Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.
I am fortunate to be able to spend this Christmas in Charleston, SC visiting my father. The weather here is mild, even for Charleston during this season. The temperature is a balmy 70 degrees, and a welcome break from the cold north.
I almost chose to leave my instrument behind to lighten my baggage. I ended up bringing it. But my family was incredulous that I even considered coming clarinet-less. Normally my clarinet goes wherever and whenever I go. However, that wasn't always the case.
Earlier in my career, I found that a week or more away from the clarinet improved coordination and overall control upon returning to practicing. Solutions to persistent problems suddenly became evident. Bad habits were less ingrained. Good habits were easier to assimilate.
Most teachers warn against any extended break from regular and studied practice. Many famous players chant the same tune. I believe it was Rostropovich who said, "If I miss one day of practice, I notice. Two days, and my wife notices. Three days and my neighbors notice."
The question arises. Do we risk losing a critical edge if away from the instrument for more than a day or two? I believe the opposite to be true. All types of practicers, from compulsive bingers to disciplined regulars, may experience a fresh sense of perspective and clarity about their goals and weaknesses after some time off. The body's repetitive stress injuries have time to heal; the mind can expand and visualize being a better player.
In general, practicing is only beneficial if done wisely. Hashing and hacking for hours daily without attention to form and focus will cause serious harm, not only to the body, but especially to the subtle muscular and neural habits required of fine playing. If practice habits have been sloppy or compulsive, a break will allow a fresh start with a clean slate. Bad habits, both in attitude and body, become evident during the first few minutes of returning to playing.
What of the case of the disciplined player with good, steady practice habits? A five to ten day separation from the instrument can benefit this type of player as well. All performers, even the most experienced and accomplished, encounter plateaus or rough terrain along the path to mastering an instrument. A short break can foster a major breakthrough upon return.
Of course, time away from practicing needs planning. A week long vacation just prior to a performance or audition potentially invites disaster. If extensive time away from the instrument is unavoidable, the player can "practice" away from the instrument through visualization and score study. In fact, silent study is constructive at any time. In fact, visualization interspersed with intensive hands-on sessions can turbo-charge progress in playing abilities.
The disciplined player, along with the compulsive practicer, is encouraged to take occasional "constructive" vacations from their instrument. During such times off, while basking in pleasant diversions, the musician may choose to avoid any thought of their instrument, or they may wish to visualize playing effortlessly with virtuoso bravura and confident expressiveness. I recommend the latter. You really are improving your playing!
As I write this, sitting outside on a screened porch, breathing mild air and listening to a gurgling fountain, I relish this break from playing. (I guess I didn't need to bring my instrument!) Even more, I relish the pleasant anticipation of returning to it with fresh vigor.