Using Summer Breaks to Your Advantage

with Jan Berry Baker



For students and teachers alike, summer break is a welcome respite from the constant pressure of deadlines, performances and the overall frantic pace of the academic year. How many times have you said, “I can’t wait until summer when I will have time to learn ______  or listen to ______? (fill in the blank with any number of things you would do if you had the luxury of time).  However, summer break is often when many students fall out of practice, get out of shape and lose their creative drive.  This occurs partly because different demands and activities take over (like summer jobs) but mostly because we fall out of our routine and don’t diligently dedicate time to our creative pursuits.  Suddenly, the day is gone, the week has passed and before you know it the summer is over!

The key to taking advantage of summer breaks (and any other breaks) is using a creativity journal. A creativity journal is a place for artists to store their creative thoughts and plans. It is not a practice journal, but more like a Pinterest board where you can save ideas and inspirations, as you find them, for future study and reference. A place to keep all the things you’d love to read, listen to, study, create – if you only had the time! It is a self-created guide for you, unique to you as it is to every artist. 

The creativity journal is not a substitute for structured summer activities. Summer camps, festivals and daily practice time are essential to keeping up our chops. Make sure you schedule them in! But we must also embrace the possibilities of unstructured creative time. It is precisely this that is missing during the rigors of the academic year. So while you don’t want to let yourself go over the summer, you also don’t want to waste the freedom it provides.

A creativity journal can be used and organized in many different ways. It is individual to the artist, and that’s the way it should be.  It should not be a nagging “to-do” list, but rather a collection of ideas, thoughts and plans that fuel your creative instincts.  This can include books you want to read, recordings you want to listen to, or a list of pieces or techniques you want to learn. Students may also find it useful to keep and update their short-term and long-term professional goals and any notes about how they might achieve these goals. To get you started, here are some subgroups you might find useful:


Books and articles to read


New Music to learn

a list of pieces and composers you are interested in


Techniques to work on or learn

including links to articles, listing of method books, practical exercises, etc.


Recordings

a list of recordings, Soundcloud links, videos and interesting artists to listen to and study


Upcoming Performances, Competitions and Auditions

a list of repertoire ideas for upcoming solo and chamber recitals

a list of competitions, required repertoire, application and competition dates

a list of repertoire for upcoming auditions (for advanced study as well as professional opportunities)


Summer Study

a list of summer festivals and camps, audition and application requirements and dates


Entrepreneurial Pursuits (this category will likely have many subcategories, but here are a few ideas!)

creating and updating your resume, Soundcloud page and website (as well as links to websites you like), business cards and advertisement ideas, potential employers, ideas for seeking, creating and funding opportunities and creative pursuits


Short-term and long-term professional goals

a list of goals for the week, month, year, 5 years, etc.


Beginning a creativity journal is as easy as jotting down a recording you want to check out or making a list of repertoire you are interested in learning.  Making a creativity journal should not be overwhelming or even particularly time consuming. It should only take a few minutes every day as you record new ideas, discoveries, and creative impulses.  The point is to allow yourself to have an ongoing creative conversation with yourself, so that you can develop as an artist. 

The creativity journal is an antidote to the very real difficulty of dedicating time to your creative freedom every day. The daily grind of the academic year makes it hard to schedule unstructured creative time, but oddly enough the summer’s absence of immediate deadlines can often provoke procrastination. The result is the same—we tend to put off (or even fear) unstructured creative time, and for this we fail to develop as artists.

The summer is when we should engage with our creativity journals. Even as we schedule daily practice time and attend music camps and the like, we should also build in unstructured creative time. Set aside time every day for “free creativity” – listening, reading, studying a score, etc. with no rules, no expectations, just time to let your interests guide you. Read the book you found back in November! Listen to the recording you bought months ago! Make time for things that may inspire you in unexpected ways. 

We all know as musicians the key to our success is our self-discipline and ability to structure our time. But we should not be afraid of unstructured time either. As artists, we must acknowledge that our creative work is not solely accomplished in the practice room or recital hall. The creativity journal should be a constant and friendly reminder that in addition to structure and rigor, we need freedom and serendipity too.



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