boredom is completely within our means to tackle. The key here, for me, is finding freshness and newness within the constant repetition that we have to do, not only in the practice room but in daily life. Still, with all the variations we can come up with in both cases, we may get tired of repeating the same technical passages or exercises and continued practice or events can be futile due to disinterest. So, if you know that you are checked out within the practice session, it's better to find a different thing to work on that you are excited about, interested in or is new and different than the same thing over and over again. This could also be due to a need for a new standard or goal. Maybe you feel that you have reached a plateau and aren't getting better or don't know what better is. In these cases I go on YouTube and watch my favorite musicians and artists like Jojo Mayer and Les Twins. While technically I may have reached a plateau, musicality is something that can always improve and that improvement will inspire technical improvement. It's almost like finding a motivational speaker or mentor, encouraging you to reach new levels and that will never get old.
Another cause of this could be that the instrument has become boring. I love snare drum, but sometimes I would get bored of it and would rather watch anime instead of practice. For percussionists this can be an "easy" fix as we have an immeasurable amount of instruments to either play or learn, so finding that freshness is more readily available. But what about the musicians who literally only have the one instrument like violinists and bassists? Again, maybe this is a good thing to step away for a little bit and take a rest. It will not be long before you begin to miss the feelings of holding the instrument, let alone the sound that it produces. I tried to take a week off to go on vacation and while packing my bags, purposefully trying not to pack sticks and a pad, I looked at my sticks and my mouth watered. That may seem obsessive. Yea, I'm ok with it though. The instrument is an extension of ourselves, and when we become to comfortable with it or take it for granted, we get bored or passive when it comes to anything concerning it. Taking this step back will allow us to have time to regain that excitement and reevaluate/recharge our passions for it. Again, finding something new, maybe a new technique or aspect about the instrument that you never thought of, can inspire a new interest and motivation to pick it up and keep going. And speaking of passion, remind yourself of the reasons why you want to do what you are stressing about or bored of. Regaining that inspiration is a definite and an invaluable source of encouragement and energy to continue the work you set yourself up to do.
Finally, there probably has been an event or situation that has caused you to be discouraged, either about the work you put in or the work you have to put in. How many auditions or tests did you do poorly in even though you felt your preparation was on point? Of course this could be due to just a bad day (insert song here), but in that moment you can be hard on yourself and question whether or not you actually can "do this." It's this inquiry where we tend to compare and despair, and consequently our motivation to continue working suffers heavily. I had a lot of trouble with this because, like most of us, I placed extremely high standards and expectations on myself and often practiced insane amounts trying to build Rome in a day, the latest a week. So, when I didn't measure up I would feel inadequate and incapable of reaching the goals I set. Well, how did I manage this?
First, we have to remember that one moment does not define an entire chapter of your life, let alone your entire existence. Don't forget that there will be other opportunities out there and don't let the idea that "it was my one chance" influence your actions following the event. My girlfriend would often encourage me that, "If not this one, something bigger and better will come later," and as cliche as that may sound, it is true. Had I won a certain job at a certain time, I may not have won the Detroit Fellowship, who knows? So remember that you will have other chances as long as you are there to take them.
Second, any "failure" is an opportunity to learn. Maybe there was something missing from your preparation or maybe something happened during the test or audition that you had never thought of before. Whatever the case is, this current disappointment is an opportunity to become aware of something completely new, helping you grow and develop into a more complete musician. Maybe the panel asked for an obscure change that you never thought of, or didn't know how to emulate. If they asked you to play like a flute and you couldn't, now you have the impulse to not only watch and listen to flutists, but every other instrumentalist to prepare for the next audition. This certainly will make the next audition more exciting and give you more confidence knowing that you can emulate any instrument they ask for.
Third, we have to continue to believe that the goal is attainable. Just because we aren't where we want to be at currently doesn't mean we will never get there. Time is relative for everyone and patience is crucial. The worst thing you can do is rush the process or become impatient with your progress. No matter the size or magnitude of it, any progress is progress. The fact that it has been done before proves that it is possible, and if it hasn't been done before means it's an opportunity to do the impossible! Keeping this positive outlook is imperative whenever you hit a perceived set back or else you will remain stagnant and lose any motivation to even continue. It is ok to be frustrated, even that is a motivator to improve, but if it is to the extent to inactivity or halting the work itself, it is detrimental and should be viewed very carefully whenever it arises.
These views and ideas are specific to my experience, but I'm certain others have had similar feelings concerning this topic. It's important for us to look after ourselves both physically and mentally. Get plenty of physical and mental rest so you don't burn out and be completely aware of your limits so you don't go beyond them recklessly. Mentally, we have to continuously recharge and sustain our desire and passion for what we do or else the work becomes dry and automatic, just going through the motions. And above all, we have to remain positive, even through hard times and tough losses. Any experience is a learning experience and the biggest blunder can lead to an unexpected answer to an unforeseen question or problem. So if you lose your mojo there are many ways to get it back, both inside and outside the practice room. Again, maybe it's not a practice room issue and you just need to get out and explore a bit. Remember, "Away from the instrument, there are tons of things to learn" - Jojo Mayer. Stay encouraged, stay motivated and keep up the great work!